London, Aug.9 (ANI): Britain's incoming Army Chief, General Sir David Richards, was under pressure from ministers on Saturday to backpedal on suggestions that UK forces could be in Afghanistan for up to 40 years.
Richards prediction also provoked an angry reaction from opposition politicians, who warned that public opinion would never support a military commitment of that length.
Last night, according to The Sunday Times, the Ministry of Defence was trying to persuade Richards to "clarify" his remarks, suggesting they had been taken out of context.
In an interview published yesterday, Richards warned that it would "take time" to save Afghanistan:
"This is nation-building - not the starry-eyed type, but nation-building none the less. It is not just reconstruction; jobs and simple governance that works are the key ... The army's role will evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 or 40 years."
Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, who warned that such commitment was "unaffordable", immediately condemned his remarks.
"Any idea of maintaining military involvement for that length of time is not a runner. It would require a total rethink of our foreign and security policy. The military campaign in Afghanistan has already cost British taxpayers more than five billion pounds," Fox said.
Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat MP, who insisted that a much earlier withdrawal would be necessary, also dismissed the prediction.
"Forty years may be the military estimate, but political opinion in this country will never support a commitment of that length," he said.
The row followed the controversy caused by Richards's predecessor, General Sir Richard Dannatt, who angered junior defence ministers and Labour MPs by repeatedly warning that soldiers' lives were being put at risk by the government's failure to send more troops and helicopters to Afghanistan.
In a new interview in Soldier, the army's in-house magazine, Dannatt signalled that he would use his last few weeks in office to keep up pressure on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to increase the helicopters, troops and money devoted to the war in Helmand, the Afghan province.
He made it clear he has no plans for "a discreet exit".
"If the nation wants us to fight a war, it has jolly well got to provide us with the tools to do that job," Dannatt said. (ANI)