Various senior military officers have expressed concern at relatives and others suing the MoD when their loved ones are injured or killed. They rightly say that military commanders cannot be concerned about future litigation when making the difficult, high pressure decisions that make the difference between winning and losing – both battles and the lives of their soldiers.
Unfortunately the argument has been bent – as often happens – so that these legitimate concerns obscure the equally real need for the MoD to be made accountable for the decisions it makes.
In Afghanistan, for many years British forces had too few helicopters, and land vehicles that offered no protection against mines and improvised explosive devices IEDs. British troops were however still required to go out on patrol, and needed to be resupplied.
Because of the lack of helicopters, this was done by road, and so – surprise surprise, the Taliban concentrated on its use of IEDs along the routes the Army vehicles had to use regularly.
At the same time, the Americans were flying everywhere, and for unavoidable road movement, using mine-protected vehicles with V-shaped chassis which deflected the blast upwards, saving the lives of those within.
This situation lasted for years, and the MoD was only persuaded to spend the money on proper road vehicles and (some) more helicopters after various Coroner’s criticisms (and other legal action).
The soldiers still went out on patrol, so despite this legal action, the commanders were not distracted by it.
There is a disconnect between what soldiers do on operations, and any failings in their equipment. When it comes to getting out on the ground and doing the job, British soldiers will go with whatever they’ve got. No arguments; plus he or she will make best use – often in very imaginative ways, of what they do have.
But when they are denied the right equipment, clothing, ammunition, vehicles and weapons by the MoD – for years, when it’s obvious what’s needed, then something has to be done. The MoD is unlikely to take action if money is required; which it always is – military activities being the most expensive of all government activities.
Further more, future wars are going to be like Afghanistan and Iraq: asymmetrical struggles against hidden enemies who avoid pitched battle for extended campaigns of terror and attrition. IED’s will be hard to find, and take a steady stream of lives. But also, the enemies of the future will – as with the Taliban, be happier to inflict mutilations than kill, maximising the expense and pain suffered by soldiers, and so the political pressure on western governments to withdraw.
These asymmetrical campaigns of the future will only indirectly threaten the security of our homeland. They will not put our national survival on the line. But they will last for years, maiming and killing a steady drip-feed of dedicated men and women, who each have parents, spouses and children. Our troops will get on with it and do their duty as always – without complaining.
This is why it’s important that the MoD must be held accountable, and why the threat of litigation should be regarded as a potential force for good.
It is for the MoD to ensure that their duty of care to soldiers is responsibly exercised, such that if challenged in the courts, there are no cases to answer. It is unacceptable that the MoD (and some senior officers) seek to blame next of kin for bringing these cases. It is the MoD that is negligent, not the bereaved or those who must rebuild their lives after mutilation.
There are are great many unfairnesses involved in all this; for example the soldier who incompetently mishandles a weapon injuring himself, and is paid millions under health and safety legislation, while the comrade beside him is shot by the Taliban, to receive the pittance of an injury “tariff” payment and a tiny war pension. RSI is common amongst military typists in otherwise safe military HQs….
So unless the MoD changes its spots – which is not going to happen, the Courts must reset the balances. They tend to side with the Establishment in issues like this, but the MoD is beginning to realise that it can’t continue to rely on this.
Recruitment is floundering. These unfairnesses are part of the reason for that.
In my opinion, senior military officers should stop supporting the MoD line, and get involved with helping the service men and women, and families with grievances. When defence is being cut, the generals hunker down to protect their own regiments. But regiments consist of real people. Those people should be the priority.
In the medium term, sorting this out would save the MoD a huge amount of money. It would also safeguard Britain’s security. More to the point, it would be fair to thousands of the “little people” who risk their lives, believing that are being properly looked after.