|Gerry Steinberg MP||In the House...|
MOD: Operation Telic - United Kingdom Military Operations in Iraq (HC 60)
Public Accounts Committee 21 Jan 2004
Corrected Oral Evidence given by Sir Kevin Tebbitt KCB CMG, Lieutenant General Robert Fry CBE, Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger KCB, Ministry of Defence
Q92 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Sir Kevin, I am very disappointed with the meeting this afternoon, I find your attitude not only arrogant and complacent but I think soldiers may have died because of some of the failures that your Department and the military failed to do. We are entitled to find out if those mistakes were made and people died because of them. Quite frankly I know it is beneath you to come to this meeting because you have been to other ones that are far more important but as far as I am concerned when you come here you should give us the courtesy of answering our questions, which I do not think you have doing as you should have been. How many people did not get the body armour that they needed?
Sir Kevin Tebbit: I cannot answer that question, I do not know if the General can. I can give you some information round that issue.
Lieutenant General Robert Fry: I cannot give you a definitive answer as far as that is concerned. When you talk about casualties this is not a trivial issue for me, I am soldier and it is something which matters to every -
Q93 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): If I was a soldier led by some of the hierarchy [I see round these tables] I would be bloody worried, to be quite honest.
Lieutenant General Robert Fry: Can I just point out some of the figures that are involved here, we deployed 46,000 people into a theatre where we conducted war-fighting operations for five weeks. During the course of that operation the number of people who were killed as a result of enemy action numbersis in single figures, this seems to me to be an extraordinary efficient act of warfare under any circumstances.
Q94 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Do you really think so, if somebody was killed because they did not have body armour do you think that is efficient? I do not.
Lieutenant General Robert Fry: We went into this conflict with a doctrine that combat body armour was entirely appropriate for these sort of operations. We made a decision during the course of the operation we wanted to enhance that protection. There was then a certain amount of time available for us to get it forward and that was not sufficient to get to everybody. I think as far as the level of protection that we entered this operation with, we made initial assumptions which were entirely discharged.
Q95 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I find the attitude remarkable. All we are here to do is try and find out what went wrong, if anything went wrong, and make suggestions through the NAO to put things right. Frankly, the attitude is that nothing went particularly wrong and everything was hunky dory and it was a great victory. Yes, it was a great victory and I wrote down to congratulate you but I do not like the attitude we have had this afternoon on the basis of our questions which you feel we have no flaming right to ask, we have every right to ask them. In 1999 200,000 sets of body armour were issued yet there was a shortage, where did they go to?
Sir Kevin Tebbit: To the units throughout the armed forces.
Q96 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Why did every single soldier not have body armour?
Sir Kevin Tebbit: I really have tried to answer your questions and I am very disappointed you should speak to me in those tones.
Q97 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I have to say that it is not just my feeling.
Sir Kevin Tebbit: I am trying to answer them. Firstly we do not know the reason why individuals have died, there are Boards of Investigation to be held and I suggest we wait and hear the outcome of those before we draw those conclusions. Secondly, and I am not trying to be arrogant, I did explain that the Chief of the General Staff asked that enhanced combat body armour should be used for this operation, that was in October, before then there was no requirement for the logistics organisation to have a particular level mandated. However, since 1999 quite a large amount of enhanced combat body armour has been issued by the logistics organisation, they went to the units, they asked for it as they required it to make up their sets. Some of those units would have taken it with them into the theatre and they would done that on their own basis, some of them would have flown with it, and they were given an increased weight allowance to do so, some of them would have crated it and sent it by sea, that would have been a unit consignment that went to the unit at the other end, they would have managed that under their own activity, and the Chief of Defence Logistics will confirm that. Nobody knew quite how much extra would be required to meet the request from the Army in the October but the DLO sent 38,000 sets of enhanced combat body armour into theatre. We know it did not get to everybody and I am gravely concerned and sorry that it did not, of course I am, of course I am. Just as much as I was grateful that the Chairman said that much of these things had gone well, that was to do how the Civil Service organised itself as well as the Armed Forces. I know it was prioritised by the commanders on the ground so that those going into combat needing it most would have it. Forces in armoured vehicles were regarded as being more protected than the infantry so there was a redistribution in favour of the infantry. I know that is what happened, it is unfortunate that not everybody had it. Even today the Chiefs of Staff have still to decide whether they wish to mandate enhanced combat body armour for all operations, combat operations, or what. Once they make their decision we will move swiftly to implement that, Ministers will take a decision. This is not a resource issue. Although I am sorry some things were not there fast enough and asset-tracking was an aspect of this, the idea that we are complacent about this is completely wrong. I am trying to explain how it happened.
