Ministers must not take “cheap options” when it comes to equipping the Armed Forces to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the head of the British Army warns today.
By Con Coughlin
The Telegraph (London)
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Telegraph, General Sir Richard Dannatt says the Government has an “absolute responsibility” to provide the best training and equipment for the British men and women serving on the front line.
“If you are committing young people to battle they have to be given the best, and when circumstances change they have to be given the best again,” he said.
His comments came as the Ministry of Defence announced the death of two Royal Marines in southern Afghanistan, taking the British death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan to 300.
Gen Dannatt, who will retire from the Army next year, has been outspoken on defence issues since taking up his post in 2006.
In 2006, he warned that the Army could ‘break’ if British soldiers were kept too long in Iraq.
And in a leaked report last year, Gen Dannatt warned that years of Government under-funding and overstretch had left troops feeling “devalued, angry and suffering from Iraq fatigue.”
With Britain now preparing to withdraw its 4,000 troops from Iraq next year, pressure is mounting – from sources including Barack Obama, the US president-elect — for more British forces to be sent to Afghanistan.
But Gen Dannatt said that no more British troops should go to Afghanistan, insisting that the Army only has the manpower and resources to fight one foreign war at a time.
“The reason the Army has been under such pressure for the past three years is that we are committed to fighting two wars when we are only structured to fight one,” said Gen. Dannatt. “If we were to move troops from Iraq to Afghanistan we would simply replicate the problems.”
He said that many improvements had been made in equipping front line troops during the past two years, but serious consideration needed to be given as to whether it was sufficient that only 5 per cent of the government’s budget was devoted to defence spending.
“Is the amount the government spends on defence the right proportion?” he asked. “There are no cheap options on defence.”