The head of the UK armed forces has said the remaining 4,100 British troops serving in Iraq should not be redeployed to Afghanistan.
In a clear warning against US President-elect Barack Obama’s idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan, the Chief of the Defense Staff, Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup said the withdrawal of troops from Iraq should not lead to soldiers being transferred to Afghanistan.
The British government plans to reduce the number of UK personnel in Iraq from 4,100 to a few hundred by May, while in Afghanistan — where some 7,800 troops are deployed — British forces are being killed at a faster rate than during the invasion of Iraq.
“Our top priority is to deliver success, military success in both theatres (Iraq and Afghanistan), but equally I’ve said for a very long time that the British armed forces are stretched,” Sir Jock said in an interview with the BBC on Sunday.
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“It’s crucial we reduce the operational tempo for our armed forces. It cannot be just a one-for-one transfer from Iraq to Afghanistan,” he added.
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Sir Jock also warned against Obama’s proposal of using a “surge” in the NATO deployment as guarantee of quick victory.
“I am a little nervous when people use the word ‘surge’ as if this were some sort of panacea,” he said, while confirming that more military force was required in Afghanistan, but not from Britain.
“We’re the second-largest troop-contributing nation. We expect others to take up their share of the burden.”
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband signaled government support for Stirrup’s position in a separate BBC television interview.
“Yes, there should be burden sharing, but we’re bearing a significant part of the burden already,” Milband said. “We don’t want to bear and unfair share of the burden.”
The British General’s remarks come at a time when US, British and NATO forces experience some of the most violent attacks since the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan. More foreign troops are now being killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq.