3,000 UK troops are Awol since war began

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 figures.

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 Iraqis.
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.