UK to adopt “softer, more cunning use of military capability” – Houghton

Two RAF Puma HC1 helicopters flying during a British Army exercise in Kenya (Defence Images)

Two RAF Puma HC1 helicopters flying during a British Army exercise in Kenya (Defence Images)


The head of the UK’s Armed Forces General Sir Nicholas Houghton has warned that Britain must focus more on trying to prevent conflicts before they ignite in countries across Africa and the Persian Gulf.

It comes as British forces are due to withdraw from Afghanistan next year, meaning that Britain will not be fighting a war for the first time in the 21st century.

Nima Green reports for  VoR.

Britain’s military chief acknowledges that the armed forces are in the middle of a painful transition period.

Defence spending was slashed by 8% in the last budget review in 2010, and the Government’s controversial plan to double the size of the Army Reserve, while axing 20,000 regular soldiers, has been heavily criticised by many, including former Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

However, General Houghton is unrepentant, dismissing opponents like Fox as “salivating defeatists.”

He argues that despite the cuts, the UK must focus on anticipating future conflicts, and step in to provide training and prop up vulnerable states, such as Somalia and Mali.

Anthony Tucker-Jones, a former British intelligence analyst and military expert, says that the General’s strategy is partly a result of the growing threat of Islamic extremism in Africa.

“The General’s comments clearly sound like he’s thinking more of trying to nip al-Qaeda and those sorts of organisations in the bud.

“But of course normally we would do such operations under a UN mandate and as we’re all aware from the Syria crisis, it’s very difficult to get UN agreement on military intervention.”

Since taking the top military job in July, General Houghton, has been trying to re-frame the British Army’s role, following 12 years of war in the Middle-East.

But many experts fear that recent foreign intervention has left a toxic legacy.

Colonel Tim Collins led British troops in the invasion of Iraq ten years ago.

He made a famous eve-of-battle speech calling on his troops to “leave Iraq a better place” and be “magnanimous in victory”.

At the time, his words won acclaim, but a decade on, and with no victory in Iraq or Afghanistan, Colonel Collins is clear that the British Army needs to change.


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