Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Foreign Intervention in Afghanistan

The British Army is relying heavily upon foreign countries to supply troops to the frontline, recent figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show.

Ministry of Defence figures show that 1420 people from overseas joined up in 2008/09 compared to just 30 in 2001/02. This represents a 50 fold increase during the Iraq and Afghanistan years.

The dramatic rise in the number of foreign recruits; from 60 to 800 between 2005/06 and 2006/07, coincided with a period in which the British Army struggled to attract new soldiers from within the UK.

The relaxation of strict rules governing the Body Mass Index (a measure of somebody’s weight in relation to their height) of new applicants saw the threshold rise from 28 to 32. The previous limit was seen as a bar to many, naturally heavy, aspiring soldiers from former empire countries such as Fuji.

Latest figures show 950 people from overseas were recruited in 2009/10, showing there is still a heavy reliance on overseas applicants who must either have a dual British nationality, be a citizen of the Irish Republic or come from a Commonwealth country, to qualify for consideration for the British Army.

The British Army has always used more soldiers from former-empire countries in times of conflict, but the recent rate of increase in such a short space of time is stark. It paints a picture of an army being extended beyond its means with the war in Iraq initially, and then the conflict in Afghanistan which has escalated out of control in recent years.

Do these foreign fighters see the British Army as the only way out of poverty? And if so, is this desperation being exploited? The UK Government recently had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into providing fair treatment for Ghurkha soldiers. Historically, soldiers from abroad have tended to be cheaper to employ, cheaper to compensate and generally enjoying fewer rights than their counterparts with a British passport, even though the risks they face are no different. There is no justifiable reason to not treat all armed forces personel equally.

In 1921, when unveiling a memorial to Sikh and Hindu soldiers who had fought for the British Army, the Prince of Wales said ‘future generations should not forget that our Indian comrades gave their lives in ... a conflict of which the issues were to most of them strange and impersonal.’ Those words could equally apply today to those non-British recruits who find themselves in extremely dangerous situations in the unforgiving climate and terrain of the Afghanistan desert.

Plaid Cymru consistently opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the very start and we continue to maintain that troops should be brought home. The forthcoming Strategic Defence Review of is an opportunity for a reassessment of the role of the UK in world affairs and an opportunity for the Westminster Government to cut its cloth to fit the army’s capabilities.

While in opposition, Nick Clegg questioned the strategy in Afghanistan and said ‘young men and women’s lives are being thrown away because our politicians won’t get their act together.’ Will he make such vocal representations post-election? Watching him easily ditch his party’s manifesto pledges on immigration and Trident, I am not confident he will put his head above the parapet on this.

Plaid Cymru has also campaigned for a network of support for serving soldiers, ex-soldiers and their families to be provided. Without such support, people risk falling out of society – as is borne out by the figures on the numbers of ex-service personnel in prison and living homeless on the streets.

Having seen fit to send their armed forces to Afghanistan, the UK Labour Government had a duty of care to ensure they were properly equipped and that they and their families were well cared for both while in service and afterwards. They failed on both counts.

Let's see if the ConDem coalition in Westminster is able to avoid making the same mistakes.

No comments: