Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hoon Kept in the Dark over Afghan Mission Chief's Future MoD Role

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hoon Kept in the Dark over Afghan Mission Chief's Future MoD Role

Article excerpt


DEFENCE Secretary Geoff Hoon was not told that the Army's leading commander in the field, Brigadier Roger Lane, is about to change jobs "because he didn't need to know", Downing Street said today.

The extraordinary admission deepened the atmosphere of confusion and farce surrounding Brigadier Lane's replacement as Commander of 3 Commando Brigade after the 45 Commando battle group comes home from Afghanistan.

It cast a heavy question mark over Mr Hoon's own authority as a minister.

Only yesterday, he lavished praise on Brigadier Lane and denied reports that he was being undermined by unnamed officials at the Ministry of Defence.

However, he failed to mention, either in his official statement of support or when interviewed on the topic on the BBC's Breakfast With Frost, that the brigadier was to leave the post a year earlier than usual.

Mr Hoon's silence on the changeover, a move widely reported this morning, called into question the assertion from the Ministry of Defence that the handover of command to Brigadier Jim Dutton had been agreed months ago and was merely a matter of administrative routine. The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Geoff Hoon did not need this information before he paid tribute to Brigadier Lane."

Asked whether this did not leave the Defence Secretary in a ludicrous position of defending a man without mentioning that he was on the way out, and whether he had not, in fact, been informed beforehand, the spokesman replied: "I don't know.

Ask the Ministry of Defence."

The timing of the replacement, less than 24 hours after his ringing endorsement by the Defence Secretary, seems to belong more to the world of football than the military.

Brigadier Lane will have spent barely more than a year in command.

He is to move to an unspecified job in the Ministry of Defence - which means he is unlikely to command troops in the field again.

Today, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said Brigadier Lane would not be replaced in Afghanistan, but said the commander would be moving to a new post once the Royal Marines' operation in Afghanistan is over. He said: "This is something that was agreed last year.

There was due to be a handover in mid-April but that has been extended to the end of the operation.

"The changeover of commanders has nothing to do with the current operation."

The spokesman was unable to say what the brigadier's new role would be.

Shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin said it appeared that Brigadier Lane had been left " hanging out to dry" by ministers. "It is just a shame that the Government spin has got so far ahead of the operations in some cases that it has undermined the whole credibility of the operation," he said.

"Ultimately this has a damaging effect on the morale of the troops and even on their operational capability . …

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