Conservative Diary

« The Guardian’s and Mirror’s front pages are overblown, but… | Main | The Big Bang that happened today »

Are we sticking to the plan in Afghanistan? The generals seem to have their worries…

By Peter Hoskin
Follow Peter on Twitter

What with the news about benefits, the NHS, financial regulation and energy policy, this story in today’s Independent may struggle for attention. But it deserves noting, at least.

It relates a warning from the most senior UK commander in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General Nick Carter, about troop withdrawals. “Precipitating withdrawal that is not in line with the current plan will damage Afghan confidence,” he says. And he adds that we should “provide the Afghans with the support to take this through into 2014.”

It’s telling, in itself, that the general is saying this. He recommends staying “in line with the current plan” – which is to reduce troop numbers from the 8,000 currently in Afghanistan to around 5,000 by the end of the year – so does that mean he thinks there’s a chance we won’t? Is the plan at risk?

There’s certainly appetite in Westminster for a speedier withdrawal. George Osborne, his eyes on the stubborn borrowing numbers, is said to have asked military commanders why the entire British force couldn’t just come home now. And he’s had support from backbenchers such as Dominic Raab, who recently wrote that “bringing all UK troops home from Afghanistan by the end of 2013 (instead of 2014) would save £3.6bn.” Maybe this is what has set Lieutenant-General Carter a-worrying.

One thing to look out for is whether Downing Street starts sniffing around a compromise, perhaps allowing the MoD to keep some of the £3.6 billion that Mr Raab mentions. But, in any case, this divide between penny-conscious politicians and mission-conscious officers threatens to be one of the more significant of the year.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.