London (AFP) May 14, 2009
Britain's Ministry of Defence is struggling to meet its targets for quickly resupplying frontline troops in Afghanistan, the National Audit Office said in a report Thursday.
Shortages of spare parts for helicopters have also led to "cannibalisation" of equipment to keep aircraft flying in southern Afghanistan, where NATO-led troops are battling Taliban insurgents.
There have been improvements in supply chains, but overall only 57 percent of consignments reach their destination on time, said the office, which audits the accounts of all British government departments.
"The (MoD) has... found it difficult to meet supply chain targets, in part because of fluctuations in demand," said the report, while noting that "there are signs that the supply chain is becoming more resilient."
Britain is the second-biggest contributor of foreign troops to Afghanistan after the United States, deploying around 8,300 as part of a NATO-led force based mostly in the south, the heartland of a Taliban insurgency.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown last month announced a temporary increase to 9,000 soldiers, to help provide security for elections in August.
But the report said the Ministry of Defence is struggling to find a "harmony" balance between soldiers' time on the frontline, in training and back with their families in Britain.
"Both the army and the Royal Air Force are struggling to meet harmony guidelines," said the report, which also assessed support for forces in Iraq, from where British troops are withdrawing.
On equipment, it said military authorities are exceeding targets on the availability of helicopters.
"Although none of the helicopter types was designed to operate in the environmental conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Chinook, Puma, Apache and Merlin have coped consistently with the harsh conditions," it said.
But it added: "There has been a paucity of some spare parts for some helicopter types which has led to short-term cannibalisation of helicopters in theatre."
Responding to the NAO report, minister for defence equipment and support Quentin Davies acknowledged delays but underlined improvements.
"Our troops are as well equipped as any professional armed forces in the world today," he said, noting that some 5.8 billion pounds' worth of equipment (6.5 billion euros or 8.8 billion dollars) had been supplied during the period covered by the report.
"Delays to projects featured... while regrettable, have not led to gaps in our present frontline capability," he added.
But Edward Leigh, the chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee which oversees the work of the National Audit Office, voiced surprise that the Ministry of Defence was still having problems with its supply chain.
"Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are giving their all, but they don't always have what they need to get the job done," he said. "We owe it to them to make sure they've got what they need, when they need it."
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