|Army blames Iraq for drop in recruits
Lorna Martin, The Observer, 19 December 2004
Senior army commanders have expressed fears that the increasingly vocal anti-Iraq war movement is discouraging thousands of young men from considering a career in the armed forces.
They blame high-profile campaigns against the war, often led by bereaved parents and supported by celebrities and political figures, for worsening recruitment problems, particularly into the infantry.
According to military sources the high media visibility of bereaved parents, such as Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son was killed, and the unpopularity of the war have made recruitment and retention a problem, exacerbating an already acute recruitment crisis in areas such as Scotland. The problem is now also spreading to the north of England and Wales, forces officials say.
As well as a shortfall in young men volunteering, army officers have reported a wider reluctance to support a career in the army with parents refusing to sign consent forms for junior soldiers to sign up and, in some cases, local authorities with a strong anti-war sentiment refusing permission for recruitment officers to put up stands at local venues.
According to army sources the problem is also evident in the Territorial Army which has bolstered the regular Army's ranks in Iraq.
'People join the Territorials for a hobby,' said another source. 'They don't expect to end up being sent to Iraq for six months, taking casualties and seeing a lot of killing. There is no end in sight to the war in Iraq. That is what is really putting people off.'
The impact of the anti-war movement has also made itself apparent in the United States, where there has been a sharp decline in volunteers from communities - such as the black community - that have traditionally supplied soldiers. In the US this has been tied to a sharp increase in desertions - a problem so far not seen in the UK.
One senior source confirmed: 'The anti-war movement is exacerbating our recruitment problems. The effects have been particularly noticeable in Scotland, but are spreading to the north of England and we're beginning to see it as well in the west.'
New figures reveal the number of recruits joining Scotland's six regiments has fallen sharply this year. This was one of the reasons given last week to justify the controversial decision to merge Scotland's regiments into one.
Although senior officers blame social changes - including a more mobile workforce, greater access to further education and a change in the expectations of young people - the unpopularity of the war in Iraq is a new and worrying factor.
A source in one of Scotland's regiments argued against claims that there was a recruitment crisis. 'Some of the regiments have had their recruitment targets halved by the Ministry of Defence as part of their plans to save money on wages and training.