Your country needs your children – MoD targets teens to fix recruitment crisis

  • More than 1 in 10 Army recruits are now just 16 years old
  • More than 1 in 4 are under 18 – too young to be deployed

Amid ongoing controversy around the MoD’s struggling recruitment campaigns for the armed forces, figures published this week reveal that the Army has resorted to increasing numbers of 16-year-olds in an attempt to fix the recruitment shortfall.

Annual personnel figures published by the MoD on Thursday show an increase in the number of 16-year-olds recruited from 9 per cent of total Army intake in 2012/13 to 13 per cent in 2013/14. Many of them would have begun the enlistment process when they were 15 years old. More than one in four (27 per cent) Army recruits last year were under 18 – too young to be deployed into hostilities. In total numbers, recruitment figures for 16- and 17-year-olds were higher than for any other age groups.

These figures are released just a few months after the Defence Select Committee expressed frustration at the MoD’s continued failure to produce any evidence to justify its policy of recruiting minors, which research has shown to be financially and operationally unsound. The Defence Committee had previously challenged the MoD to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the policy in July 2013.

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UK under fire for recruiting an ‘army of children’

MoD finds itself in the company of countries such as North Korea over use of teenage soldiers.

More than one in 10 new Army recruits are boy soldiers of just 16 years old, according to the latest figures released by the Ministry of Defence. And more than one in four of all new Army recruits are under 18 – too young to be sent into combat.

The figures, released last week, have sparked renewed criticism of the British Army’s use of boy soldiers. Following an outcry over the deployment of 17-year-olds to the Gulf War in 1991, and to Kosovo in 1999, the Army amended its rules stopping soldiers under 18 from being sent on operations where there was a possibility of fighting. Despite this, at least 20 soldiers aged 17 are known to have served in Afghanistan and Iraq due to errors by the MoD.

Critics claim the figures mean Britain stands alongside some of the world’s most repressive regimes by recruiting children into the armed forces – among under 20 countries, including North Korea and Iran, that allow 16-year-olds to join up. They accused the MoD of deliberately targetting teenagers not old enough to vote in a bid to boost recruitment.

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British armed forces suffer record levels of alcohol abuse

More than 1,600 service personnel required medical treatment in the past year.

Record levels of alcohol abuse in Britain’s armed forces have led to more than 1,600 service personnel – the equivalent of several infantry battalions – requiring medical treatment in the past year.

New figures obtained from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) under Freedom of Information laws show that the number of service personnel falling victim to alcohol abuse is at its highest since incidents first began to be collected centrally by the Defence Medical Information Capability Programme in 2007.

Heart problems, alcohol poisoning, liver disease and alcoholic psychosis are among the conditions which the system records. And the numbers needing medical help for drink-related problems soared by 28 per cent between 2012 and 2013.

It is a marked escalation on previous years, with 2011 and 2012 seeing year on year rises of 5 per cent and 4 per cent respectively.

However, the MoD insisted: “We have introduced a brand new system to better record instances of alcohol misuse; this is being rolled out so it is inevitable that as more people use it, the recorded levels of alcohol misuse would rise.”

The toll of abuse has resulted in hundreds of soldiers being admitted to psychiatric units over the past five years, with more than 1,300 service personnel treated at mental health units or admitted to an “in-patient provider for psychoactive substance misuse for alcohol”.… Read more

Drone Wars: Pilots reveal debilitating stress beyond virtual battlefield

“To extinguish a person’s life is a very personal thing. While physically we don’t experience the five senses when we engage a target — unlike [how] an infantryman might — in my experience, the emotional impact on the operator is equal.”

In the final years of his nearly 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force, Slim spent 10 to 12 hours a day in a cool, dark room in the Arizona desert, stationed in front of monitors that beamed back aerial footage from Afghanistan.

Slim’s unit operated around the clock, flying Predator dronesthousands of miles away over Afghanistan, to monitor — and sometimes eliminate — “targets” across the war-ridden country. As a sensor operator for these remotely piloted aircraft, or RPAs, it was his job to coordinate the drones’ onboard cameras, and, if a missile was released, to laser-guide the weapon to its destination.

These types of missions are part of the military’s expanding drone program, which has developed a reputation for carrying out shadowy and highly classified operations — ones that sometimes blur legal or moral lines. As such, their use in warfare has been steeped in controversy. [How Unmanned Drone Aircraft Work (Infographic)]

Critics say firing weapons from behind a computer screen, while safely sitting thousands of miles away, could desensitize pilots to the act of killing.… Read more

Women set to get green light for combat roles in the British army

Defence secretary Philip Hammond has signalled that women will be eligible to serve in combat roles in the British army for the first time.

The British military has long resisted having women on the frontline, with one survey three years ago dismissing the move on the grounds that women would be a distraction to male soldiers.

But Hammond announced that he had ordered a review, noting that the Americans, French, Australians, Canadians and Israelis have women in combat roles.

Speaking at a parliamentary press lunch, Hammond said he had been planning to leave the review until the end of the year, after the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, but decided to bring it forward after concluding that the lack of women in combat roles sent the wrong signal about gender in the armed forces.

The speeding up of the review combined with Hammond’s positive tone suggests that it is almost certain that the ban on women in combat units will be lifted.

He told reporters that it may turn out that women might not have the physical strength for combat duties. He had just returned from Afghanistan where troops on patrol searching for hidden explosive devices regularly carried 63kg loads.

The point, Hammond said, was that the criteria for combat should be physical fitness, not gender.… Read more

Arms and the Woman: Militarizing Gender Wars

You know the British Army is experiencing a crisis in recruitment when they start to make noises about ending the ban on women in combat roles. Earlier this year, General Sir Peter Wall, head of the UK armed forces, conceded that it might be time to drop the current restrictions that bar women from the infantry section of the army. The general admitted that such a move would make the armed forces “look more normal to society” at a time when they were desperately trying to attract new recruits, both full and part-time. It would also demonstrate that the organization was committed to equal opportunities despite women comprising only 10% of the total workforce.

Perceptions of soldiering as a unique form of public service draw on notions of gender that are deeply rooted in society yet, at the same time, media representations of military work also shape these norms, as well as occasionally challenging them. Discussions about female soldiers routinely provoke ‘common sense’ observations about the physical and psychological differences between men and women while gender neutral access to combat roles is often considered the ultimate test of social equality. But this focus on women’s capacity to kill can be a distraction from other crucial dimensions of gender and militarism that deserve public scrutiny, not least the long running argument about whether human rights laws should be applicable within military institutions.… Read more