'Disclose full horror of our boys' injuries'

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THE Ministry of Defence was last night under pressure to disclose the "horrendous" injuries suffered by British troops in Afghanistan, as new figures showed service personnel suffered their highest casualty rate this month since the mission began.

Some 57 troops were wounded in action in the first two weeks of July, compared with 46 in the whole of June and 24 in May.

Of the 57, nine were judged to be very seriously wounded – meaning their injuries were life-threatening – and seven were seriously injured.

The figures were published as the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, called for the whole of government to be put on a "war-like footing" to deliver support for troops and security for Afghanistan – and warned major defence spending projects might have to be shelved in order to fund operations.

July has seen the most deaths since the mission began eight years ago, with 22 soldiers killed ahead of Afghanistan's provincial and presidential elections next month.

In total, 95 UK personnel were admitted to a field hospital in the first two weeks of July, including 38 suffering from disease or a non-battle injury.

The record casualty rates among British troops in Afghanistan left UK military surgeons so exhausted they had to call in US reinforcements.

British surgeons at the Camp Bastion field hospital in southern Helmand Province had to call on American help after suffering exhaustion from working "very long hours", a defence chief said.

The casualty statistics were released as Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth conceded it had been "possibly" a mistake to launch a legal challenge that could slash compensation payments made to wounded troops.

Mr Ainsworth ordered an immediate review of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme after coming under fire for taking the cases of two injured servicemen to the Court of Appeal earlier this week.

The MoD was accused of appalling timing after it launched the legal challenge at a time when record numbers of British troops were being killed and wounded in Afghanistan.

There have now been 2,650 UK personnel admitted to a field hospital in Afghanistan since the numbers started being recorded in March 2006.

Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, called for more detailed information to be published about the "horrendous" injuries being suffered in a bid to raise public awareness about the conflict.

Ministers say however that they cannot give more detail than they already do because of patient confidentiality and operational security.

Col Kemp said he accepted the constraints but argued the basic figures were "not graphic enough".

He said: "It is essential that more effort and more awareness is made among the public of the horrendous sacrifices being made by our soldiers in Iraq and in Afghanistan nowadays.

"There are some really bad cases and we have heard about soldiers with legs and arms blown off, eyes gone, blinded completely, deafened, burned and so on."

Last night, Col Kemp's call for more detail on injuries was backed by other senior military figures.

Colonel Sir Bob Stewart, who was head of the British Army in Bosnia, welcomed the "remarkable" advances in medical treatment that were keeping more war casualties alive.

But he stressed this meant far more people were living with the most horrific injuries, include brain damage and loss of limbs.

"In the old days, you used to work to a pro rata of three wounded to one dead. Now, the ratio is about five, six or seven wounded to one dead.

"When I was a battalion commander in Bosnia, I had four people shot in the head. Two died and two survived. In the old days, a head shot was terminal – we called it a 'soldier's prayer' because you knew nothing about it."

He added: "We need to know the nature of the very serious, or serious, injury. If you hear that we had six killed and 13 wounded, people have no idea about the injuries.

"The public would have a much clearer understanding of what is going on out there if we said six people were killed, and of the 13 wounded, two lost their legs and three were shot in the head."

Eric Joyce, the Labour MP for Falkirk, who served in the army, said: "There is a strong argument that people injured in the field don't feel their sacrifice is being recognised. I don't think disclosure of injuries would lesson support for Afghanistan. People should have a fuller picture of what's happening out there."

As the MoD released the latest casualty figures, crowds paid their respects to the three latest British soldiers to be killed in Afghanistan as their bodies were returned home.

Warrant Officer Class 2 Sean Upton, 35, of the 5th Regiment Royal Artillery, Trooper Phillip Lawrence, 22, of The Light Dragoons, and Bombardier Craig Hopson, 24, of 40th Regiment Royal Artillery, were flown into RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire.

Their coffins were then driven through nearby Wootton Bassett, where family members, veterans and local residents stood side by side in tribute to the fallen men as their hearses passed.


MAJOR defence spending projects may have to be shelved to fund operations in Afghanistan, the head of the army has warned.

Chief of the General Staff General Sir Richard Dannatt said ambitions for the medium and long term should be limited to what we can afford.

In his last public speech before retiring next month, Gen Dannatt said: "With a budget under pressure, there must be a willingness to take decisions, however hard."

The speech will fuel speculation about whether the country can afford the 20 billion programme to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system.

With both main parties committed to a far-reaching defence review after the general election, other major projects such as the 4.6 billion aircraft carriers and the Joint Strike Fighter programme could also be in the spotlight.

Senior sources said about two-thirds of the army's 300 main battle tanks could also be lost to cut costs.

Gen Dannatt told the International Institute for Strategic Studies the review needed to be based on the future role the UK envisages playing on the global stage.

He said: "We believe the result will be a force relevant to the evident and demanding challenges of the near term but with sufficient provision for the uncertainties of the long term.

"And balancing these two requirements will not be simple. But the debate must be policy-led and not financially driven.

"We must have what we absolutely need for the short term and limit our ambitions for the medium and the long-term to what we can afford."

He called for the whole of Government to be put on a "war-like footing" to deliver support for troops and security for Afghanistan.

Gen Dannatt said: "Success in Afghanistan is not discretionary. It will top the agenda for the future and we must do whatever we must do to succeed."

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