Page last updated at 16:22 GMT, Sunday, 9 November 2008

'No Afghan move' for UK troops

British, American and Iraqi troops
British and American troops are working alongside Iraqi forces

The head of the UK armed forces says British troops serving in Iraq should not be redeployed to Afghanistan.

The Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, told the BBC there would be a significant reduction in UK personnel in Iraq by next year.

But he warned against US President-elect Barack Obama's idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan, similar to the "surge" in Iraq in 2007.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the UK did not want an "unfair burden".

Resources stretched

There are 4,100 British troops in Iraq, compared to 7,800 in Afghanistan. The government plans to reduce the number of UK personnel in Iraq, while in Afghanistan, British forces are being killed at a faster rate than during the invasion of Iraq.

I am a little nervous when people use the word 'surge' as if this were some sort of panacea
Sir Jock Stirrup

In an interview with BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, Sir Jock said the withdrawal of troops from Iraq should not lead to soldiers being transferred to Afghanistan because the armed forces had been over-stretched.

"Our top priority is to deliver success, military success in both theatres (Iraq and Afghanistan), but equally I've said for a very long time that the British armed forces are stretched," he said.

"We're doing more than we are structured or resourced to do in the long term. We can do it for a short period but we can't continue doing it ad infinitum.

"So we also have to get ourselves back into balance; it's crucial that we reduce the operational tempo for our armed forces, so it cannot be, even if the situation demanded it, it cannot be just a one for one transfer from Iraq to Afghanistan, we have to reduce that tempo."

Military reinforcements

In February last year, an extra 30,000 US personnel were deployed to troublespots in Iraq.

In a major change of strategy, coalition forces also moved out of large bases and into highly populated areas.

Since then, the security situation has improved markedly, with less violence and fewer deaths.

David Miliband says troop numbers in Afghanistan are high already

During the election campaign, Mr Obama's central pledge on foreign policy was to get US combat troops out of Iraq over the next 18 months.

The president-elect has also said he believes political and economic progress as well as military reinforcements are needed in Afghanistan.

Referring to Mr Obama's proposal to step up operations, Sir Jock said: "I am a little nervous when people use the word 'surge' as if this were some sort of panacea.

"What we are quite clear about is that we need more military force in Afghanistan... everybody needs to do their share, we are very clear on that."

'Fundamental shift'

Also speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Mr Miliband said a troop surge would need to be combined with a "civilian surge" focusing on politics and economics.

"As the second-largest contributor of troops in Afghanistan, the first thing we say is that we don't want to bear an unfair share of the burden," he said.

He also suggested that UK troops could be leaving Iraq around next Spring.

I think we would all take some persuading that there would have to be a much larger British contingent there
William Hague
Shadow foreign secretary

He said: "The prime minister has made it very, very clear that there'll be a fundamental shift in the nature of our relationship with the Iraqi government after the spring of next year.

"And that fundamental shift happens because Britain's job - which is now about training the 14th division of the Iraqi Army will effectively be over."

Relations between the UK and Iraq would then move to what are "normal relations" between allies which "won't involve the sort of troop deployment we have got there at the moment", he added.

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague told Sky News he believed the bulk of British troops would be pulled out of Iraq next year but warned that Britain made a "disproportionate contribution" to the Nato effort in Afghanistan.

Asked whether those troops would then be sent to Afghanistan, Mr Hague said: "The British Army is very overstretched and Britain makes a disproportionate contribution to the Nato effort in Afghanistan.

"So I think we would all take some persuading that there would have to be a much larger British contingent there - there's already a very large British contingent."

He added: "We do need the rest of Nato to play its part in Afghanistan and undoubtedly it seems that Barack Obama does intend to send larger US forces and that is part of what is necessary in Afghanistan."

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