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‘Cover-up’ of troop levels sparks row

Military chiefs were accused of a disgraceful cover-up last night as it was revealed that troop shortage figures have been quietly reclassified as secret.

With the Army, in particular, maintaining a demanding tempo of battle in Afghanistan, several specialist trades such as medics have had to cope with a shortfall in their numbers.

Yet the Ministry of Defence said last night that the public would no longer be privy to just how low numbers in certain regiments are.

Figures obtained last year revealed serious shortfalls in countless trades, most notably among bomb disposal experts who are now so vital in Helmand.

Statistics revealed a 42.5% shortfall in Royal Logistic Corps Ammunition Technician corporals to staff sergeants and a 16.7% shortfall in Royal Engineer explosive ordnance disposal troops of the same rank.

Intensive care nurses were down by 71.1%, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers who keep vehicles going on the frontline were 37.2% down at corporal rank, while Merlin pilots were 36% short.

Infantry privates and lance corporals, the bulk of the frontline fighting force, were 10.7% below strength.

But recent requests for up-to-date information have been turned down.

Yesterday, the former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, who had previously asked for information on the number of medics in the forces, at a time when injuries in Helmand continue to escalate, was told there was, he said, a “deeply disturbing” shortage.

Sir Menzies added: “If the Government is going to throw a blanket over any defence information it doesn't want revealed in public, Parliamentary scrutiny is bound to be affected.”

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