Britain's Top Soldier Says
al-Qaeda Cannot Be Beaten
The new head of Britain's armed forces, Gen Sir David Richards, has warned that the West cannot defeat al-Qaeda and militant Islam.
By Sean Rayment
Beaver County Peace Links via Telegraph (UK)
Nov 13, 2010 - He said defeating Islamist militancy was "unnecessary and would never be achieved".
However, he argued that it could be "contained" to allow Britons to lead secure lives.
Gen Richards, 58, said the threat posed by "al-Qaeda and its affiliates" meant Britain's national security would be at risk for at least 30 years.
The general, who will tomorrow lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall in memory of Britain's war dead, said the West's war against what he described as a "pernicious ideology" had parallels with the fight against Nazi Germany in the Second World War.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the general disclosed that Prince William was unlikely to serve in Afghanistan but suggested that his brother Harry, training to be an Apache helicopter pilot, could return to front-line duty in Helmand province.
He said the British military and the Government had been "guilty of not fully understanding what was at stake" in Afghanistan and admitted that the Afghan people were beginning to "tire" of Nato's inability to deliver on its promises.
However, he said the sacrifice being made by the Armed Forces in Afghanistan, where 343 soldiers have been killed since 2001, "has been worth it". Progress was being made and Nato was "in the right parish". He said: "Don't give up folks, it's all to play for."
The general also dismissed suggestions that troops badly injured fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan would ever be "forced" to leave the Armed Forces, but said most of those seriously wounded wanted to leave to begin new careers.
He rejected claims by former senior Royal Navy chiefs who said scrapping the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and the Harrier force would jeopardise the security of the Falkland Islands. But it is the general's assertion that victory against militant Islam cannot be achieved that is likely to prove most contentious.
The general said: "In conventional war, defeat and victory is very clear cut and is symbolised by troops marching into another nation's capital. First of all you have to ask: do we need to defeat it [Islamist militancy] in the sense of a clear cut victory? I would argue that it is unnecessary and would never be achieved.
"But can we contain it to the point that our lives and our children's lives are led securely? I think we can."
He also said the real weapon in the war against al-Qaeda was the use of "upstream prevention" as well as "education and democracy". The problems that gave rise to militant Islamism were unlikely to be solved soon, he added.
On the issue of future wars, the general said he could see no case for military intervention in other countries "at the moment" but added that he would be "barmy to say that one day we wouldn't be back in that position".