Britain denied a newspaper report on Saturday that it was considering making deeper cuts to its army than previously announced and that soldiers wounded in Afghanistan could be among those losing their jobs.
The Daily Telegraph said it had seen a leaked memo sent to senior commanders in Afghanistan that said cuts in army numbers would be more than double the figure originally announced, and wounded soldiers would not be exempt.
The Ministry of Defence said the information in the internal memo, which it said had been written by a junior officer, was incorrect. Beyond those already announced, there are no further army reductions planned, it said.
Wounded soldiers would not be at risk of losing their jobs while they were receiving treatment, it said in a statement.
However, Brigadier Richard Nugee, in charge of army staffing, said the memo was part of work on options to meet a government target to reduce army numbers to 82,000 by 2020, from 102,500 in 2010.
As the person responsible for that programme, you would not expect me to do anything other than actually look at all the possibilities, he told the BBC.
The report came at an embarrassing time for the government, falling on the weekend that Britain remembers its dead from two world wars and more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Military cuts are also sensitive as some politicians and retired commanders have expressed fears that they will seriously weaken Britain's armed forces, which recently played a leading role in NATO operations in Libya.
The Daily Telegraph quoted the confidential document as saying the army could be cut by 16,500 by April 2015.
That is more than double the 7,000 reduction in army numbers that the coalition government announced in October 2010 as part of sweeping public spending cuts aimed at reining in a swollen budget deficit.
The newspaper said the Ministry of Defence had quietly announced a further 5,000 job losses earlier this year, but the memo referred to total cuts of between 15,500 and 16,500 by April 2015.
The report said 2,500 wounded soldiers, many of them injured fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq, would not be exempt from the cuts. Army chiefs had previously given assurances that soldiers badly wounded on operations could stay in the army.
Some 350 soldiers have lost limbs, many as a result of explosions. The newspaper said the army had so many wounded soldiers its fighting strength was being diminished.
Jim Murphy, the Labour Party's defence spokesman, called the newspaper report worrying, saying the cuts risked undermining Britain's ability to project military force across the world.
No one who has been seriously injured as a consequence of their service in defending our country should be sacked from the armed forces. They should be supported into other roles in the Ministry of Defence, he told BBC radio..
(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Jon Hemming)