A former head of the Army warned that the UK's helicopter fleet in Iraq was "creaking badly" and "inadequate", newly-released documents have revealed.
General Sir Mike Jackson also told the head of the Armed Forces that air transport provision for getting troops and equipment to and from the Middle East was even worse while his successor Gen Sir Richard Dannatt told the Iraq Inquiry that the army had come close to "seizing up" over Iraq.
Gen Jackson, Chief of the General Staff from 2003 to 2006, raised the concerns after visiting British forces in Iraq in late 2005.
In a report to General Sir Michael Walker, then-Chief of the Defence Staff, he repeated concerns expressed by commanders on the ground about problems with helicopters and transport aircraft.
He said it was proving almost impossible to meet requirements for troops to return home part way through their tours on "R&R" breaks, which had an impact on the effectiveness of the Army Division serving in Iraq.
An extract from his report, dated October 2005, was declassified and released by the Iraq Inquiry.
Gen Jackson wrote: "Our support helicopter fleet is creaking badly. JHF-I (Joint Helicopter Force Iraq) is struggling to meet its tasks even with rigorous prioritisation ... The overall picture is one of an SH (support helicopter) force ill-matched to support current operations.
"If our SH capability is inadequate, our AT (air transport) fleet is worse. The air bridge to theatre is now so fragile that sustaining an efficient R&R schedule is nigh impossible. Quite apart from the morale effect of inordinate delays, the difficulties with R&R are now beginning to impact significantly on the operational effectiveness of the Division."
Gen Sir Richard Dannatt later told the inquiry that the Military Covenant - which sets out the nation's obligations to its fighting men and women - had been getting "progressively out of balance" in terms of pay, conditions, accommodation and equipment.
He said: "You can run hot when you are in balance and there is enough oil sloshing around the engine to keep it going. When the oil is thin, or not in sufficient quantity, the engine runs the risk of seizing up. I think we were getting quite close to a seizing-up moment in 2006."