3,000 UK troops are Awol since war
NEARLY 3,000 British soldiers have gone
absent without leave every year since the start of the Iraq war, with
more than 1,000 of them still missing, according to Ministry of Defence
The numbers evading capture by the Royal
Military Police have risen sharply since the invasion of Iraq, giving
rise to allegations that an increasing number of soldiers might be
trying to avoid further tours to the conflict zone.
The MoD denied there was any evidence
that soldiers were deserting because of the war. A spokeswoman said most
of the “anecdotal” evidence indicated that soldiers went Awol for
personal, domestic reasons. However, according to the latest MoD
figures, although the number of soldiers going Awol has stayed
relatively steady at about 2,800 each year, those still remaining absent
since the war started nearly tripled last year compared with 2003.
Don Touhig, who until the recent reshuffle
was Veterans Minister, told BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday that there were
“no hard facts” to suggest that the Iraq conflict was prompting
increasing numbers to go Awol.
However, Justin Hugheston-Roberts, the
solicitor acting for Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith, who was
sentenced to eight months in prison for disobeying orders to train for
deployment to Iraq, said that he was approached regularly “by people who
are seeking to absent themselves from service”. He claimed that there
had “definitely been an increase”.
Recently Ben Griffin, an SAS soldier,
resigned from the elite regiment, saying that he was not prepared to
serve again in Iraq because of the way that American troops treated the
The MoD spokeswoman said that the number
going Awol was not a cause of great concern, adding that many of those
who failed to turn up for work returned after a few days, claiming that
they had had girlfriend problems.
Under the new Armed Forces Bill, personnel
who desert in order to avoid serving in a war will face a maximum
sentence of life imprisonment.