Chief of the General Staff has challenged the Government

Top office: Gen Sir Richard Dannatt reflects on his time as CGS during an interview with Soldier at MoD Main Building
Picture: Mike Weston

Interview: Joe Clapson

THE OUTGOING Chief of the General Staff has challenged the Government to keep its word on equipment for troops.

In a frank and open interview with Soldier, Gen Sir Richard Dannatt also demanded that any future budget cuts after the next General Election should not hit the Armed Forces.

Gen Dannatt ends his tenure at the helm of the British Army on August 28, when he hands over the reins to Gen Sir David Richards, the former commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan.

But following a month that has seen a sharp rise in British deaths in Afghanistan, he has no plans to make a discreet exit, or to take the pressure off Gordon Brown’s Government.

“While we are committed, and the Government are committed to the operations in southern Afghanistan, I take them at their word that the vehicles, the equipment, the resources that we need to conduct these operations, we will have,” he said.

“I would have been failing in my job in the last few years if I had not insisted that we have the maximum amount of money being spent on equipment and training, and all the rest of it on operations. And I know my successor will take exactly the same view.”

In recent weeks the 58-year-old former infantryman has spoken out over helicopter shortages in Afghanistan. Now he has gone on the record to warn any future occupants of Downing Street against any budget cuts.

The need to save money during the current economic recession is not a reason to jeopardise soldiers’ lives, according to Gen Dannatt.

“Whoever wins the next election there is going to be a Defence Review. That’s right and proper,” said CGS from his office at MoD main building.

“Defence is under a lot of pressure at the present moment and big decisions are going to have to be made.

“One thing we have absolutely got to do, and I will insist on it until my last day in office, is [to ensure] that at the very least we have what we absolutely need to conduct operations successfully in Afghanistan.

“If the nation wants us to fight a war, it has jolly well got to provide us with the tools to do that job – that is first and foremost. Other discussions can follow.”

The soldier’s soldier, decorated with the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, the Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, and the Military Cross, went on to heap high praise on those soldiers who fight on, regardless of the wider political picture.

“I think all of the successes of the last two or three years have been about how the Army has risen to the challenge of successfully concluding our operations in Iraq and rising to the challenge of Afghanistan, which is a tough and difficult mission,” said Gen Dannatt.

“We were conducting two major operations when we had only expected to conduct one. The fact that the Army was able to do it – to shoulder the burden – I think has been a phenomenal achievement.”

Clearly overwhelmed with pride, CGS added: “I just say thank you from the bottom of my heart for picking up the burden and running with it.”

Never one to shy away from controversial topics when his soldiers’ lives lay in the balance, Gen Dannatt also stressed the need for more troops of all nationalities to be drafted into Afghanistan’s battlefields.

“We can only bring the kind of success that we are trying to achieve where we can bring persistent security to parts of Helmand, by where we physically are,” he said. “It’s down to the number of boots on the ground.

“I do not mind whose feet are in those boots, whether it’s British feet, American feet or Afghan feet – the fact of the matter is we’ve got to have the maximum number of troops on the ground.”

Despite the recent fatalities in Afghanistan, the keen sportsman and father-of-four was upbeat about the future of Op Herrick. For him, failure is not an option.

“We have been successful in Iraq and we will succeed in southern Afghanistan. We must succeed, not just for the people of Afghanistan but for the people of this country as well,” said the general.

“It’s our tradition to do that and we will not let the nation down.”

He was also quick to dispute any suggestion that improvements in equipment would necessarily equate to the Taliban’s demise and less deaths to British soldiers.

“It’s not just about equipment. Our whole capability is based on a number of things and equipment is part of it.

“It’s much wider than just having better vehicles, that is an important part of it but that’s not the complete answer.”

Reflecting on his three-year term in charge of the Army, Gen Dannatt insisted his only regrets were the deaths of his soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Are there disappointments? No,” he continued. “As far as operations are concerned it is tragic that we have lost 179 of our people in Iraq and [an increasing number] in Afghanistan.

“Each one of those losses is a personal tragedy, so of course as far as that is concerned those are disappointments.”

With operations successfully wrapped up in Iraq and a stern warning not to cut the budget for Afghanistan issued, Gen Dannatt had a simple message for those he has led during his time at the top.

“My parting message is simply one of thanks,” he said. “I would like to place on record my thanks to all the Servicemen and women for what they have done in recent years in very difficult circumstances. And of course it’s not just to the men and women in uniform, it’s in particular to the families. We frankly couldn’t do what we do without the support of our close families.”

Signing off before he takes up the historic role as Constable of the Tower of London and packs his rod bag for a spot of fishing, Gen Dannatt explained why the British Army should be held in high esteem.

“I stayed for 40 years and only intended on staying for three, so there must be something right about what we do,” he said.

“We have a set of core values and make a big effort to live up to them. Selfless commitment, discipline, loyalty, respect for others, courage, integrity – these are really key core values and I think in a sense our attempt to live like that is almost a potential exemplar in the nation.”

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