RAF MILDENHALL, England — One-fifth of the British army’s infantry soldiers are unfit to fight on the front lines, according to Ministry of Defence figures released Tuesday.
Some are not deployable due to physical or mental injuries, lack of fitness or other nonmedical reasons, according to a BBC report.
With roughly 9,500 troops deployed, most to southern Afghanistan, Britain is the second-largest contributor to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force there.
The data, obtained by Parliamentarian Bernard Jenkin from the opposition Conservative Party, shows 19 battalions with fewer than the requisite 500 soldiers, according to the BBC. The report says that nearly 5,000 infantry soldiers and officers are unfit for deployment.
Ministry of Defence spokesman Alastair McCrea-Steele called the statistics "misleading" in an e-mail Tuesday, saying that all units deploy at the required strength to fulfill their missions.
Still, Jenkin told the BBC that to have 20 percent of the infantry unfit for their primary duties is "quite a staggering figure."
"This reflects the long-term effect of sustained operations," he said.
More than 1,000 British servicemembers have suffered combat injuries in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, according to the BBC.
As of Tuesday, 247 British troops and MOD civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, according to the MOD.
Col. Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, told the BBC the status of British infantry battalions has been steadily declining.
"Infantry battalions have been run down over a number of years," Kemp said.
"They’ve been raided for manpower, in effect. It’s an easy target to make savings and that’s what’s happened."
The "infantry heavy" campaign in Afghanistan was not foreseen by the MOD, and the ministry needs to adjust itself accordingly, Michael Clarke of the Royal United Services Institute think tank told the BBC on Tuesday.
"Nobody in the MOD or the armed forces anticipated that we’d deploy 10,000 troops for five years or more in a faraway country" during the last defense review 12 years ago, Clarke said.