Ministry accused over Afghan casualty figures
The scale of UK casualties in Afghanistan has been under-reported, a British officer serving in the south of the country has claimed, condemning the Ministry of Defence's operation as politically driven. Major Jon Swift claimed soldiers were often patched up after being injured and sent back into the field without the injury being recorded.
"The scale of casualties has not been properly reported and shows no sign of reducing," he said. "Political and not military imperatives are being followed in the campaign."
His comments were published in the
internal Fusiliers newsletter, but were swiftly removed from a regimental
website after initially appearing in a posting.
The MoD denied that British casualties were higher than official figures suggest. A spokesman said all serious injuries were reported, but that there would be no tally "for everybody who gets a cut". He conceded that there had been some problems with how regularly figures were updated.
"We have had a problem recently, the figures weren't being updated as regularly as we would want," he said. " We have now caught up. We have identified that particular issue in the reporting chain."
He said he could not say how long the figures had been out of date. "The figures are published monthly in arrears. All casualties of a serious nature are reported. We are not capturing those who have cuts and bruises, they are not recorded by the medics in the field because, as you can imagine, they have better things to do.
"Anyone who has a serious injury is recorded. So all gunshot wounds and shrapnel injuries are reported."
The dispute comes just days after the defence secretary, Des Browne, said the operation in Afghanistan, in which Britain has almost 5,000 troops, was harder than expected. The Taliban hardcore consisted of only about 1,000 people, but new alliances with drug barons and criminal gangs were swelling its numbers.
British and Canadian forces have sought to break the back of Taliban resistance in a two-week offensive known as Operation Medusa. The onslaught has sparked intense fighting. Nineteen British soldiers have been killed in southern Afghanistan this month.
The regiment's newsletter, Fusilier News, is published in the army section of the MoD website.
A MoD spokesman denied it had ordered the comments to be removed, or tried to "gag" Maj Swift. He said he did not know how or why the comments were removed and stressed that they were published on a regimental association website independent of the MoD.
The foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, admitted yesterday that British troops in Afghanistan faced a "tough fight". She said the Taliban had used unexpected tactics, but Britain would not be increasing its troop numbers in the near future.
"What our commanders are telling us is that they are stretched, but not overstretched," she said.
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