The Ministry of Defence has been heavily criticised by the UK's official inquiry into the Iraq war for a litany of equipment shortages, including that of essential lifesaving protective gear.
The department was "slow in responding" to the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and delays in providing better armoured vehicles "should not have been tolerated", the report's main author, Sir John Chilcot, said.
Fighting two campaigns at once – in Iraq and Afghanistan – left UK forces overstretched and had a "material impact" on "essential equipment" in Iraq, particularly helicopters and surveillance equipment, Chilcot said.
"It was not clear which person or department within the Ministry of Defence was responsible for identifying and articulating such capability gaps," Chilcot said at the report's launch. "But it should have been."
UK forces began to face a serious IED threat "barely a month" after the invasion, the report found, with the sophistication of the makeshift vehicle bombs and frequency of attacks escalating rapidly.
By September 2003, the UK was trying to work out how to address the threat.
"It was clear that the MOD had few options for the rapid supply of an armoured 4x4 vehicle," the report states.
The only option was to redeploy 180 Snatch Land Rovers – a vehicle that wasn't designed for conditions in Iraq and was at the end of its planned life in service.
"Several witnesses to the Inquiry referred to working with 'what you’ve got' and told the Inquiry that the Snatch Land Rover was preferable to a completely unprotected vehicle," the report states.
While they were "the best available stop-gap", the report says, "this should have been recognised as no more than an interim solution. Work to find a more effective vehicle for Iraq and similar environments in the longer term should have been put in hand."
A total of 47 of the 179 British troops killed in Iraq died by IED or roadside bomb. During the deployment, military families regularly campaigned in parliament against equipment shortages.
Even by 2006, work was still ongoing to secure a "medium weight" protected vehicle for troop movement. The inquiry team asked why, three years after an obvious gap had been identified, it still hadn't been addressed.
"[T]he MOD said that there was 'no simple answer to the question where the primary responsibility for identifying capability gaps ... lay' during the post‑invasion phase," the report states.
The UK's senior defence staff had identified as early as 1998 that Britain's armed forces were not equipped to support two "medium scale" deployments at the same time – a situation the UK military found itself in by 2006, with Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Chilcot report quotes previous reviews noting the concurrent operations had a "profound and fundamental impact" on resources available to troops in Iraq.
"It is difficult to determine whether or not Ministers adequately appreciated what the July 2005 decision to deploy to Helmand meant for the capabilities available for Iraq," it states.
"There were discussions about the over‑stretch and pinch‑points in provision but those were no substitute for the “rigorous analysis” to which the DOC [a cabinet sub-committee] referred."
This, combined with overoptimistic assumptions about when the UK would be able to pull its forces out of Iraq, led to decisions not to add protection to accommodation – which then had to be addressed years later.
"One example was the decision not to harden accommodation for British troops in Iraq in March 2005," the report said. "That decision was supported by balanced and pragmatic advice but the UK’s optimistic assessment of how soon operations in Iraq would conclude affected its analysis of the requirement.
"That meant that the issue had to be re‑opened three years later when it was too late for the matter to be addressed in an appropriate and cost‑effective way."
The report also details the constant shortage of helicopters – used to transport troops when ground was determined as high-risk, as well as to scout for insurgent activity – caused by the overstretch.
Commanders said the fleet was "creaking badly", that "the simple fact is we need more helicopters (and aircrew) urgently", and that helicopter capacity had "become parlous at times during 2005".
According to the inquiry, a 2006 report "added that the Joint Helicopter Force (Iraq) had 'struggled to meet its tasks even with rigorous prioritisation' and the UK’s battlefield helicopter force 'was stretched to meet the requirement of the current operation'."
Speaking at a press conference following the publication of the report, Ronnie Barker, the mother of a private killed by a roadside bomb in 2006, said she had cried reading the report, and said it showed that the vehicle her son was travelling in was "not fit for purpose".
"We went in thinking it was going to be a whitewash but I actually cried," she said.
Roger Bacon, whose son was also killed in an IED attack, said: "Never again must so many mistakes be allowed to sacrifice British lives and lead to the destruction of a country for no positive end."
James Ball is a special correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. PGP: here
Contact James Ball at James.Ball@buzzfeed.com.
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