PM takes fight to military sceptics over Libya

By Phil Scullion

David Cameron has hit back at military chiefs warning him about Britain's ability to continue the fight against Muammar Gaddafi.

During a rowdy PMQs exchange the prime minister warned high-profile doubters from within the armed forces to put more "thought" into their comments.

The prime minister described service personnel as "very professional people" but cautioned: "When you are at war I think it's very important, whether you're a political leader or a military leader, to think very carefully about what you're about to say."

Labour leader Ed Miliband attacked Mr Cameron's confrontational approach, calling it "crass" and "high-handed".

Sir Simon Bryant, air chief marshal, warned on Tuesday that there was a "decreasing satisfaction" with wages and soldiers did not feel "valued".

"There is concern over the perceived lack of strategic direction which is restricting confidence in the senior leadership," he said.

Last week Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, head of the Royal Navy, questioned Britain's ability to maintain the military effort in Libya if the stalemate continues for another six months.

Yesterday David Cameron struck back, telling military chiefs: "You do the fighting and I'll do the talking".

Mr Miliband used PMQs to ridicule Mr Cameron's remarks and called for the strategic defence and security review (SDSR) to be reopened.

"Let's have a consultation with the experts who know about these issues, because as you will see there is clear concern from across the military about some of these issues," he proposed.

But Mr Cameron dodged the suggestion of holding a second review in a year.

"It does seem to me strange, not having had one for ten years, to then want to have two strategic defence reviews in one year," he pointed out.

Eyebrows were raised when the prime minister appeared to suggest the government had already looked again at the conclusions of its initial defence review, however.

Mr Cameron told MPs: "We've had a review of the national security and defence review over the last year."

Jim Murphy, shadow defence secretary, accused the prime minister after the session had ended of trying to "cover up" his "failure" to develop a "fit for purpose" defence review.

"This is an incredible statement. The prime minister has to publish this supposed review or accept that he has made a serious mistake. This will be news to the whole defence community, who will want to assess the findings.

"For months the prime minister has been saying a review of the defence review is unnecessary. The only people not confused about the government's defence policy seem to be the senior military, who are clear that the government's defence review did not survive its first contact with world events," he added.

Mr Cameron said he had received reassurances that operations over Libya were capable of being kept up "for as long as it takes", however.

"Time is on our side," he added, claiming that defections from Colonel Gaddafi's regime and the growing strength of rebels based in Benghazi meant "the pressure is growing and I believe we'll take it to a satisfactory conclusion".