Officer expresses ‘bitter disappointment’ over military cuts

By Cassie Chambers

A senior officer in the British army has said he is "bitterly disappointed" in the government's approach to culling the nation's military.

In a letter seen by the Daily Telegraph, Brigadier David Paterson wrote to the chief of the general staff (CGS), Britain's senior military officer, to criticise the abolition of the second battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

The closure of the battalion is expected to be announced this Thursday.

Paterson, the honorary Colonel of the Regiment of Fusiliers, wrote that the move "cannot be presented as the best or most sensible military option" and suggested it would not hold up "if challenged or scrutinised by, for example, the media".

The abolition of the decorated battalion will decrease the number of infantry in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers by almost half, shrinking it from 1,100 soldiers to just 600.

In the leaked letter, the colonel questioned why his battalion was being targeted, saying: "I, as colonel, have the duty to tell my men why it is their battalion, which at the time of the announcement will be the best manned battalion in the Army, with recruits waiting in the wings, was chosen by CGS.

"I will then also have to explain to my Fusiliers in a fully manned battalion why they are likely to be posted to battalions that cannot recruit. This will not be an easy sell," he continued.

Labour said the leaked letter showed the negative effects of the government's cuts, saying the coalition had created "an erosion of trust and a decline in military morale".

"This is serious criticism from a senior military figure," shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said.

He went on to suggest that the government's approach to the cuts had led to "heightened uncertainty and a sense of disarray".

The cuts come as part of the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) plan to cut Army personnel by almost a fifth by 2020.

Previously, the government had said regiments facing difficulties recruiting would be eliminated first. The second battalion has 523 trained men out of a maximum of 532, however.

Paterson questioned the decision to cut a battalion he calls the "strongest in raw manning and deployable strength", saying the announcement has left him "bitterly disappointed".

He suggested that the cuts could have wider implications for the military, saying the regiment could "wither on the vine" if the battalion were eliminated.

The colonel also said the timing of the announcement is unfair to the soldiers, as they will have just 24 hours between the time they hear the of the cuts and the time the news is made public.

"This is not long enough for my commanding officers to brief their men and cannot be right," the letter added.

The MoD refused to answer questions about the letter, saying it does not comment on leaked documents.

"We have always been clear that more than one set of criteria is used in determining the future shape of the Army as it is restructured to become an integrated regular and reserve force by 2020," a spokesperson said.

The leak comes on the heels of a series of other events that have led to public backlash against the cull.

Cuts of over 4,000 soldiers in mid-June led to questions about the Ministry of Defense's restructuring efforts. The large proportion of experienced officers eliminated in this cull led to further public criticism of the ministry's plan.