|The impact of Army "overstretch" has emerged after the Government admitted that it is struggling to fight wars on two fronts.
Thousands of troops in Iraq have had their tour of duty extended from six to seven and a half months because the RAF does not have enough transport aircraft to move troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq at the same time.
The RAF has fewer than five Tristar troop transporters
The revelation undermines the claim that Operation Herrick - the deployment of 3,300 troops in Afghanistan - would not affect troops in Iraq.
The crisis follows previous warnings by former defence chiefs who have claimed that soldiers' lives would be lost if the Army was constantly asked to "do more with less".
The problem has arisen because the troops serving in Afghanistan were due to be replaced after six months on operations at the same time that 7,500 troops are serving in Iraq. The troops facing an extended tour come from 20 Armoured Brigade, normally based in Germany. The unit began arriving in southern Iraq last month and could under normal conditions have expected to return home in October.
It is understood, however, that the RAF has fewer than five Tristar troop transporters - each capable of carrying 266 passengers - fitted with the necessary equipment to protect them against missile attack.
Although the Government has leased three C17 transports from the United States, the RAF was unable to give assurances that it would be able to cope with transporting more than 20,000 troops over two weeks.
It is understood that the transport problem was first identified by military planners earlier this year after the deployment to Afghanistan was delayed because the British and Dutch governments could not agree on the exact role of a multinational force being sent into the country. It can also be revealed that 1Bn Grenadier Guards, which is serving with 20 Armoured Brigade in Iraq, will come home early to begin training for operations in Afghanistan from March next year.
The Ministry of Defence's own rules state that for reasons of morale and operational effectiveness all units should, whenever possible, have at least a 24-month gap between deployments so soldiers can rest, train and be with their families.
Under routine deployments troops spend about six months in Iraq. The start of the tour is usually staggered so that fresh troops can serve and patrol alongside those who have been there for several months - a practice known as a "hand-over take-over".
In February, The Sunday Telegraph revealed growing frustration between defence chiefs and the Government after senior officers argued that the force being sent to Iraq was not big enough to deal with the threat.
Earlier this year Lord Guthrie, a former chief of the defence staff, gave a warning that the Government would face difficulties maintaining operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Referring to Afghanistan, Lord Guthrie, who is also Colonel Commandant of the Special Air Service, said: "The British Army is already dangerously overstretched and maintaining a force even of this size over the years will be difficult."
Patrick Mercer, the shadow minister for homeland security, described the policy of launching two large-scale operations at the same time as a disaster.
He said: "This shows the foolhardiness of Labour's foreign policy and military planning. There simply are not enough troops or resources to mount two operations of this size simultaneously and the people who end up paying the price is the ordinary soldiers, sailors and airmen in our Armed Forces and their families who see less and less of them."
The MoD confirmed that a shortage of aircraft meant troops would spend longer in Iraq.
Britsh troops are fighting the Taleben on a daily basis. There are already calls for major reinforcements of front line troops in Afghanistan. So what is Blair's answer to all this - 5,000 less troops in the British army.