David Blackburn

Dannatt may be overstating his case, but the government is being disingenuous

Dannatt may be overstating his case, but the government is being disingenuous
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General Sir Richard Dannatt issues a vociferous condemnation of the government’s commitment to British efforts in Afghanistan in the print edition of today’s Sun. Dannatt asserts that Gordon Brown vetoed increasing the British deployment by 2,000 troops, against the advice of military chiefs. He told the paper:

“The military advice has been for an uplift since the beginning of 2009. If the military says we need more troops and we can supply them, then frankly they should take that advice and deploy up to the level we recommend.

“If it means finding more resources and putting more energy in, let’s do it. If you’re going to conduct an operation, you’re doing it for one reason – to succeed.

“Don’t let’s do it with at least one arm tied behind one’s back. That said, we have gone from 8,000 to 9,000 this year – albeit with 700 as a temporary surge.”

There’s nothing novel in Dannatt’s latest comments and Downing Street recited the liturgy. A spokesman said:

“The key point I think is there were 7,800 troops in Afghanistan in the summer of 2007, now there are 9,000. Reserve funding for Afghanistan has also increased. Any suggestion that the Prime Minister has been unwilling to provide more troops or resources is simply wrong.”

Obviously, the government ignore that 700 servicemen are due to return within the next month, but Dannatt has overstated his case. His successor General Richards has, by agreeing with Bob Ainsworth that there is no point sending more troops without the resources to equip them, contradicted Dannatt’s opinion that a surge could be adequately supplied. However, Richards’ and Ainsworth's brief concordance raises questions concerning the government’s overall commitment to the war. There is no doubt that an increased permanent presence is required, and General Richards has requested http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6861085.ece a further 1,000 combat troops be sent to Helmand. But whilst the political desire to fight exists, the political will to enact the Defence chiefs’ recommendations does not. Until that imbalance is redressed, British soldiers must fight an increasingly desperate war with a hand tied behind their back. If the public coffers are bare, then the government must downscale British deployment to match its own financial and political committment.