Saturday 28 October 2006

My little Pinzy

Weighing into the debate about British Army equipment today comes Booker again, in his column, with a piece headed: "Our troops will patrol in 'coffins on wheels'".

This is about the continuing scandal of the Pinzgauer, named after an Austrian pony and, by one of our forum members, "my little Pinzy". For all the use it is to our troops, it could just as well be a little girl's toy.

Anyhow, at the heart of the disaster gathering round Britain's military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, writes Booker, is the fact that our Government has in each case sent in an inadequate number of troops, hopelessly ill-equipped to do the job which faced them, Nothing has more cruelly brought this home than the still rising number of soldiers who died because the Ministry of Defence failed to provide them with patrol vehicles properly protected against mines and roadside bombs.

Last week, he tells us, Dutch troops in Afghanistan were supplied with the first of 25 mine-protected Australian Bushmasters, costing £271,000 each. This means that every other NATO contingent, American, Canadian, German, French and Dutch, now has mine-protected vehicles, but not the British, who are still expected to patrol in wholly unsuitable "Snatch" Land Rovers, such as the one destroyed by a suicide bomber in Helmand ten days ago in which a British Marine died, with a second seriously injured.

The MoD says it will soon be equipping our troops with Pinzgauer Vectors. These are known as "coffins on wheels" because they are in some respects even more vulnerable than the Land Rovers; not least because the driver is sitting right over the wheels when a mine strikes, and because the nature of their armour is such as to confine the effects of a blast inside the vehicle, probably killing all inside. Yet each Vector costs £487,000, nearly twice as much as the much-better protected Bushmasters. In other words, we are spending a great deal more money to give our men even less protection.

When our Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram was asked on 18 October by Lib Dem MP Mike Hancock what "risk assessments" had been carried out on the Vector, he refused to answer, merely giving the condescending reply "we do not comment on the details of our vehicles' protection levels". The Tory spokesman Gerald Howarth, on the other hand, is so reluctant to recognise the failings of the Pinzgauer that he is even pictured in an advertisement for them on the makers' website.

With a sense of frustration that we can only share, Booker concludes with the question, "why is this national scandal not on the front pages of every newspaper in the land?" Certainly, it isn't on the front page of his own paper, but that does report separately a story of how hundreds of marines are "penned into base by suicide bomb threat".

This is an entirely preditable response to a development which, it is claimed, marks a shift in Taliban tactics but, as we recently pointed out, was itself entirely predictable.

Nevertheless, we are told that military commanders ordered the "lock down" after receiving intelligence that many bombers plan to attack British troops in two towns in northern Helmand. One senior officer said that some of its fighters were now prepared to turn themselves into "human claymore mines" in a renewed attempt to drive the British from the province.

The two British bases being targeted are in Lashkar Gah, where 300 members of the Royal Marines are based, and the strategic town of Gereshk, on one of the main routes through Helmand, which is being guarded by 60 marines from 42 Commando. Limited patrols around Lashka Gar resumed yesterday only on the specific orders of the base commander, but high risk areas were avoided as was the centre of town.

So desperate are the Marines to strengthen their defences against suicide bombs, they are also deploying their BvS10 "Viking" all terrain vehicles, which were only delivered this year.

At a cost of cost £1 million each - nearly four times the price of the RG-31 or Bushmasters - they are being sold to the Telegraph's gullible Sean Rayment as giving "far greater protection than the infamous 'Snatch' Land Rover," even though the ballistic protection offered is about the same and the vehicle is rated to protect against pathetically meagre 0.5kg charge anti-personnel mines, compared with the 14kg protection offered by both the RG-31 and the Bushmasters.

Once again, therefore, Rayment - a specialist defence correspondent - misses the story and lets the MoD off the hook, while "my little Pinzy" toys pour off the production lines, unremarked by our skilled and diligent hacks.