The Armed Forces have marked their first year in nearly five decades without a soldier, sailor or airman being killed on operations.
Ministry of Defence figures show that 2016 was the first year without the death of a serviceman on operations since 1968.
The end of Britain’s fighting in Afghanistan, a political unwillingness to put troops into combat missions and a current focus on instead training local forces away from the front line have contributed to a lower chance of casualties, military sources said.
But one former military leader said he was concerned there was also now a “nervousness” among politicians about using the Armed Forces.
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British forces have found themselves almost constantly deployed to dangerous conflict zones for more than 70 years since the end of the Second World War.
Until now, the only year without British personnel killed on operations since 1945 was 1968, immediately before troops were deployed to Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
Lord West, a former First Sea Lord and security minister, said: “I’m absolutely delighted that not a single member of our Armed Forces has been killed on operations.
“But I hope it isn’t because in this very, very dangerous world that our nation is not willing to use our military for the security of our country.”
“I fear there’s a nervousness in our nation about using the Armed Forces and that worries me.”
Until 2016, the last year without a death on operations was 1968, the year before troops were deployed to Northern Ireland CREDIT: DAILY MAIL/REX SHUTTERSTOCK
The last British personnel to die on operations were Flt Lt Alan Scott, 32, and Flt Lt Geraint Roberts, 44, who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in October 2015.
Their Puma helicopter crashed coming in to land at Nato headquarters in Kabul after it struck a cable tethering a surveillance blimp.
Deaths on recent operations
Afghanistan (2001 to present) – 456Iraq (2003 to 2011) – 178Balkans (1992 to present) – 72Falklands (1982) – 237Northern Ireland (1969 to 2007) – 1,441
Several members of the Forces died in 2016 while training, or on exercise.
L/Cpl Joe Spencer, 24, of 3rd Bn The Rifles, was shot dead at RAF Tain, near Inverness, in November. Pte Conor McPherson, of 3rd Bn The Royal Regiment of Scotland, was shot dead on a night-time training exercise at Otterburn, Northumberland, in August.
Around 4,500 British servicemen and women are currently taking part in 25 operations in almost 30 countries.
The biggest is Britain’s war on Islamic State, codenamed Operation Shader. RAF air crew fly daily air strike and reconnaissance missions over territory held by Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Isil), but commanders say politicians have insisted on keeping Army training teams teaching Kurdish and Iraqi forces well away from the dangers of the front line.
Around 500 troops are also still in Afghanistan, but are not involved in combat missions.
Meanwhile, in a New Year’s message, Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said 2017 will be the ‘Year of the Navy’.
The Royal Navy’s 65,000 tonne, long-awaited new carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will leave Rosyth to begin sea trials in the spring and then enter its new home in Portsmouth. Its sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, will take to the water for the first time this year.
The MoD’s focus on the Navy in 2017 comes after continuing worries about cuts, equipment problems and undermanning throughout 2016.
The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which was supposed to fix defence plans for the rest of the decade, may have to be effectively reopened.
Reported by Forces.net