Page last updated at 11:11 GMT, Friday, 28 August 2009 12:11 UK

New army head in pledge to troops

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

Gen Sir David Richards has pledged to focus on the military effort in Afghanistan as he takes over as head of the British army.

The former head of the International Security and Assistance Force has first-hand experience of the conflict.

He said he would also ensure troops were "geared up" for future missions.

Gen Richards said people were the Army's biggest asset, and admitted his predecessor, Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, would be a "hard act to follow".

He said: "As part of the defence team, I will continue to focus on what is needed to meet the government's aims in Afghanistan and the region, and ensuring the Army achieves the tasks laid upon it.

"The Army's most valuable assets are its people: it is essential that we continue to look after our soldiers and their families, especially those injured or affected adversely through conflict."

BBC defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt said: "General Sir David Richards is seen as a good communicator who is also politically astute, and perhaps more likely to fight his battles behind closed doors."

His leadership style may prove to be in contrast to the outspoken Gen Dannatt, who was often at odds with ministers over equipment and support needed on the battlefield.

It is impossible to say whether having more equipment of a particular kind would lead to less casualties
Gen Sir David Richards

Gen Richards has extensive operational experience in East Timor, Sierra Leone, and first-hand knowledge of the challenges in Afghanistan, gained as commander of Nato coalition forces there between 2006 and 2007.

After the next election, all main parties have committed to holding a root-and-branch review of all military services.

Gen Richards said: "Looking to the longer term, I will be focusing on making sure that the Army is geared up for future conflict as it evolves in this highly interdependent and globalised era."

Asked earlier this month 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 newspaper.

"The enemy's tactics will always reflect, and try to exploit, how we operate - my American comrades first taught me the adage, 'the enemy has a vote' - and our own tactics must reflect the equipment and troop numbers we have.

"It is a truism to state that the more we have, the more we can do."

Gen Dannatt will now take up the post of chairman of the Royal United Services Institute think-tank. He will also become the 159th Constable of the Tower of London, a ceremonial role.

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