NEWS
02/03/2012 09:20 GMT

James Blunt And Katherine Jenkins Cancel Trip To Afghanistan

James Blunt and Katherine Jenkins have again been forced to cancel morale-boosting concerts for British troops in Afghanistan because of problems flying them to the war zone.

The award-winning singers were due to perform for servicemen and women this week, but a malfunctioning RAF Tristar transport aircraft left them stranded in Cyprus.

Former Army officer Blunt, 38, revealed on Twitter that the stars were just half an hour from the main British base in Helmand province when their flight had to turn back because of a technical fault.

He wrote: "We have an air leak. It's become very cold on the aircraft. Only 30 mins short of Camp Bastion, but we're heading back to Cyprus."

Jenkins tweeted: "Sadly we tried again (to get to Afghanistan) but it's not going to happen. So sorry not to make it out to you but we really REALLY tried!"

A defence source said the military was "gutted" it could not get the entertainers to Helmand and confirmed that the aircraft fault also meant delays for some members of the armed forces returning home on leave.

This is not the first time the two singers have failed to get to Afghanistan because of transport problems. They also had to abandon a trip to entertain the troops at Christmas 2010.

Comedian Kev Orkian was due to perform alongside Blunt and Jenkins on this week's cancelled visit, which was organised by the British Forces Foundation.

Welsh mezzo-soprano Jenkins, 31, performed for troops in Afghanistan in 2007.

Her spokesman said: "Katherine is massively disappointed as she was very much looking forward to seeing everyone."

Problems with the RAF's "air bridge" to Afghanistan are a frequent source of complaints when troops suffer delays that cut into their limited "rest and recuperation" leave during operational tours.

An MoD spokesman said: "The British Forces Foundation worked with the Ministry of Defence to organise a visit by Katherine Jenkins, James Blunt and Kev Orkian to Afghanistan to reinforce the UK public's enduring support to their armed forces and other personnel deployed in theatre.

"Entertainment of members of the armed forces is, and has for many years been, an important element of the overall welfare package that supports operations as it helps to maintain morale and thereby the combat effectiveness of service personnel.

"Due to a number of technical issues with our aircraft, the visit suffered a number of delays resulting in its cancellation.

"However, it should be noted that our air bridge aircraft work exceptionally hard and operate in tough environments which, unfortunately, can sometimes lead to unavoidable delays.

"It should be noted that the air bridge as a whole is highly reliable, serving our operational theatres on a daily basis."

Discussions are under way about rescheduling the stars' visit to Afghanistan.

The MoD spokesman added that any service personnel who lose out on rest and recuperation leave because of air bridge problems will be granted extra time off at the end of their tours.

He said: "The welfare of our troops remains our priority and we regret any inconvenience caused to individuals and their families."