I've just driven back home from my week in London and, as is my wont, listened to a mix of 5 Live and Radio 4 on the way. One of the interviews on PM was with Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth who was being asked about the soldier who died in Afghanistan because (in the Coroner's words) of an appalling failure by the British Government to supply basic kit needed by the soldiers there.
The Minister said two things which really galled me. He was determined to concentrate on the fact that soldiers in theatre now have enough equipment. Well excuse me, but the real issue here is the failure by the Government to supply enough kit for the six years we have already been in Afghanistan. I'm very glad that he claims that no more soldiers will die because of lack of night vision goggles and heavy machine guns, but please could you explain how on earth the Government could send British soldiers to war for 6 years without such things.
Secondly he claimed that the soldier's death, in June 2006, came only a short while after we had started operating in Helmand Province and therefore we were still gearing up and finding out what sort of situations we needed equipment to deal with. He refused to acknowledge that the UK had been fighting in Afghanistan (albeit in a different part) since 2001. So let's look at what equipment was missing.
- Night vision goggles - so according to Mr Ainsworth it didn't get dark in Kabul and the need for these could not have been foreseen.
- Mountings to allow heavy machine guns to be fitted to vehicles. Clearly soldiers were expected to carry and fire the weapons in their hands - Rambo style. (they weight 120 pounds or so)
- Miniguns (hand held machine guns) presumably because they had the heavy machine guns already to occupy their hands.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of any war, a Government has a duty to ensure that the soldiers it sends into battle are fully and properly equipped to the best of the nation's ability. It is, of course, a fact of war that soldiers sometimes die. But for lives to be lost because of a Government failure is a tragedy to which Mr Ainsworth and his colleagues appear to be in denial.