MoD under fire from watchdog for Kosovo equipment failings

8 Jun 00
Two reports on the British military operation in Kosovo have found that troops had to contend with excessive workloads, insecure communications equipment and substandard accommodation.

09 June 2000

Soldiers were forced to sleep in tents during the bitter Balkan winter because delivery of prefabricated accommodation was delayed for five months, according to a report from the National Audit Office (NAO). The camps, intended to house 6,000 soldiers, were due to begin operating in October 1999 under the terms of the £113m contract with Hunting Engineering, but the first one was not completed until February this year.

The report also highlighted inadequate medical provision, with a hospital project in Lipljan being cancelled as the building to be used was not of a high enough standard.

David Davis, Conservative chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said he would raise these shortcomings with Ministry of Defence officials at hearings next week.

'Our troops deserve good standards of medical support and accommodation and naturally this has an impact on morale. Aspects of the department's management in this area left something to be desired,' he said. 'They wasted £228,000 on a hospital project which they approved and then cancelled.'

The MoD's own report on Kosovo identified excessive demands on personnel as a cause of concern. 'Overstretch for many individuals was excessive. It was only through the highest sense of duty from our service personnel, and sacrifice from their families, that we were able to achieve our objectives,' it concluded.

Insecure communications equipment was also a serious problem. 'There is a need for better supporting secure communications systems in order to improve the flow of intelligence to those who require it,' the report states.

The NAO revealed that Serb and Kosovo Liberation Army soldiers, and even the media, were able to listen in to 'tactical-level communications'. Sometimes only civilian communications systems were functioning and, during periods of high media interest, it could be impossible for commanders to get on the air.

The NAO also took the MoD to task for failing to give MPs proper information about the extra £866m above normal operational costs that the Kosovo operation will cost over five years. The department had promised to provide estimates from the start of the campaign, but only released figures at the beginning of this year.

Auditor general Sir John Bourn said that the MoD had made a major contribution to Nato operations in Kosovo but there was still room for improvement. 'The report details some further important lessons for the department.'


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