Asked if the Prime Minister would pay for everything on General Dannatt s shopping list , the Prime Minister s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that it was right for the Head of the Army (CGS) to travel to Afghanistan to look in detail at the operation and assess its performance and its requirements and then return to the UK to make recommendations. The Prime Minister had spent 40 minutes with the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) this morning; we would take decisions in the light of that military advice.
The CDS had been going into more detail about the process that would now take place to see that the recommendations that were made by the CGS were implemented. The other important point to make when talking about budgets was that in real terms the Defence budget had gone up 11% between 1997 and 2010/11 and that excluded urgent operational requirements and the cost of operations.
Put that the CDS had said that the Prime Minister was looking at the list that General Dannatt had drawn up as a matter of urgency and did that mean there would be some kind of rethink in terms of resources, the PMS advised people not to over-read those comments. It was entirely normal that the Head of the Army should take stock of the situation on the ground and after talking to commanders operating in Helmand, return with recommendations and that is what he was doing.
Asked if there was a danger that the CDS was beginning to look like an apologist for the Government and the CGS was representing the boys on the ground, the PMS said he rejected that view entirely; the Prime Minister and Ministers were very closely engaged in discussions with all of the senior commanders about the UK operation in Afghanistan and we had consistently responded to requirements that they had recommended, including for instance armoured vehicles for use on the ground in Afghanistan. On helicopters as people would know, we were spending a considerable amount of money to increase the helicopter capability.
Asked if the CDS and the CGS were completely as one on these issues, the PMS said that the CDS, CGS, the Prime Minister and Government Ministers were working very hard to ensure that our commanders and troops on the ground had what they needed to ensure that they could carry out their operations successfully.
Put that the CGS had said this morning that he would not support a reduction in the current troop numbers after the Afghan elections and was it still the Government s intention to review the number of troops, the PMS replied that as the CDS was making clear, there was a wider process of review that would go on led by General McChrystal in the Autumn, which would look not only at the UK component to the NATO operation but at the operation as a whole. We had made clear that that review would take place and we would respond to the advice that emanated from it.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought it was still a viable option to reduce troop numbers after the Afghan elections, the PMS said that we had set out the position clearly; we had increased the number of troops to 9000 ahead of the elections in order that those elections could take place and guarantee the maximum amount of security possible for the people who wanted to participate in them. We would review the position on troops along with our NATO allies after the elections. The PMS said that he would not pre-empt the outcome of a review that had not taken place yet.
Put that General Dannatt had talked about the reallocation of resources in the MOD this morning and was the Prime Minister looking at what other projects could be cut in favour of fresh resources elsewhere, the PMS said that there would be an internal process in the MOD to look at how those recommendations could be implemented and that was an entirely normal process for the MOD. Asked if this process would be speeded up at all, the PMS said that the MOD and the Armed Forces prioritise their spending on an ongoing basis to respond to what were the most urgent operational requirements and this was not an unusual process that we were going through.
Put that what was unusual was the CDS and the CGS publicly fighting for their positions, the PMS said that he rejected that characterisation. The CGS had said in his interview that he had been to Afghanistan, he had looked at the challenge for the troops on the ground and the nature of the threat and how we responded to it, which was something that the CDS was echoing in his interview with Sky. The CDS had said that we had provided a good deal of equipment designed to protect our troops against IEDs, but we would also look at an offensive capability and that was exactly what the CGS was going to recommend.
Asked what the Prime Minister thought about reports in the press stating that Labour MPs and Ministers were briefing against the CGS, the PMS replied that he had no knowledge of the sources of those quotes and he would not comment on them. The Prime Minister s view was that the CGS was doing exactly what people would expect the Head of the Army to do, which was to be able to provide a clear recommendation of the requirements of the troops fighting in Afghanistan on the basis of his visits there and conversations that he had had with commanders and troops on the ground.
Put that it was interesting that the CGS was saying all of this in the media, the PMS said that it was not unusual at all for senior commanders to give interviews to a wide range of media outlets. We recognised that there was a huge amount of public interest in what our troops were doing in Afghanistan and how we were ensuring that they had the right tools to do the job. Asked if the Prime Minister found it a source of frustration that such an important issue seemed to be in disarray, the PMS said that he did not recognise this description at all. The CGS was establishing the nature of the challenge and the threat and returning to the UK with a set of recommendations, which was exactly what people would expect the CGS to do.
