The Channel 4 "Dispatches" programme tonight will show graphic footage of the war in Afghanistan. It will reveal the full extent of the difficulties faced by British troops, with severe shortages of helicopters preventing re-supply and men living off corn-cobs picked from the fields.
British and Afghan troops are shown struggling to regain control of the town of Garmsir in Helmand province. The battle, originally supposed to last 24 hours, stretches to 6 days. The British are promised reinforcements but shortages of troops and helicopters mean that these never arrive.
Meanwhile in London civil servants, government ministers and military bigwigs will benefit from a £billion bonanza when the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall is refurbished. They will have
chairs that cost £1,000 each. More than 3,000 of them, described by the American makers as "the most comfortable office chairs in the world"
3,120 solid oak doors at up to £1,200 each - a total cost of £3 million.
renovated stone and marble floors in the magnificent terrazzo, and a glass atrium stretching up seven floors
a restaurant, a coffee bar, 30 large plasma screens, a gym and "quiet rooms" for their breaks
Over the next ten years more than £75,000 will be spent on comfortably accommodating each official. This compares to only one third of that amount to be spent on the upkeep of every ordinary soldier's quarters.
The families of men serving in Afghanistan will be interested to know that
the total bill would have paid, for twenty years, the wages of the 1,800 infantrymen axed in 2004, or that
alternatively it would buy 24 Chinook helicopters - at present the Afghanistan force has only eight
The announcement comes just as there are fears that almost half the Navy's 44 warships may have to be mothballed, and complaints about the substandard prefabs in which some service families have to live. Not that it was properly announced, really: the story was revealed in answer to a parliamentary question, and the real figures are hidden by the fact that this is a PFI (private finance initiative) by which the work is done by private companies, and the government pay them back over the next 30 years. The companies will make millions in profits, and inflation and interest will boost the total cost of £746 million to the astronomical one of £2.3 billion.
The GOS would like to make a proposal
Why doesn't the Ministry of Defence invite the families of soldiers serving in Afghanistan to stay in Whitehall for a little holiday? They could get out of their damp prefabs and live in some comfort, not to say luxury, for a few weeks. They wives could gather in the coffee-bar or restaurant, relax in the quiet rooms or tone up in the gym, while their children played safely in the spacious terrazzo, watched C-Beebies on the 30 plasma screens or rode their bikes in the atrium.
Meanwhile, squads of civil servants could release space for the families by being shipped out in rotation to Afghanistan for a six-week tour of Helmand province. After all, important people like them will probably leap at the opportunity to get out of the office for a change and come face to face with the reality of events that have so far just been bits of paper sliding across their desks
Mind you, they wouldn't actually get a gun, would they? There aren't enough to go round. And getting home again might be a problem, given the shortage of helicopters
Still I expect they'd welcome the chance wouldn't they?
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