General Sir David Richards

There is a clear, unremitting pattern to David Cameron’s announcements on Afghanistan: they all point to the exit. Today he repeated that troops could begin returning in 2011 — contradicting a warning from the new head of the armed forces last month. As one senior military figure told me recently, Cameron “is not making our job easier”.

General Sir David Richards, the chief of defence staff, is travelling with the prime minister in Helmand and certainly gave a much warmer response to the idea of an “accelerated withdrawal” when asked this time round. But there will still be a lively discussion over the pace of the draw down and what, if anything, would slow it down. Read more

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. Read more