British troops must not be sent in support of US President-Elect Barack Obama’s planned “surge” in Afghanistan, the head of the armed forces has said.
By Rosa Prince
November 9 2008
Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, warned that the British military was already over-stretched, and suggested that troops from other Nato countries should be sent to fight.
Mr Obama has spoken of his desire to see a surge in troop numbers in Afghanistan, similar to that which appears to have had success against extremists in Iraq, to finally quell the Taliban insurgency.
But Sir Jock said that British troops were already struggling to cope with fighting in the two theatres of Iraq and Afghanistan, and could not take on more demands.
His words were echoed by David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, who agreed that other Nato countries should take responsibility for any fresh surge in Afghanistan.
Both men also ruled out sending British troops to the Congo to bolster the United Nations force in central Africa.
There are currently 8,100 military personnel serving Afghanistan, with another 4,100 in Iraq due to withdraw by the middle of next year.
Sir Jock said that they should not be redeployed to Afghanistan once their mission in Iraq ended, adding: “I am a little nervous when people use the word ‘surge’ as if this were some sort of panacea.
“We welcome more military force being sent to Afghanistan. Everybody needs to do their share, we are very clear on that.
“In the context of what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are shouldering a burden which is more than we are able to shoulder in the long term, so we expect the others to take up their share of that burden.”
Appearing with Sir Jock on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Miliband was asked if Mr Obama’s proposed surge would require an increase in the size of Britain’s commitment there.
He said: “Not necessarily, no. As the second-largest contributor of troops in Afghanistan, the first thing we say is that we don’t want to bear an unfair share of the burden.”
William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, also warned that Britain was already making a “disproportionate contribution” to the Nato effort in Afghanistan.
He told Sky News’ Sunday Live: “We do need the rest of Nato to play its part in Afghanistan and undoubtedly it seems that Barack Obama does intend to send larger US forces and that is part of what is necessary in Afghanistan.
“We would all take some persuading that there would have to be a much larger British contingent there – there’s already a very large British contingent.”
Meanwhile, Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has said that the Government should talk to Iranian and Taliban leaders in order to find lasting resolutions to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He added: “Negotiation with both the Taliban and Iran may be unpalatable, but it is the only route to success, and if it doesn’t happen now it will be too late.”