The PMS said on a wider point, some of the coverage on Afghanistan had been inaccurate and cited the example of the BBC reporting that there had been irritation in Downing Street that the CGS had to take a US helicopter. The PMS said that that was completely wrong; as he had made clear yesterday, the nature of the operation in Afghanistan was that it was a combined effort of all of the NATO allies and it was not unusual in the slightest that we would have to use other nations resources.
Asked if American commanders were flown around in British helicopters, the PMS said it was up to the commanders on the ground to allocate their aircraft according to operational need, so it was entirely possible that they could fly US commanders. Put that in the CGS s case, it wasn t great PR, the PMS replied that the operational requirements overtook PR considerations.
Asked if Downing Street was not irritated by the fact that the CGS used an American helicopter or that the CGS had made a point of that fact, the PMS said he was not irritated by either of those points. On the first point, this was a combined operation with NATO allies and we had pooled our helicopter resources in the south. On the second point, this was a sign of the success and the strength of our cooperation among NATO allies, that we were able to share resources and to use them in the best way possible.
Put that the CDS had called the 9000-troop figure a baseline, suggesting that anything below that would be a cut, the PMS said that the position on troops was set out by the Prime Minister yesterday. The current position was that there were 9000 troops in Afghanistan and we would keep that figure under review. Asked about the word baseline , the PMS said that the CDS would use his words and the PMS would use his.
Put that General Dannatt had spoken of a case for a short-term uplift in troops until the Afghan army could reach the level of strength required, the PMS replied that the point that we had been making consistently was that one of our strategic objectives was to ensure that there were sufficient Afghan army troops available to take over some of these security operations in future. That was why we had trained 80,000 troops and why the objective was to train 130,000 troops by 2011.
Asked if the current political arguments were doing damage to the troops on the ground and their moral, the PMS said that as he had been saying, we were working extremely closely across Government with the Armed Forces and with senior commanders to ensure that the troops on the ground had the right tools and support to do the job.
Asked if General Dannatt had spoken to the Prime Minister before his interview on the BBC this morning, the PMS said that the Prime Minister spoke to senior commanders on a regular basis.
Asked if the Government was prepared to find more funds over and above the 4billion operational costs, the PMS said the Government s record on this bears out the fact that we would respond to the recommendations of the military. The budget even without the Urgent Operational Requirements (UOR) was 11% higher than it was 12 years ago and the UOR had also increased.
Asked what was on the recommendation list and if it was fair to say that the Government was accepting the need for equipment on the recommendation list by looking at its contents as a matter of urgency, the PMS said that he had not seen in full the recommendations by the CGS. The CDS had had a long and detailed discussion with the Prime Minister this morning on ongoing operations and the process of looking at the recommendations would now be taken forward by the MOD.
Asked whether the Government accepted that there was a need for the items on the shopping list , the PMS said he would not go into the detail of that now. The point was that this was a recommendation from the Head of the Army in light of his visit to Afghanistan and of course we would look at those very seriously.
Asked if it might have been wise for people like General Dannatt to have drawn up a shopping list several months ago, seeing as weapons such as IEDs were nothing new, the PMS replied that General Dannatt had said this morning that the tactics that the Taliban were using had changed over time. It was right that we responded and attempted to overcome the challenge and the threat that was posed by the change of tactics.
Put that in the Liaison Committee hearing yesterday, the Prime Minister had seemed to say that there was effectively a cap on operational spending and anything else would have to come out of the main Defence budget, whereas the PMS seemed to be implying that that was not the case, the PMS replied that over time we had consistently responded to the recommendations of senior commanders. In this case, there would be a process in the MOD to look at the relative priorities for its budget and he would not get ahead of that process.
The recommendations would be looked at by the MOD in the normal way as people would expect; they would look at both the impact on the MOD budget and on the urgent operational requirements, but he would not at this stage make a judgement as to where they would be resourced from.
Asked what was the earliest possible date at which the MOD budget could be reallocated internally, the PMS said the MOD looked at the priorities for their spending on a regular and ongoing basis.
Put that the Prime Minister had done a photocall on the front steps of No10 without addressing any of the points made by the CDS in his interview, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was appearing in a phototcall with the Help the Heroes campaign this morning and the CDS s interview followed on from him being present and cameras being present in Downing Street.
Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news
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