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The United Kingdom’s military operations in Iraq were a significant success and personnel and equipment performed impressively, Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported to Parliament today. However, as the Department has acknowledged, there were difficulties in ensuring that front line forces received the equipment and supplies that they needed.

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United Kingdom and Coalition forces achieved their main military objectives, including the removal of the Saddam Hussein regime and the securing of key infrastructure within four weeks of crossing into Iraq.

It was a major achievement to deploy the large United Kingdom force within 10 weeks, half the time it took for the first Gulf war. The report highlights the success of the huge logistics effort which managed, for example, to deploy and sustain 46,000 personnel, 9,100 shipping containers and 15,000 vehicles. It also highlights new and modified equipment which performed well such as the Challenger 2 main battle tank, the Storm Shadow missile and the SA80A2, the upgraded assault rifle.

The rapid deployment revealed areas where there were gaps in capability. There were not enough nuclear, biological and chemical warfare protection equipment, spare parts for tanks and armoured vehicles, medical supplies, helicopter spares or desert combat clothing and boots. Urgent action was largely successful in rectifying shortfalls but, for a few equipments, training time and the supply of ancillary equipment was curtailed.

While the logistics effort was successful overall, the means of tracking supplies in theatre was largely ineffective, manpower intensive and was swamped by the sheer volume of supplies. The whereabouts of some key equipment and supplies was unknown and therefore arrangements could not be made to get them to the people who needed them. This led to shortages, loss of confidence in the supply chain and inefficiency as personnel searched for items they had ordered or ordered duplicates urgently.

Our forces were very expert at making the immediate transition from warfighting to peacekeeping. But the nature and the size of the post conflict task was extremely difficult to predict and to plan for. There were gaps in both the coordination of the planning and in the capability to do more in the short and medium term than patch up the existing inadequate infrastructure.

"It is not just the bravery of the men and women who took part in the military operations which should be applauded but also their abilities, their professionalism and their achievements. The scale of the operation and the speed with which it was carried out are both extremely impressive. There were problems, but these should be seen in the wider context of the overall success. The lessons in this report which the MOD can learn from will mean that its performance will be further improved in the future."

Sir John Bourn


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