David Blackburn

Commanders on the ground were concerned about helicopter shortages

Commanders on the ground were concerned about helicopter shortages
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The Mail has obtained a memo sent to the MoD by Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe. He warns that helicopter shortages would cost lives; tragically, he was prescient. The Mail is not publishing the complete memo, which contains sensitive information, but Lt. Col Thorneloe wrote:

‘We cannot not move people, so this moth we have concluded a great deal of administrative movement by road. This increases the IED threat and our exposure to it... The current level of SH (support helicopter) support is therefore unsustainable... and is clearly not fit for purpose.’

This appraisal, widely circulated within the MoD, demolishes Gordon Brown’s denial that helicopter shortages cost lives during Operation Panther’s Claw, the offensive that claimed Lt Col Thorneloe’s life.

“More helicopters are being ordered for Afghanistan. But in the operations we are having at the moment it is completely wrong to say that the loss of lives has been caused by the absence of helicopters.


“For the operation we are doing at the moment we have the helicopters we need.

“I am satisfied that Operation Panther's Claw has the resources it needs to be successful.

"It is very important to recognise what the commanders are saying on the ground, the increase we have already made in helicopters, and what we are going to do in future months.”

Helicopters are not a panacea, but there can be no doubt that the government has ignored the opinions of servicemen and that helicopter shortages contributed to a percentage terms casualty rate higher than that sustained by British troops in France during 1944. The time when this government could presume military competence has long past, but this memo, and Lt. Col. Thorneloe’s death in a roadside explosion, should be the epitaph for the government’s dereliction and what it has cost. The opposition parties must resist extended point scoring, - the public's contempt for Brown and Ainsworth is sufficient in any case. Rather, Clegg and Cameron must exert the capital this memo has won them to ensure that the MoD provides equipment for troops as soon as possible, through any available means.