Britain's new chief of staff David Richards speaks frankly about our failures in Afghanistan, the future of the military and Britain’s place in the worldby Prospect / June 30, 2010 / Leave a comment
David Richards (right) with his troops in Afghanistan in 2006: “I’m the first to be critical of the mistakes we have made”
The Prospect roundtable
General Sir David Richards became chief of the general staff of the British army in 2009, having been commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan (May 2006-February 2007). A graduate in international relations from University College Cardiff, he has served in Northern Ireland and Sierra Leone. He is one of the favourites to become the next chief of defence staff
Michael Clarke is director of the Royal United Services Institute, winner of Prospect’s 2008 think tank of the year award
Kishwer Falkner is a Pakistani-born Liberal Democrat peer and the party’s spokesperson for home affairs in the Lords
Patrick Hennessey has fought in Afghanistan, where he became the youngest captain in the army. He is the author of “The Junior Officers’ Reading Club”
Lewis Page is a former naval officer and author of “Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs: Waste and Blundering in the Military”
Rory Stewart is the new Tory MP for Penrith and the Border. As well as writing, he has been a soldier, a diplomat, and has lived in Afghanistan and the middle east
Michael Clarke: Let’s start on Afghanistan. Are the government and the military losing credibility? There was a very critical analysis in the Times in early June.
David Richards: The Times was not criticising our being there. It was mainly criticising what happened in 2005-06, when clearly some decisions were taken that were wrong. But I’ve spent the last two days with General David Petraeus, the head of the US Central Command, and you’ve got to remember that the surge is, only now, coming on stream. We’ve got another 15,000 soldiers due to come into theatre around the end of August. So we must give a chance to Stan McChrystal’s [commander of US forces in Afghanistan] revised strategy of more troops, plus a “hearts and minds” counter-insurgency approach to the local population. I can see reasons for optimism—such as the gradual growth in confidence where we have the troop numbers right—that may not be so clear to outsiders.
Clarke: And what if we fail?
Richards: The geostrategic implications are quite horrendous. If we fail, or are perceived to have failed, then Pakistan is very vulnerable internally—General Wynne, number two in the Pakistan army, said recently that it would be “disastrous” for us…