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Cameron cocks up UK's defences - and betrays Afghan troops

Cuts vital helicopters, fails to grip MoD. Abysmal

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There will be no cuts in Afghanistan. Oh - except in helicopters

We're almost done. But there is one final point to note here. Mr Cameron and other Coalition politicians have repeatedly assured us that in fact all their decisions are aimed at support of our heroic troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan - but in fact, in one hugely important respect, they are slashing support for our boys and girls.

Last Christmas, regular Reg readers may remember, in a freak outburst of common sense Labour defence ministers announced plans to buy no less than 22 more desperately-needed Chinook helicopters. The powerful Chinook, only helicopter able to really overcome the tough hot-and-high conditions of Afghanistan, is the single greatest desire of our hard-pressed troops in Helmand. Lack of Chinooks is the worst handicap their commanders face. Say what you like about Labour, but in their last months they did the right thing and ordered a good big number of these vital machines. They planned to pay for them, sensibly, by cutting some Tornado bombers among other things.

Good old Mr Cameron, though - the soldier's friend - has cut this order to 12, almost halving it. He received massive cheers yesterday from ignorant MPs yesterday, saying:

There is no cut whatsoever in the support for our forces in Afghanistan ... we have been and will be providing more for our brave forces in Afghanistan [including] crucially, at last, the right level of helicopter capability.

That is perilously close to being an outright lie, we'd suggest. No matter what you think of the rest of his plans, Mr Cameron's decision to cut the Chinook order (to preserve Tornado bombers, too!) is an unforgivable betrayal of our fighting men and women at war right now - and then he has the gall to try and pretend that he's actually decided to order some helicopters rather than cutting an existing order!

We here on the Reg defence desk could possibly forgive Mr Cameron all the rest of it - who knows, we might be wrong about bombers and carriers and amphibs and the rest. There may never again be a war like the Falklands or the Balkans or Sierra Leone or Timor or Iraq or Afghanistan. Perhaps instead the future will see us mounting tank battles and antisubmarine campaigns and bombing raids against nuclear-armed well-equipped nation states. Perhaps there's some good reason to be buying paltry numbers of jobs at millions of pounds per head here in the UK with the money that ought to be providing proper defences for the realm.

But cutting our troops' vital lifesaving helicopters in the middle of a desperate, bloody shooting war and pretending it isn't a cut is beyond the pale. It's hard to think of something that Mr Cameron could do to redeem himself on this one. ®

Bootnotes

*Generally referred to by the BBC for some reason as a "spy plane", probably a legacy of the RAF's successful effort to convince the media that predecessor Nimrod MR2s had been doing something useful in proportion to their cost (in money and lives) above Afghanistan in recent years.

In fact the Nimrods - large airliner-sized planes crewed by more than a dozen people - were mainly employed relaying communications between units on the ground and providing basic aerial spyeye capability, tasks easily carried out by much smaller unmanned aircraft at a tiny fraction of the cost.

The only time you actually need a Nimrod or something like it is when up against a big, powerful force of enemy submarines. The only such forces now in existence are operated by the US, UK and France, so this is an unlikely situation.

**Carrier jets have operated extensively over Afghanistan and the first line troops we sent in were Royal Marines. We had marines based at sea in the Gulf from the earliest days following 9/11, and carried out a full-dress amphibious landing into Iraq in 2003.

One should also note that every time a British fighter has shot down an enemy plane since WWII, the fighter took off from a carrier to do so.

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