Mon, Oct 23, 2006 - Page 7 News List

UK `risks defeat' in Afghanistan: former defense chief

HARD TO IGNORE Field Marshal Sir Peter Inge said that London had surrendered the ability to think strategically and defense needed more research backing and money

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

Field Marshal Sir Peter Inge, the former head of Britain's armed forces, has broken ranks to launch an attack on the current military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, warning that British forces risk defeat in Afghanistan.

In one of the strongest interventions in the conduct of the War on Terror, Inge also charged a lack of any "clear strategy" guiding British operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

His comments came as US President George W. Bush met his military and political officials to consider fresh tactics over Iraq, amid a mood of crisis in Washington over the violence.

The remarks by the former chief of the defense staff, who also served on the Butler Commission into intelligence failures in Iraq, follow those by the present head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, who warned that the presence of British troops in Iraq had "exacerbated" security problems in the country.

Inge's intervention, coming amid growing speculation about Britain's exit strategy from Iraq, is the first criticism of operations by a former head of the British army.

His comments, made at a meeting of European experts on Tuesday, reflect the growing dismay among senior military officers and civil servants involved in defense and foreign affairs, that in the critical areas of Afghanistan and Iraq Britain lacked clear foreign and defense policies separate from the US.

"I don't believe we have a clear strategy in either Afghanistan or Iraq. I sense we've lost the ability to think strategically. Deep down inside me, I worry that the British army could risk operational failure if we're not careful in Afghanistan. We need to recognize the test that I think they could face there," he told the debate held by Open Europe, an independent think tank campaigning for EU reform.

Inge said that London had surrendered its ability to think strategically and that despite the immense pressures on the army, defense received neither the research nor funding it required.

"I sense that Whitehall has lost the knack of putting together inter-departmental thinking about strategy. It talks about how we're going to do in Afghanistan, it doesn't really talk about strategy," he said.

The Iraq issue has been brought to a head by the sense of crisis enveloping military operations there, where attacks during Ramadan have increased by 22 percent, US deaths are touching record levels and British troops in the south of the country have been confronted by the specter of Shiite gunmen launching large-scale attacks.

Inge's comments come amid growing pressure in Washington from Republican Party loyalists, fearful of a meltdown in Congressional elections on Nov. 7, for a change in direction for US policy on Iraq.

Although Bush has admitted that tactics on the ground could change in response to the latest violence, he insisted in his weekly radio address on Saturday that there would be no change in the overall strategy.

On Saturday night there were reports of a "calm but tense" truce over the Iraqi city of al-Amarah, which was taken over by Shiite militia on Friday just two months after the province was handed back to Iraq security forces.

A British battle group of 600 troops remained on standby to sweep into the open city and regain control if required, an event that Ministry of defense officials admitted might prompt a rethink of Britain's exit policy.

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