General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the British Army, has warned in a leaked memo that military capabilities are stretched to the breaking point. Due to the commitment of all available troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no reserves left for emergencies.
The conclusion drawn by the entire liberal establishment in Britain is that the troops should be brought home. On the BBC, a retired Major General was telling anyone who would listen that the army is stretched so thin it might break apart.
Yet nobody is making the obvious point that British armed forces are at historically low levels of manpower. Just as the Crimean War in the 1850’s shocked a nation still basking in the glory of Nelson’s and Wellington’s victories, so the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are a shock to the system. The disturbance could also have certain salutary effects, however, if only politicians were willing to respond correctly to the challenges the wars present.
The fact is that the number of British troops now committed to these two wars is smaller than that of Wellington’s forces at Waterloo. Now, numbers aren’t everything, but it is noticeable that the low level of manpower is precisely one of General Dannatt’s main complaints.
Unless countries like Britain can find new ways to recruit many more soldiers, the time will come when the jihadi enemy will only need to threaten to get what it wants. In the horrific scenes at the Red Mosque in Islamabad, there is a clear image of what awaits our allies if the West beats a premature retreat from either Iraq or Afghanistan.
The choice that General Dannatt presents is clear enough, though he does not spell it out. It is the choice between rearmament and appeasement.