'Axe Afghan War Lightweights'; Lord Owen Demands New Leadership on Afghanistan to Supersede Defence Secretary and Armed Forces Chief

The Evening Standard (London, England), July 13, 2009 | Go to article overview

'Axe Afghan War Lightweights'; Lord Owen Demands New Leadership on Afghanistan to Supersede Defence Secretary and Armed Forces Chief


Byline: Joe Murphy Political Editor

GORDON BROWN was today urged to appoint a new Cabinet minister over the head of the Defence Secretary and replace the head of the armed forces to strengthen the war leadership in Afghanistan.

The call comes from David Owen, a former foreign secretary, who said there were serious weaknesses in the conduct of the war. In a hard-hitting article for today's Evening Standard he warns: "It is becoming ever clearer that we need a fundamental re-think of our position in Afghanistan."

His comments come as British soldiers were preparing for a private memorial service at the main British Army base in Helmand province, Camp Bastion. The ceremony will honour eight British soldiers killed in 24 hours. Among them was Rifleman Daniel Simpson from Croydon.

Lord Owen said it was "unprecedented and deplorable" that newly appointed Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth was only twenty-first in the Cabinet pecking order. He said the Prime Minister should recall heavyweight Lord Robertson to oversee not only defence but foreign and aid policy to the region.

"It would do a lot to restore confidence if he could persuade a senior and greatly respected former defence secretary and Nato secretary-general, George Robertson, to come back into government with the authority to oversee government policy on foreign, defence and overseas aid in Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said. He warned there was also "an

Mission 'has clear strategy'

urgent need to address the military leadership". Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, could be replaced immediately by General Sir David Richards, who has fought in Afghanistan. Sir Jock, whose career was spent in the RAF, is due to retire next year and Sir David is rumoured to be the favourite to succeed him. …

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