Govt should provide soldiers with all gear - Goff
MICHAEL FIELD AND STACEY KIRK
Soldiers have always been allowed to buy their own additional gear and there is no problem in the Special Air Service (SAS) over equipment, Prime Minister John Key says.
"I am around the SAS a lot and they have never complained to me about not having enough equipment," Key told reporters, adding that the Government had recently signed off on new equipment and training for special forces.
His comment followed Labour defence spokesman Phil Goff's claim that it was outrageous for SAS soldiers to be buying extra equipment.
"The minister of defence must explain why the country's best soldiers felt obliged to pay for their own equipment which they considered essential but which the army did not provide for them," Goff said.
He was commenting after Fairfax Media revelations on Monday that SAS soldiers in Afghanistan had bought online lanyards for use in helicopters for $100 each, and charging handles, crucial to firing their weapons, for $70 apiece.
United States forces also let them search through discarded equipment at the giant Bagram Air Base.
The revelations came during a three-day court martial of an SAS soldier at Papakura Camp last week.
The soldier was convicted of stealing Defence Force equipment although even the judge, Christopher Hodson, admitted nothing was missing from the military.
The soldier had mixed up gear he had bought with identical gear provided by the taxpayer.
He could have been jailed for seven years on the three theft convictions. Instead, he was fined 28 days' pay, about $4800.
During the trial the accused soldier said his role with the SAS in Afghanistan was "anything up to close and personal".
In Kabul he was issued two AR15 automatic weapons, one short-barrelled for street fighting.
For combat operations, soldiers use a charging handle to cock the weapon and to load it.
The SAS had old charging handles which could not be used properly with gloved hands. In action and when used ambidextrously, they let hot gas from spent rounds blow back into the soldier's eyes.
There were not enough improved charging handles to go around.
"I took it upon myself to buy some more," the soldier said, saying he didn't want to have to stop fighting to clear his eyes.
"The enemy don't wait and I enjoy my eyesight."
He spent US$15,000 (NZ$18,000) online to buy his own gear, including body armour, helicopter lanyards and safety boots, and said other soldiers had done the same.
Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said SAS soldiers had some of the best equipment in the world, and the outcome of the court martial "vindicated" the Defence Force.
"We have given them everything they need to do the job," he said.
"Phil Goff has been misleading here, basically."
Coleman queried on Morning Report whether Goff had talked to soldiers properly after he said SAS members had had to buy their own gear.
"This has been a longstanding practice," Coleman said.
"The guys are always going to go out and buy whatever's available online because they are top professional soldiers, they're real enthusiasts. But there's nothing wrong with the world-class gear they get."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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