LONDON, July 28 (Xinhua) -- Two of the most senior British military chiefs involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Wednesday criticized the tasks given to them by the British government and the poor equipment with which it expected them to carry out those tasks.
General Richard Dannatt, the former professional head of the British armed forces between 2006 and late 2009, said the demands of fighting a war in Iraq while also building up forces in the war in Afghanistan placed too much strain on the British army.
He told the Chilcot Inquiry, set up by the government to examine the lessons to be learned from the Iraq war, that the army had been like an engine running out of oil as it sought to increase forces in Afghanistan on the orders of former prime minister Tony Blair, while also dealing with increased violence in Iraq.
"You can run hot when you are in balance and there is enough oil sloshing around the engine to keep it going," he said. "When the oil is thin, or not in sufficient quantity, the engine runs the risk of seizing up. I think we were getting quite close to a seizing-up moment in 2006."
On the double demands of Iraq and building up troops in Afghanistan, Dannatt said: "We could see that perfect storm coming to fruition in about the middle of 2006 and I would contend that it did."
Dannatt was also critical of equipment. He said the Snatch Land Rover used as a light patrol vehicle was proved vulnerable in Iraq, and later in Afghanistan. He said that the problems of replacing it with better equipment were not tackled head on.
He said: "We worked around the problem, we didn't actually confront the problem ... (this was) a deficiency in leadership and energy. It was really frustrating not to be able to get on with this."
Dannatt also criticized the numbers of helicopters, saying there were too few, and that "we are paying the price for that in Afghanistan now."
Also giving evidence to the inquiry, General Michael Jackson, who was head of the British army before Dannatt, was critical of equipment.
In a formerly secret document released to the inquiry, Jackson was also critical of the number of helicopters in Iraq. In the 2005 document he wrote: "Our support helicopter fleet is creaking badly. The overall picture is one of an SH (support helicopter) force ill-matched to support current operations."
Jackson said that when plans were made for British troops under NATO command to increase in Afghanistan, it had been assumed that they would be able to safely reduce forces in Iraq.
However, when these plans came to fruition it had not been possible to reduce troop numbers in Iraq sufficiently because of increased violence, and it was not possible to pull out of the Afghanistan commitment because that would have disrupted complex plans.
The suitability of equipment to the war in Afghanistan was an issue in the run-up to the May 6 general election, with then prime minister Gordon Brown giving evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry that he had not stifled funding for military equipment.
The British death toll in Afghanistan now stands at 325, with 156 in the past year.
Many troops have been killed or wounded by booby traps on roads, which Snatch Land Rovers are too lightly armored to counter. A lack of helicopters has meant that the troops are often forced to use vulnerable roads to travel around Afghanistan.