Ex-defence chiefs turn on UK's Brown

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LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) Britain's government scrambled to defend its record today after five former defence chiefs launched an unprecedented personal attack accusing Prime Minister Gordon Brown of neglecting the armed forces.

Former military heads have occasionally grumbled in the past that the armed forces are under-funded for both future needs and two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But speeches in the House of Lords by top retired armed forces chiefs yesterday amounted to an attack on their former political masters unheard of in modern times.

General Charles Guthrie, chief of defence staff from 1997-2001, said Brown was personally to blame for failing to fund the forces during a decade in charge of the treasury.

''In my experience, my lords, as chief of defence staff in Whitehall, he was the most unsympathetic chancellor as far as defence is concerned,'' he said.

''I think really he must take much of the blame for the very serious situation we find the services in today.'' His successor, Admiral Michael Boyce, who led British forces into Iraq before retiring in 2003, said there was ''blood on the floor'' at the ministry of defence as officials rushed to cut spending programmes while soldiers fought abroad.

The government says it has increased spending on defence faster than inflation. Baroness Ann Taylor, the government's defence minister in the Lords, said: ''Our defence equipment in theatre is better than has ever been the case.'' TALK SHOWS But despite the fightback, the ex-chiefs took the criticism to morning talk shows today.

''The money that defence is given for its budget is not sufficient to meet the level of activities we are currently required to engage in,'' Boyce told BBC's breakfast television.

Because soldiers do not have the proper resources for training, ''the first time they see some of their equipment is when they actually go out on their very first operational patrol'', he said.

He attacked Brown personally for giving his defence secretary, Des Browne, a second job running Scotland.

''I feel that he has let the armed forces down by not appointing a secretary of state who is full time. When you've got people who are getting killed and maimed in the service of their government, and you put at the head of the shop someone who is part-time, that sends a very bad message.'' ''And that is the message I get back from our soldiers and our sailors and our airmen. They feel insulted. They feel he is treating them with contempt.'' The attacks will hurt Brown, whose popularity has plunged to the lowest level since he took over from Tony Blair in June amid the failure of bank Northern Rock and news that officials lost a computer disc in the mail with personal bank account details of millions of people.

The criticism also comes on the day a report criticised the government for selling off the defence ministry's research arm to private investors for far too little money, allowing a handful of senior civil servants to earn millions of pounds.

Reuters RC GC1501

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