Britain lays off 4,400 soldiers as army downsizes

LONDON (AFP) - Britain laid off more 4,400 soldiers on Tuesday in a third wave of military job cuts intended to help tackle a budget deficit, the Ministry of Defence said.

The soldiers, 84 per cent of whom had applied for voluntary redundancy, were informed in person by their commanding officers, the ministry said in a statement.

The redundancies came on the same day that Afghan forces took charge of security in their country from British, US and other foreign troops, who are due to pull out by the end of 2014.

The 4,480 job losses will bring Britain's army numbers down to between 89,000 and 90,000, a ministry spokesman said. Some 3,800 soldiers have already been laid off.

A fourth and final wave of military cuts - like the first two, drawn from across the army, navy and air force - should see the army shrink to the target size of 82,000 by 2018.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: "It is with great regret that we have had to make redundancies to deliver the reduction in the size of the armed forces.

"But unfortunately they were unavoidable due to the size of the defence deficit that this government inherited.

"Although smaller, our armed forces will be more flexible and agile to reflect the challenges of the future with the protection and equipment they need."

The latest round of cuts is the biggest since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government came to power in 2010, and reflects its deficit reduction policies as well as the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The 8,000 British troops currently serving in Afghanistan are exempt from the redundancies, as are those who were recently deployed or who are recovering from serious injuries.

Soldiers voluntarily quitting will leave by Dec 17, while those facing compulsory redundancy will be out within 12 months.

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