No Armed Forces operational deaths for first time in five decades

A British soldier stands guard for the last time at Fort Whiterock Army base in west Belfast in January 1999 as bulldozers move in to dismantle the remains of the 20-year-old base. In 2007 the Troubles-related Operation Banner was declared over
A British soldier stands guard for the last time at Fort Whiterock Army base in west Belfast in January 1999 as bulldozers move in to dismantle the remains of the 20-year-old base. In 2007 the Troubles-related Operation Banner was declared over

The fact that British Armed Forces have enjoyed their first year since 1968 without a soldier, sailor or airman being killed on operations has been described as “staggering”.

Ministry of Defence figures show that 2016 was the first year without the death of a serviceman on operations in five decades.

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 told the Daily Telegraph.

Former RIR captain and UUP MLA Doug Beattie said: “It is staggering when you look at it. The reality is the British military has gone from one operation to the next [since 1968] and I don’t think we had a year in that period without an operation either in Northern Ireland or overseas.”

He noted that the news comes despite British forces being currently active in danger zones such as Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq.

The Daily Telegraph said part of the reason for the development was that although many hundreds of UK personnel are deployed in danger zones, they are more often now training local defence forces away from the front line.

“This is called capacity building and it is always something we have been involved in,” Mr Beattie added.

But one former military leader, Lord West, a former First Sea Lord and security minister, said he was concerned there was also now a “nervousness” among politicians about using the Armed Forces.

Several members of HM Forces died in 2016 while training, or on exercise.

Around 4,500 British personnel are currently taking part in 25 operations in almost 30 countries. The biggest is Britain’s war on Islamic State, which the RAF flies daily missions against.

Commanders say politicians have insisted on keeping Army training teams teaching Kurdish and Iraqi forces well away from the front line. Around 500 troops are still in Afghanistan, but are not involved in combat.