Page last updated at 09:14 GMT, Friday, 28 August 2009 10:14 UK

Profile: Gen Sir David Richards

General Sir David Richards
Gen Richards has said the Afghan Army and police must be built up

The former commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, Gen Sir David Richards, is the new head of the British army.

Gen Richards, previously Commander-in-Chief Land Forces, replaces Gen Sir Richard Dannatt as Chief of the General Staff.

His appointment comes at one of the most testing times for the coalition's mission in Afghanistan, but Gen Richards has first-hand experience in the country and is seen as a good communicator who is politically astute.

He has called himself "a seat-of-the-pants soldier", and has said that during his previous time in Afghanistan, the people and the country "entered my bloodstrea m".

As well as taking on the growing insurgency in parts of the country, Gen Richards will have to battle for resources for the Army at a time of increasing financial strain.

But when asked if he would be presenting a "shopping list" for military equipment on his first day in office, Gen Richards answered: "I will not."

"It is impossible to say whether having more equipment of a particular kind would lead to less casualties, and pretty fruitless speculating about it," he said in an interview with the Times.

Born 1952; educated Eastbourne College, University College Cardiff
Commissioned into Royal Artillery 1971
Service includes time in Far East, Germany, East Timor, Sierra Leone; four tours in Northern Ireland
Became Assistant Chief of the General Staff in 2002
Commander of the International Stabilisation and Assistance Force Afghanistan, 2006-2007
Commander-in-Chief Land Forces, 2008-2009
Operational awards include a Mention in Despatches, CBE, the DSO and KCB

Speaking a few weeks before taking up his new appointment, he said the UK's commitment to Afghanistan could last for up to 40 years.

Troops would be required for the medium term only, but the UK would continue to play a role in "development, governance [and] security sector reform," he told the Times.

The 57-year-old commanded 35,000 troops from 37 nations in Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan between May 2006 and February 2007.

On taking up that job, he pledged Nato forces were ready to take on the Taliban "wherever they may be".

His nine months in charge coincided with an increase in troop levels from 9,000 to more than 33,000.

But he voiced disappointment that extra forces were only arriving at a time when he was leaving his post.

During his tenure he said the winter campaign to frustrate the Taliban had been achieved "against the odds" and with "less troops than are really needed".

'Dirty fighting'

A few months in, Gen Richards painted a picture of what life was like for British troops in southern Afghanistan.

"Days and days of intense fighting - being woken up by yet another attack when they haven't slept for 24 hours," he said.

"This sort of thing hasn't really happened so consistently I don't think since the Korean war or the Second World War. This is persistent, low-level, dirty fighting."

General Sir David Richards
Gen Richards has said Afghanistan's people "entered his bloodstream"

This was at odds with what the then Defence Secretary John Reid had stated just four months earlier, when he said the role of British forces in Afghanistan was to "protect the reconstruction" of the country.

In April 2008, Gen Richards spoke out about compensation for wounded British troops, amid concern at the levels of payouts.

He told the Sunday Telegraph: "I can reassure you that there is an acceptance in the Ministry of Defence, not just in the military, that this whole area needs re-examination."

'Moral courage'

Gen Richards was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1971 before graduating in international relations from University College Cardiff three years later.

During the next nine years he saw service in the Far East, Germany and the UK, including four tours of Northern Ireland.

He attended Staff College in 1984 and was later promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

In 1994 he became a colonel, taking responsibility for overseeing the shape and size of the Army.

Two years later, he was promoted to brigadier and commanded British operations in East Timor in 1999 and Sierra Leone in 2000.

His mission in Sierra Leone - during which he persuaded then Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to allow him to return and run a bigger intervention to finish off the job successfully - saw him awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his leadership and "moral courage".

He also became a CBE for the operation he commanded in East Timor.

His rise from major general to general came during his time in Afghanistan.

He was appointed to the role of British land forces' commander-in-chief in February 2008 and his tour of duty earned him an operational KCB - a knighthood.

Born in 1952 and educated at Eastbourne College, he later married Caroline, with whom he has two daughters, Joanna and Pippa. He lives in Wiltshire.

Gen Richards is a qualified offshore yachtsman and admiral of both the Army Sailing Association and British Kiel Yacht Club. He is also president of army tennis, and chairman of the Gurkha Welfare Trust.

He lists his other hobbies as military history, riding, gardening and shooting.

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