Page last updated at 09:48 GMT, Sunday, 13 July 2008 10:48 UK

Forces in Afghanistan 'for years'

Black Watch soldier in Iraq
Sir Jock has said the armed forces are currently over-stretched

The UK's armed forces are set to remain in Afghanistan for "a few years", Air Chief Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of defence staff, has said.

He told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show the key aim was to develop Afghan security forces, adding: "That is going well".

It comes as a suspected suicide attack in southern Afghanistan killed at least 17 civilians and four police officers.

Sir Jock also said he expected a reduction in the number of service personnel deployed in Iraq in 2009.

Sir Jock has recently said the armed forces is overstretched due to the strain of fighting two wars.

Reiterating this point, he told the BBC: "Sustaining two theatres at the level we are at the moment is a stretch on us."

He added: "We do need to get ourselves back down to a more sustainable operational tempo as soon as we can."

'Greatest stretch'

This, he said, has been and remains his "top priority".

And Sir Jock said the "greatest stretch" was felt in "key enablers", by which he meant engineers, signallers, helicopters and strategic transport.

He said there were important parts of the Iraqi mission to complete, such as training parts of the country's army.

Sir Jock said the armed forces were under-manned by about 5,000, although he said this shortage was less than it was 10 years ago.

And, during a wide-ranging interview, he touched on a number of topics, including concerns over the pay received by service personnel.

'Critical point'

Last month, Army chief General Sir Richard Dannatt called for pay rises above inflation for service personnel.

And it was recently claimed that some servicemen and women are not paid as much as traffic wardens.

Responding to this issue, Sir Jock said members of the armed forces were "fantastic" and no monetary value "could ever be enough for them".

He said that salaries are determined by an independent pay review body and then implemented by the government.

"The critical issue for me is retaining the independence of that review body and for the government to implement its recommendations in full each year, as it has done in recent years," he said.



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