Published:

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.

Comments are closed.