Brit troops stuck in rut with Land Rover SNATCH
Outcry over 'death trap' army Land Rovers in Iraq
Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Michael Smith
THE FATHER of a soldier killed in Iraq has accused the government of allowing troops to die needlessly by deploying old and inadequately armoured Land Rovers in the conflict zone.
Roger Bacon, whose son Matthew was killed by a roadside bomb last September, says the second-hand "Snatch" Land Rovers have led to unnecessary deaths.
Bacon, 63, a former Metropolitan police officer, said: "When the roadside bombs are around these vehicles become a death trap. Some soldiers killed by roadside bombs would be alive today if they had been in the right vehicles."
His comments reflect growing concern over the use of ageing vehicles shipped out from Northern Ireland. They are not designed to withstand powerful explosions.
At least 18 soldiers have been killed in attacks on them, representing nearly a quarter of all casualties lost in hostile action in Iraq. Troops say the Land Rovers are seen as a soft target.
The government compiled a report on the "protection level" of the Snatch Land Rover in March 2005 which is believed to have highlighted its vulnerability to roadside bombs. The findings have never been released on grounds of security.
One officer serving in Iraq says some commanders have been in mental turmoil at the prospect of sending young soldiers out to patrol in the vehicles. "[They have] no choice but to use what they were provided with," he wrote in an e-mail seen by The Sunday Times. "That [has] led to terrible decisions having to be made, decisions that have caused untold anguish and mental suffering."
It has been confirmed that one heavily armoured vehicle considered by the Ministry of Defence, the RG-31 built by a division of BAE Systems would have provided significantly more protection. Ministers say it was rejected because it was considered too wide to go down some streets.
Relatives of the dead and campaigners say the RG-31 is a viable alternative, as most of the fatal incidents have been on open ground. Bacon, 34, an intelligence officer, was killed as he was being driven to Basra airport on a dual carriageway.
Sue Smith, 44, the mother of Private Phillip Hewett, 21, from Tamworth, who was killed by a roadside bomb while travelling in a Snatch Land Rover, said: "If we want our troops to protect the Iraqis surely we should protect the UK soldiers first."
Brigadier Bill Moore, who is in charge of a programme at the MoD to find a new vehicle, said the use of heavy armour had to be balanced with the need to interact with local communities. Link
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