Armed forces ‘spread very thin’ by Libyan crisis

By Hannah Brenton

The Libyan conflict is spreading British armed forces “very thin”, the former chief of the defence staff has warned.

Speaking in the House of Lords, Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup said the UK still faced “grave dangers” as the military is stretched by the conflicts in both Afghanistan and Libya.

He urged the government to find a speedy political resolution in Libya to take the pressure of the armed forces.

“We have to think very carefully about the consequences of our continuing military involvement in Libya,” the former RAF commander said.

“Although Afghanistan has been pushed off the front pages for the moment, it still consumes a great deal of our military capacity.

“What little we have had left in the locker over the past couple of years for dealing with other contingencies has consisted mainly of air and maritime capabilities.

“These have largely been consumed by the Libya operation, so that locker is now looking pretty bare. Yet we still face huge risks.”

Lord Stirrup pointed to the potential threat to national security posed by Iran and the difficulty the military would face in responding to another crisis if one was to emerge at present.

He said British forces were now committed to protecting civilians in Libya, but argued ultimate success would only come with the removal of Colonel Gaddafi.

“Our military intervention, although not designed to oust Gaddafi, can end only with his removal,” he added.

“In view of the risks elsewhere, in view of the grave dangers to us should such risks materialise and in view of the degree to which we have now drawn down on our military account, we have yet one more reason for placing the very highest degree of urgency on finding a political resolution to this crisis as soon as possible.”