26/11/2009

SIS Spy Boss Slams Defence Cuts

There was further embarrassment for the Government today as a former spy boss strongly criticised the Treasury for the way it financed and handled the military campaign in Afghanistan.

The top man in the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), Sir Richard Dearlove, when British troops were deployed to Afghanistan in 2001, said the Treasury had been squeezing the defence budget ever since.

He also accused the Government of failing to explain adequately to the public why Britain was at war.

Sir Richard made his comments at a Gresham College lecture in London, telling the audience of academics that "the question of why we are at war with the Taliban is one of national security".

"Our armed forces have been under-resourced. This is a basic fact from which there really is no escape," the former chief of MI6 said in an audio recording used by ITV News.

"The Treasury has been squeezing the defence budget for approximately eight years."

He added: "Until recently, our political leadership has failed to explain satisfactorily why we are at war.

"Their advocacy of the policy has, I think, been half-hearted," he said, noting that "now we see a change in that advocacy with a more confident position being taken".

He concluded: "The reason for change looks rather more like political damage limitation, than vigorous belief in the policy."

Sir Richard was head of MI6 from 1999-2004, and has also warned the Government that it must deliver a strong message to its enemies to avoid the loss of more British troops.

"The Taliban, if they think we are wavering, will up the pressure and be encouraged to try to kill more of our soldiers," he said.

However, the PM's spokesman said: "We have consistently increased funding for the mission in Afghanistan year by year in recent years.

"The Prime Minister and other Cabinet ministers continue to explain and make the case publicly for the mission."

(BMcC/GK)

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