A former head of MI6’s foreign intelligence service Wednesday criticised Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government over its funding for and handling of the Afghan mission.
Richard Dearlove, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service when Britain first sent troops to Afghanistan in 2001, said the Treasury has long been “squeezing” the defence budget, leaving the military under-resourced.
“Our armed forces have been under-resourced. This is a basic fact from which there really is no escape,” Dearlove said in a lecture.
“The Treasury has been squeezing the defence budget for approximately eight years,” said Dearlove, MI6 chief from 1999 to 2004.
The comments were made in a speech to academics at Gresham College in London, an audio copy of which was obtained by ITV television news.
Brown has been under mounting pressure over the country’s role in the conflict amid rising troop deaths and criticism over adequate resources and equipment for frontline soldiers, based mainly in violent, southern Helmand province.
With public support falling and facing a general election by mid next year, Brown has in recent weeks strongly defended Britain’s strategy in Afghanistan, as well as flagging a timeline for handover to Afghan security forces.
A Downing Street spokesman rejected the criticism, saying funding increased from 2.5 billion pounds in 2008-09 to 3.5 billion pounds in 2009-10.
“We have consistently increased funding for the mission in Afghanistan year by year in recent years,” he said.
Dearlove said Britain’s national security was a reason for the war against Taliban insurgents, but the government had, until recently, failed to properly explain the conflict to voters.
“Until recently, our political leadership has failed to explain satisfactorily why we are at war,” he said.
“Their advocacy of the policy has, I think, been half-hearted.
“Maybe now we see a change in that advocacy with a more confident position being taken. But the reason for change looks rather more like political damage limitation, than vigorous belief in the policy.”
Britain has 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, and has offered to send 500 more.