'More than 17,000 episodes of troops going AWOL since 2003'

'Macho culture blamed for soldiers running away rather than asking for help.'

By Michael Savage, Political Correspondent, The Independent,  Saturday, 20 February 2010

British soldiers have gone on the run from their posts on more than 17,000 occasions since the start of the Iraq war, The Independent can reveal.

As resources for the armed forces remain stretched to cope with Britain's commitments in Afghanistan, official figures from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) show that there were more than 2,000 cases of soldiers going absent without leave (awol) last year, with 17,470 incidents recorded since the Iraq invasion in 2003.

The internal Government statistics, released to The Independent under the Freedom of Information Act, show that 375 soldiers remained at large at the end of last year, although MoD sources insisted that the figure has since fallen. Army officials are battling hard to tackle the problem that has persisted throughout Britain's gruelling operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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