Q98 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): If we read the transcript after the meeting finishes you might find that I might be right in my suggestions. I am going to move on now, just slightly, on page 20, 3.10 "Figure 7 shows that only 8% of those items requested by units in the shortest timescales logged at the main logistics centre in Kuwait were delivered within the planned 48 hour period". Are we saying that 8% of priority equipment that had been requested, which presumably includes body armour, 8% has to be delivered within 48 hours?
Sir Kevin Tebbit: No, we are not saying that. This diagram shows the standard priority system which the units would be operating. Because of the compressed time scales and the need to flow material very quickly into the areas there was an overriding policy set by the National Contingent Commander, Air Marshall Burridge, which he called the National Contingent Commander Priority List which overrode that system. Details of what that Commander's override meant were established by what we call the Joint Forces Logistic Component Commander who broke it down into the individual elements of what that meant. Say the National Contingent Commander said, "in next 48 hours what I need above all is Command and Control Information System", or anything else, the Joint Forces Logistic Component Commander would then work out what that meant in detail and the Defence the Logistics Organisation's Operation Centre (DLOC) would manage that through from the United Kingdom or wherever else it had to be found into the theatre and into those who needed it as a superimposed activity. So there was an overriding priority on top of the ones that you see on page 20 which ensured that supplies were pulled forward in the desired order and the overriding operational requirement is superimposed on this system so the operation could be conducted satisfactory. There are various references to this throughout the Report, 3.6 on page 18 and 3.10 on page 20. But I think it is important to bring it out a little more clearly because otherwise there is a slightly misleading impression that priorities were not tracked through as clearly as they were. The priorities were two kinds, one was what the units were asking for and one was what the overall commander judged were the overriding requirements.
Q99 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): You have spoken most of the time so I do not have much time to ask many more questions, I am reliably informed by certain members is that the biggest problem in this conflict and in the Saif Sareea exercise and the first Gulf War was the transporting and delivering of supplies. This has not been tackled, as we heard earlier on in the meeting, and paragraph 7 seems to indicate that. I am told that the main reason for this is simply because you do not know where the goods are, you pack them, they are packed into ISO containers, transported, they are all mixed up and they actually get lost and you do not know where they are, they do not even have a simple bar code system to know where things are. All you have is a quartermaster with a wad of paper going through sheets of paper trying to find out what is in the ISO container and what that container is. This Report seems to indicate that is absolutely accurate. You are shaking your head, tell us why it is not accurate? Tell us why my information is wrong?
Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger: There are several features of that description you have taken out of context, if I may. We have consignment-tracking, I described TAV(-), which is a radio system fixed to these ISO containers which shows where the ISO container is. Within those ISO containers the individual assets are tracked in the particular Land forces through VITAL. It is when you get it into theatre, when you have to break it down and move it forward that the complexities of the theatre, of the movement and of the prevailing operational circumstances make this such a challenge. That is not to say we do not have to solve it.
Q100 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): All you have said is that I am right, nobody knows where it is. The press made out that our soldiers were fighting a battle with a lack of ammunition, when you read the Report that is not what was happening, that is not accurate, what was happening was they could not carry the ammunition, there was plenty but they could not carry it to the front because they had nothing to carry it in. The Report says that.
Sir Kevin Tebbit: That is not true.
Q101 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): There was a lack of ammunition on the frontline, it was sitting there.
Sir Kevin Tebbit: I am not denying it. If you read the Report at 3.13 you will see here the words "a perception". There may have been a perception but none of the reports coming from the commanders -
Q102 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I said that, I said that, Sir Kevin.
Sir Kevin Tebbit: - said there was a shortage of ammunition.
Q103 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): You accused Mr Trickett of not listening to you, you are not listening to me, I said that the press gave a perception there was no ammunition but there was plenty of ammunition. The reason why there was no ammunition on the frontline was because they could not get it there.
Sir Kevin Tebbit: No, no, no. It was on the frontline. The ammunition was on the frontline, Mr Steinberg.
Q104 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): That is not what it says in the Report. Am I stupid or what? It says this, "it significantly limited the ability of the logistics unit to move ammunition to the frontline...ammunition shortages". They did not have it because it was not there it was because it was back in storage because they could not get it to the frontline because there was nought to carry it in.
Sir Kevin Tebbit: I can only go by what the commanders report.
Q105 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): You signed up to this Report, Sir Kevin, and it says it.
Sir Kevin Tebbit: I am talking about "perception", this is why I emphasised the word "perception". In reality there were no commanders who mentioned in their post-operation reports they had an ammunition shortage. Had they done so I am sure they would have said so. That is not to say there were not some difficulties in getting the ammunition around, I can understand that was true. There was not a difficulty that prevented it getting to the frontline. I am sorry this has become a heated exchange between us but I think there is a real point here to be clear about.
