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‘We went to war to keep the Army busy’

Posted by smeddum on January 15, 2011

By Daily Mail Reporter
14th January 2011

Daily Mail

A furious row has erupted in Whitehall after a former Kabul envoy claimed British commanders committed troops to war in Afghanistan because they feared cuts if they did not use them.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles said he had been told by the former head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, that if he did not re-deploy battlegroups coming free from Iraq he would lose them in a future defence review.

In a written memorandum to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, he said the Afghan campaign had seen ‘unprecedented’ resources diverted to the Army, and that most soldiers appeared to be ‘enjoying’ it.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles
Sir Richard Dannatt

Fury: Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles (left) claims former head of the Army General Sir Richard Dannatt committed troops to war in Afghanistan because of fears troop numbers would be cut if he did not use them

Sir Dannatt has strongly denied the allegations and slammed the remarks as ‘a disgraceful set of comments’, adding: ‘It’s not his business to opine about the Army. He is well out of lane and well out of order.’

However Sir Sherard claimed to The Times: ‘He is lying, I am afraid. I can recall him saying it, sitting in his office in the Ministry of Defence.’

Sir Sherard said British commanders also saw the mission in Afghanistan as an opportunity to redeem their reputation in the eyes of the Americans after the criticisms of their performance in Basra.

Sir Sherard described the war in Afghanistan as giving the British Army a 'raison d'etre' it had previously lacked Sir Sherard described the war in Afghanistan as giving the British Army a ‘raison d’etre’ it had previously lacked 

‘The war in Afghanistan has given the British Army a raison d’etre it has lacked for many years, and new resources on an unprecedented scale,’ he said.

‘In the eyes of the Army, Afghanistan has also given our forces the chance to redeem themselves, in the eyes of the Americans, in the wake of negative perceptions, whether or not they were justified, of the British Army’s performance in Basra.

‘Not surprisingly, in a profession paid to fight, most have been enjoying the campaign.

‘Against that background, the then Chief of the General Staff, Sir Richard Dannatt, told me in the summer of 2007 that, if he didn’t use in Afghanistan the battle groups then starting to come free from Iraq, he would lose them in a future defence review.

‘It’s use them, or lose them’, he said.

Sir Sherard added: ‘In my view, the Army’s ‘strategy’ in Helmand was driven at least as much by the level of resources available to the British Army as by an objective assessment of the needs of a proper counter-insurgency campaign in the province.’

An unnamed former brigade commander in Helmand said: ‘Much of [Sir Sherard’s] analysis of the military is correct and is representative of an organisation that has been unable to adapt to the circumstances it has found itself in.’

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