Army fury as chief in Afghanistan is told he won't get vital armour

CHRISTOPHER LEAKE
UK Mail On Sunday
Sunday, November 19, 2006

The senior Army officer who will command British troops in Afghanistan next year is embroiled in a furious row with the Ministry of Defence after learning he will be denied vital armour to protect his men.

Brigadier John Lorimer, who will take charge of more than 5,000 troops in the spring, issued a 'shopping list' of requirements after a week-long recce in volatile Helmand province, the stronghold of Taliban fighters.

The tough and experienced Parachute Regiment officer asked for up to 12 Challenger 2 tanks, 14 Warrior armoured vehicles and four AS90 artillery guns - plus an extra 600-strong battalion of troops.

But he has been told by senior MoD officials that his requests will be denied.

A source close to 43-year-old Brigadier Lorimer, who commands 12 Mechanised Brigade, said: "He has been told that there is little likelihood of him getting his tanks. He is extremely unhappy about this. He is disappointed and frustrated."

The MoD snub comes just six weeks after Tony Blair promised on TV: "If the commanders on the ground want more equipment, armoured vehicles for example, more helicopters, that will be provided. Whatever package they want, we will do."

A senior Army source told The Mail on Sunday last night: "The denial of John Lorimer's operational requirements shows how empty Blair's words were.

"The Taliban are certain to launch a major offensive in Helmand next spring and the Brigadier wanted the extra armour to protect his men. No chance, as his requests were rejected in their entirety.

"Officers in 12 Mech Brigade see this as as a dereliction of duty by Defence Ministers. Lorimer still hasn't been given an explanation. One can only assume it's to do with lack of availability, equipment shortages and cost-saving."

Last night Shadow Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "This insult to the man taking over as commander of our troops in Afghanistan proves that no one, including those on the front line, can take seriously a word that Tony Blair says.

"He is not trusted by anyone and he should go now. He promises everything and gives nothing. His words are not worth the breath he uses to say them."

The row is yet another example of Labour's volatile relationship with Armed Forces top brass. Last month Mr Blair was left reeling after General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, said British troops should come home from Iraq within two years and warned that the Army could 'break' if British soldiers were kept there too long.

Brigadier Lorimer came to prominence as the commander of British troops in Basra in September last year, when he ordered 40 SAS men to storm an Iraqi police station where two undercover Special Boat Service (SBS) troopers were being held captive by armed militia.

British Warriors bulldozed their way in to rescue the SBS pair. Three soldiers had to jump clear from a Warrior with their clothes on fire after being petrol-bombed by insurgents.

The deployment of 12 Mechanised Brigade in Afghanistan will last six months. The lead infantry element will be the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, backed by troops from 19 Field Regiment Royal Artillery, 26 Engineer Regiment, two squadrons of Light Dragoons and men from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards.

Yesterday the MoD took the unusual step of issuing a statement on behalf of Brigadier Lorimer. It said: "Suggestions that I am angry or frustrated are simply not true. I have conducted my reconnaissance and made recommendations. I am perfectly happy that those are being considered in the normal way and I am closely involved in that process."

An MoD spokesman said: "No decisions about the force package for Afghanistan in 2007 have been taken and no requests have been turned down."

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