Peter Hoskin

So who’s really “playing politics” over troop numbers?

So who's really "playing politics" over troop numbers?
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Just when you thought Brown's government couldn't sink any lower, you go and read the Sunday Times's lead story today and the comments it contains from "senior Labour figures", including a minister.  Here are the first few paragraphs:

"Senior Labour figures accused the head of the army last night of playing politics as he said that there were too few troops and helicopters in the Afghan war zone.

One minister expressed fury that General Sir Richard Dannatt, the chief of the general staff, had attended a private dinner with Tory MPs and suggested an extra 2,000 troops were needed in Helmand province.

The general’s remarks put him at odds with the official government line, that the 9,000 British troops already in Afghanistan are sufficient to cope with the offensive.

A Labour minister said: 'General Dannatt has crossed an important line. He is playing a high-risk game.' 


David Crausby, a Labour member of the Commons defence committee, added: 'It is not appropriate to play party politics at this time. Dannatt should just get on with the job. After the conflict, if there are lessons to be learnt, we should do so in a considered manner.'"

Well, let's spell it out for those "senior Labour figures":

a) Dannatt is under no obligation to toe the party line, especially when more and more of his troops are dying in Afghanistan.

b) The idea that more troops are needed in Afghanistan is hardly subversive - an increasing number of strategists and military organisations would agree with Dannatt on that one.

c) Indeed, Downing St should already know that the Army wants an extra 2,000 troops.  I direct you, for instance, to this line in a Telegraph article from 3 weeks ago: "There has been a suggestion from Downing Street that the forces would get the requested extra 2,000 troops for Afghanistan..."  And it crops up again in today's Observer story about an "emergency review" of the Afghanistan mission.  

d) If the problem is with Dannatt speaking to the Tories about this, well why shouldn't he talk to the party who are most likely going to form the next government, especially when - as per c) - his views are hardly Top Secret?

Whether or not you agree with the Afghanistan mission (I do), for government figures to claim that Dannatt is "playing politics" over troop numbers is hypocrisy of the highest order.  Coming on the back of one of army's worst weeks in the conflict, it is also stupid and cruel in equal measures.  Like I said: just when you thought they couldn't sink any lower...