Prime Minister Gordon Brown ignored military chiefs advice and refused a reinforcement of British troops in Afghanistan, the former head of the Army has said.
General Sir Richard Dannatt, who made himself very unpopular in Whitehall with his straight talking manner, told the Sun that ministers had to be taken “screaming and kicking” to agree to necessary measures, and that for some time the military had been operating “at least part of one arm tied behind one’s back”.
Of course Downing Street has come out and denied the claims, effectively calling General Dannatt a liar. Whilst Dannatt was still in office civil servants were briefing against him, no doubt unhappy with his frank statements about the lack of funding and equipment for the armed forces. He would normally have been a candidate for promotion to Chief of the Defence Staff, but this was vetoed by the Prime Minister.
If more reinforcements are needed, and the Government is – for whatever reason – unwilling to approve them, then they should put pressure on our NATO allies, some of whom are contributing very little at the moment. In one sense the Government is right to be careful about troop increases, as we are overstretched as it is. In a sense more British troops would only add added pressure.
But there are bigger issues than troop increases here. The armed forces may have a duty to follow the direction of the Government, but they also have an equally important duty to their men and women below them. The fact remains that our servicemen and women are being asked to put their life on the line, and soldiers respect commanders who stand up for them with the politicians. Some things go beyong party politics, and defence policy should be one of them. It is a dangerous precedent to set for Generals who speak the truth as they see it to be hounded out of office for not following the party line. This happened frequently in the first world war – generals who didnt say what the government wanted to hear were fired. And Winston Churchill himself was notoriously impatient with his Generals.
Hopefully Richard Dannatt will publish his memoirs. They would make very interesting reading indeed.