Tuesday, September 14, 1999 Published at 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
UK army 'overstretched'
UK troops are overstretched, Lord Robertson admits
The Tories have attacked the defence secretary for committing UK troops to East Timor while admitting British forces are overstretched.
Defence Secretary Lord Robertson on Tuesday admitted the scale of British involvement in military operations in other countries, including Kosovo, limited its contribution.
His remarks were seized upon by the Conservative defence spokesman Iain Duncan Smith, who claimed they amounted to an embarrassing confession.
He backed the position of Shadow Foreign Secretary John Maples, who has argued the UK should not send any troops to Indonesia.
Mr Duncan Smith poured scorn on the Labour government's attempts to be the "world's policeman".
He said: "Their efforts to grandstand on the world stage are being done at the expense of our servicemen's welfare, with the result that we are now losing 1,100 experienced men from the army each month."
But the defence secretary argued the UK contribution to the East Timor force was not "insignificant".
He added: "We have got to remember all the time that this is on the far side of the world, that it is a regional responsibility for the countries in the area.
"Although we are willing, of course, to stand by our Australian friends and partners, who have been so helpful to us and so loyal to us in the past, it is primarily a regional responsibility and we would hope the multi-national force would be largely from that area."
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