London: The British government said on Tuesday it was making up to 5,300 army personnel redundant as part of cuts that will see troop numbers brought to the lowest levels since the early 19th century. The Ministry of Defence said soldiers returning from or heading to Afghanistan would be exempt from the cuts, the third such round under a programme that will see the army reduced from 102,000 regular troops to 82,000 by 2020.
"Today the Army are announcing the fields from which they will select personnel to be made redundant in the third tranche of the programme; this will comprise up to 5,300 Army Personnel," junior defence minister Mark Francois said. But he insisted: "The redundancy programme will not impact adversely on current operations in Afghanistan." Britain still has about 9,000 troops in Afghanistan ahead of a scheduled withdrawal in 2014. The Conservative-led coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron, which is trying to shrink Britain's massive deficit, has already announced that reservist numbers will be doubled to 30,000 by 2018 to help fill the shortfall.
Britain's navy and air force are also shedding 5,000 posts each under the Strategic Defence and Security Review announced in 2010, while the Ministry of Defence is losing 25,000 civilian jobs. Francois warned that further army redundancies were "likely" along with job cuts among the medical and dental personnel working with the navy and air force. The latest cuts have raised fresh concerns about Britain's military capacity, a day after Cameron vowed to show "iron resolve" in fighting Islamic terrorism in the wake of the deadly hostage siege at a gas plant in Algeria. "There are real worries about the military impact of a loss of skills and capability at a time of increased threats and new global challenges," Jim Murphy, defence spokesman for the opposition Labour party, told BBC radio.
Cameron acknowledged on Monday that, "of course, there are always challenges about the level of resources -- even in times when money is plentiful, and it isn't plentiful today." But he added: "If you look at the defence and security budget, it is actually in cash terms stable at £33 billion ($52 billion, 39 billion euros). "What we have tried to do as a government, and perhaps we need to look again and go even further, is to focus on those threats to our security we face today."