David Blackburn

Dereliction of duty

Dereliction of duty
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The Ministry of Defence is the subject of two very damaging stories this morning. First, there are twice as many former service personnel in prison than there were six years ago. And second, Major General Andrew Mackay, a former commanding officer in Helmand, who masterminded the recapture of Musa Qala, has resigned his commission. Mackay is understood to have been dismayed at the direction of the war and army restructuring. The Independent has the details:

‘Mackay was disillusioned with what he considered to be a failure to carry out adequate reconstruction and development in Helmand. He had said privately that British soldiers risking their lives in the conflict had been let down by the Government in carrying out the vital tasks necessary to win over the local population. Recently, the General had also been critical of restructuring carried out in the Army in Scotland which he believed would damage future combat effectiveness.

General Mackay was commander of Task Force Helmand from October 2007 until April 2008. During that time he signed a "ground truth" memorandum, sent to London, which listed serious problems with his troops' equipment. He pointed out that the engines were faulty in many of the ageing Scimitar reconnaissance tanks of the Household Cavalry. Tanks which were supposed to be operational could not get into reverse gear without the engine being restarted. A quarter of the Mastiff armoured vehicles were out of action for weeks and the new Vector vehicles were not being used because "the wheels kept falling off".

The commander angered Downing Street by stating that he was astonished by the lack of clear direction at the top. There was, he said, a sense of "making it up as we go along".’

Mackay is the most senior of five officers who have resigned over the last two years. His concerns about the Afghan war are not novel, but they illustrate that, despite Gordon Brown’s attempted rallying cry, senior officers still feel that soldiers’ lives are endangered because they do not receive the political and financial backing they require. That there are now more than 12,000 former service personnel in prison suggests that the dereliction of the armed forces extends beyond the deserts of Afghanistan.