Sir John Sawers, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, has never been one for the shadows.
While he served as political director at the Foreign Office, his influence was unmistakable on almost all areas of policy — indeed he even earned the nickname “Jonny Blue Eyes” for his dashing diplomacy.
Those who have worked with him are unsurprised that his views on Afghanistan are heavily influencing the prime minister, convincing him to set clear limits on a mission that is hogging resources better deployed elsewhere.
My colleague James Blitz, in an insightful piece, describes Sawers as “privately spelling out the limited threat Afghanistan poses to UK national security”. He goes on to quote a Whitehall official who has seen him in operation:
“John’s view is that we’re overly focused on the static threat we have in Afghanistan, with 10,000 troops costing £6bn a year….He is worried that we have our largest intelligence effort focused on one corner of Afghanistan – but that is not where the threats to our country are currently coming from.”
Fascinating stuff. This only highlights the importance of the National Security Council approach to Afghanistan in the years ahead.
David Cameron’s closest allies think setting a clear deadline for leaving Helmand has been one of his top two achievements in office. But the debate is far from over.
Senior military figures will strongly resist leaving an unfinished job. A stand-off between Barack Obama and General David Petraeus in Washington could well be mirrored in London between Cameron and General Sir David Richards. The advice of Sawers at that point will be more important than ever.