Army Christmas gifts 'pose risk'
Well-meaning members of the British public have been urged not to send Christmas presents to troops serving in Afghanistan because they could inadvertently put lives at risk.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has issued an official warning asking people not to send unsolicited gifts to soldiers serving on the front line during the festive period.
The department fears a deluge of packages arriving at Camp Bastion, the UK's main operating base in Helmand, where mail is sorted for distribution to smaller bases.
An MoD spokesman said: "The onward delivery of goodwill parcels to forward operating bases necessitates additional re-supply flights and convoys which places service personnel at additional risk in what is already a difficult and dangerous operating environment.
"Every time an additional convoy is laid on, more troops are put at risk of enemy attack."
The public have instead been encouraged to funnel donations into service charities that run Christmas appeals with official backing. One such organisation, uk4u-Thanks!, will send 18,000 parcels to troops around the world this year.
Sally Little, the charity's director and trustee, said: "Christmas is a difficult time for servicemen and women who are away from their families on operations. uk4u sends them all a Christmas Box filled with Christmas gifts, with useful and fun items.
"This year over 18,000 boxes will be sent all over the world, using spare space in military transport, therefore we do not put additional strain on BFPO at Christmas.
"We know from feedback received that this helps to raise the morale of our troops at Christmas."
The Government issued a similar warning against overloading the British Forces Post Office (BFPO) last year, alerting well-wishers to the potential of letters and gifts from strangers delaying long-awaited packages from a soldier's family.
Colonel Stephen Heron, head of the BFPO, echoed these concerns today: "As we get closer to Christmas it's important to remind people that though their generosity is appreciated, the most important thing for our men and women on operations is to receive mail from their loved ones.
"With this in mind we are urging the public to donate to recognised service charities, which can use their experience to focus their efforts directly on what will be of most benefit to deployed service personnel."
The same discouragement was issued by the Royal British Legion, which said: "Although parcels from the public are well received, if it means that mail from family and friends does not get through, it can cause disappointment and heartache."
The MoD also reminded people that the UK will have considerably fewer troops in Afghanistan this Christmas compared to previous years, suggesting that presents could "go to waste" with "time and resources having to be diverted from crucial operations to organising their disposal".