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
It is impossible to judge the defence review without seeing the full budget breakdown, available only to government officials. But even with the information we now have, it is pretty clear that some assumptions are incoherent. Some plans just don’t add up. The most obvious issues are with the shape of the army after 2015.
There may be big troop cuts hidden in this review that Cameron just didn’t want to mention.
1) The mystery of Britain’s 29,000 surplus troops in 2020
At the moment Britain’s 110,000 strong land forces can sustain a deployment of around 10,000. By 2020 this enduring deployment will fall to brigade level, which amounts to around 6,500 men.
This is basically an admission that we will be unable to sustain as big a role in the next Afghanistan or Iraq.
But more curious is the fact that we’re not cutting the land forces by as much as we’re cutting the deployments we expect them to sustain.
The “force generation” ratio — the proportion of troops to boots on the ground — will actually deteriorate over the next decade according to the defence review, even though Liam Fox has ordered a separate review on how to improve it. Read more