Military bemoans lack of support

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Norway’s new Defense Minister Grete Faremo faced immediate complaints as she took over her new office. Brand new frigates are underfunded, there’s not enough money to conduct basic military exercises and soldiers abroad don’t feel they’re getting enough support from home.

Norway spent billions on the construction of five new frigates, the country’s biggest warships, but only has crews right now to operate three of them, reported newspaper Aftenposten .

Commander Bjørn Egenberg confirmed that the KNM Roald Amundsen is currently berthed in Bergen because its crew needed to be sent to Spain, where the last of the five frigates is ready to sail out of the shipyard.

“We have resources to only sail three frigates,” Egenberg said. “We have also lent some resources from Amundsen to the frigate now on duty off Somalia.”

He said Amundsen will sail again, but personnel constraints have forced its berthing for now.

The goal, he said, is to have four of the five in operation while one is in port for maintenance, but that will depend on budget allocations.Defense expert Jacob Børresen told Aftenposten that the navy is suffering “chronic understaffing,” and that the lack of resources for the frigates “is a scandal that sooner or later is going to hit the government in the face.”

New Defense Minister Grete Faremo thus needs to gear for battle herself. Børresen said her predecessor, Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen did what she could to boost budgets, but the government’s proposed funding now doesn’t give the military a chance to carry out plans for the Telemark Battalion, special forces, fighter jets, helicopters and the coast guard. He says those operations may come at the expense of weapons systems.

Several soldiers stationed in Chad, meanwhile, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that they’re also understaffed and under-supplied. Other divisions say they’ve had to cancel training exercises and educational programs.

Faremo told NRK she will listen and do the best job she can to meet military demands. Espen Barth Eide, state secretary in the defense ministry, said Børresen is a man the government listens to as well, but he disagreed the situation was as bad as Børresen described.

“We’ve increased the budget by NOK 800 million, and if the military succeeds with efficiency programs, there should be a balance between resources and duties by 2012,” he said.