Lieutenant General Robert Fry: Mr Steinberg, can we move away from perception and look at military record, the process, the way in which readiness in-theatre was defined was according to certain sets of criteria and these were used by the commanders. They would make their checks against equipment, personnel, sustainability and command and control. We then had a system where we declared what we called full operational capability, and that was a declaration by commanders at various levels within the operation that they were entirely satisfied that they were able to undertake the operation. That declaration was made for all of the units and formations involved in the operation therefore commanders made their judgements (none of us had any reason to doubt the military veracity of the judgements that were made at that time).
Q106 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I am not disputing you are giving us the right information, all I can do is read the Report that was sent to us two weeks before an investigation, we read that Report and we draw our questions from the Report that we read. In this Report, I am not going to read it out again, it is claimed there with a no ammunition or there was a perception there was no ammunition on the frontline because you could not get it there. There was plenty of ammunition behind the line but it was not being brought forward. We can only ask our questions on the basis of what we have in front of us. General Fry, can you respond to this, this is and article, it might be a load of rubbish, in the Evening Post from Swansea, it says, "a Swansea soldier serving in Iraq without bullets for his rifle for eight days claimed the body armour which was given did not fit him and it was in a poor state of repair. After eight days he was given bullets. His rifle was kept locked in a store-room when he was not on duty a 20 minute walk from his bunker".
Lieutenant General Robert Fry: Mr Steinberg, I cannot exchange anecdotes with you. I have no idea of the provenance of what you have just read out or its accuracy. All I can say is that there are military structures with military judgements to take place which would not commit men to battle unless the commanders were satisfied with the circumstances in which that would happen.
Q107 Chairman: I am not sure we are any clearer after that line of questioning.
Sir Kevin Tebbit: I would like to make a further point.
Q108 Chairman: We really have to clear this up. Sir Kevin, as I understand it you are saying in general that contrary to the perception given in this Report, particularly in paragraph 3.13, you are saying that at all significant times when troops were in action or in danger of being in action there was sufficient ammunition, is that what you are saying? This phrase here which you have signed up, "this significantly limited the ability of logistic units to move ammunition to the frontline and exacerbated a perception among troops that there were ammunition shortages". That phrase does not ring true.
Sir Kevin Tebbit: What I am saying is that the post-operational reports from the commanders in no case mention ammunition shortages as having been an issue. I agree with you that it is rather odd that we have stories, anecdotes from individuals who say they did not have any bullets or many bullets and the two do not add up. I do not know whether that means there people in the rear areas who were not regarded as relevant to the operational mission who were not allocated ammunition by their commanders or what. All I can go by is that overall judgement we received from the military commanders. I may be able to help you further if you will allow me, Mr Chairman, I accept entirely that our asset-tracking and deployed inventory systems may have exacerbated a perception here because although we have visibility up to the place in Kuwait or Camp Fox, it is true that the deployed units up front as of today still do not have the same systems, so they cannot read those systems and know; "yes, my consignment has arrived there, I can see it on my IT screen, I know what is in it. I know in two or three days that it will be with me". That is a real problem. I am trying to help Mr Steinberg here. As we field further iterations of our new system, the system we procured for this operation was very successful once we got it in, we will be incrementally improving it to do that sort of thing. That will then bring more confidence to the frontline. There is no silver bullet here but it will improve that situation. We have a phased programme to bring this system in. The reason you can have confidence because it is incremental growth, on what we have, rather than some totally new system. The Board and Ministers have still got to approve the funding in April in our general planning and budgetary round. When that is available I think it will help to resolve some of these difficulties of confidence and perception, which are not necessarily the same as reality.
Chairman: That is an important answer, we are grateful to you for that, it may allow us in our Report to make some positive suggestions. Thank you very much.
Q180 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): One quick question which follows from the question Mr Allan asked you, I seem to remember a long time ago at one of these meetings, Sir Kevin, we discussed the very thing that Mr Allan talk about, the supply of ammunition being taken away by a contractor, the question was asked, what would happen in a conflict situation if they decided not to give us the ammunition? I cannot remember your answer at the time, it would be interesting to see what you said, can you remember that?
Sir Kevin Tebbit: I do not recall the exact moment. I would probably have said that we would seek to have a multiplicity of suppliers, to make sure we had a variety of suppliers available to us so that we would be able to cope.
Q181 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Does this not prove that necessities such as the basic thing that you need in war, ammunition, should be manufactured in this country by our own work force for our own troops and not depend on foreign nations to supply it for us?
Sir Kevin Tebbit: We have a diversity of suppliers so we can sure that we can get them from overseas, but clearly you have a point. I think a judgement would come into play depending on whether we could be sure of a wide supply base or not.
Q182 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I know the NAO are not researchers for us but I would interested if you can find that.
Sir John Bourn: I do recall the case.
Sir Kevin Tebbit: I do not think it involved Switzerland.
Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): It involved Germany or France.