British ex-commander hits out over ‘inadequate kit’ in Afghanistan

Exclusive: Major Streatfeild speaks of shame at defending equipment and calls for MoD apology over friendly-fire death

A former army commander has given a devastating insider’s account of some of the mistakes that beset the military campaign in Afghanistan, saying the training and equipment provided to troops “wasn’t good enough” for the mission they faced.

Major Richard Streatfeild, 40, who the Ministry of Defence used as a “poster boy” for the war, was a commanding officer in the insurgent stronghold of Sangin during some of the fiercest fighting.

In a Guardian interview, Streatfeild said he now felt ashamed at how he toed the MoD line in reports for the BBC, defending kit he knew to be inadequate.

He said the “blue on blue” death of Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard in Sangin during their tour in the winter of 2009-10 was symptomatic of the problems British soldiers faced in tackling the Taliban. He has called on the MoD to give the 22-year-old’s family an unprecedented public apology.

“It’s true to say we were the best trained we’d ever been, and we did have the best equipment we’d ever had. But it is also true to say it wasn’t good enough in relation to the operation we were going on and the tasks we were being asked to do,” said Streatfeild, who commanded A Company, 4 Battalion, The Rifles, during a seven-month Sangin tour.

“Undoubtedly the core equipment has been found to be inadequate. Before I went out there I felt ready. Hindsight suggests we were far from being the finished article.”

Streatfeild insisted some military achievements in Afghanistan had been overlooked, and though bloody, his tour saw considerable progress on the ground. But he admitted there were shortcomings that made the campaign unnecessarily difficult and said he was “amazed there haven’t been more resignations in light of … the ongoing issues of equipping the army”.

He was scathing about the way the MoD decided what to buy under Urgent Operational Requirements (UOR) – the kit needed at short notice because the army did not already have it.

Streatfeild told the Guardian:

• The MoD had failed to upgrade essential elements of the army’s core kit despite pledging billions of pounds to pay for the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers and Typhoon jets for the Royal Air Force. “You have a position where either you don’t have the right equipment or you have the equipment but you aren’t trained properly. [It’s like] the MoD is asking the army to live with a 1999 mobile phone, and saying you cannot replace it until 2019. You try to do that with a mobile phone and you won’t be able to talk to anyone.”

• The MoD dithered about spending money on beacons that allow commanders to identify their own troops on the battlefield, technology that could have saved Pritchard’s life. “It’s fundamental: you need to know where your people are. The Americans, the French, Norway, Israelis, the Germans, all have [this] equipment. It is widely available. We still don’t have it.”

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