Split widens between PM and armed forces chiefs
Cameron inherited the Afghan campaign and wants out - but Libya is ‘his war’ and he’s happy to pursue it
The strained relationship between Number Ten and British armed forces chiefs over the missions in Afghanistan and Libya has been exposed once again.
Hours after the PM told forces chiefs, "You do the fighting, I'll do the talking", the head of the Army, Gen Sir Peter Wall, will suggest on TV tonight that David Cameron's 2015 deadline to end combat operations in Helmand could slip.
It is the latest in a stream of public utterances from forces chiefs, past and present, frustrated by what they see as politics overruling military sense: in short, Afghanistan is a war Cameron inherited and wants Britain to quit as quickly as possible, while Libya is "his war" and he is eager to pursue it to its conclusion.
Forces chiefs, on the whole, take the opposite line: the war against the Taliban makes sense, while the attempt to bomb Gaddafi into submission doesn't.
The former head of the Army, General Lord Dannatt, now a regular commentator, said David Cameron should not "risk the investment in blood and treasure just for a domestic political agenda" by withdrawing from Afghanistan too early and jeopardising the progress made against the Taliban.
As for Libya, several forces chiefs claim privately - and sometimes not so privately - that it was a short-term political decision to push for military involvement and that there is little chance of ousting Colonel Gaddafi without putting "boots on the ground" - which is not allowed under the UN resolution.
Yesterday, the Daily Telegraph disclosed that the RAF's second-in-command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Simon Bryant, had privately told MPs the air force could not sustain the Libyan bombing sorties beyond September without cutting operations elsewhere.
Small wonder that Cameron revealed at a press conference yesterday: "There are moments when I wake up in the morning and read the newspapers and I think 'You do the fighting, I'll do the talking'."
The Daily Telegraph today quotes a Downing Street source
saying: "In some ways, it's a good thing that the chiefs are prepared to stand up to ministers and aren't just 'Yes' men. But it would be much more helpful if they did it in private instead of in the papers and in Parliament."
Some watching this from the sidelines believe the armed forces chiefs have a hidden agenda - to force the government to reverse cuts announced in the Strategic Defence and Security Review last October, which would amount to yet another U-turn by Cameron's coalition government.
Meanwhile, the opposing arguments in the Afghan debate are laid out by two First Post columnists writing this week.
The war correspondent Robert Fox, recently returned from a long trip to Afghanistan, believes neither US nor British forces should 'cut and run'.
The former Welsh Guards intelligence officer Crispin Black backs a speedy withdrawal, making him one of the few British Army men to support the Prime Minister on this issue.
Read Robert Fox's argument against speedy withdrawal hereRead Crispin Black's backing for the withdrawal hereAfghanistan: War Without End? BBC2, tonight at 9.0 pm ·
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