Britain Shifting Military Towards Anti-Terror Operations

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

London ( - Britain will undertake a major overhaul of its armed forces to concentrate on anti-terror operations. The move coincides with a government audit that said U.K. troops in Iraq and Kuwait were deprived of key supplies in the weeks before the war.

Heavily armed units will be scaled down in favor of rapid response teams, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons on Thursday.

"This is a changing world and we must adapt if our armed forces are to stay ahead of potential adversaries," Hoon said.

Hoon said the moves represented a shift in military thinking from tallying up numbers of troops and equipment to placing more emphasis on the capability to act quickly and decisively.

"We must exploit new and emerging technologies and we must be prepared to make tough decisions to ensure that our armed forces are able to carry out the difficult tasks we ask of them," he said.

Hoon and other defense officials have said that cooperation with the United States and NATO will continue to lie at the heart of the country's defense policy, and Britain has also signed on to the European Union's nascent rapid reaction force.

The new threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction "will involve sharing the military risk and require an ability for our armed forces to play an effective role alongside those of the United States," he said.

Some of the British Navy's ships will be taken out of commission as two new aircraft carriers and a new type of destroyer become operational. Heavy tanks will be eschewed for those that can be transported by air, and a cut in manned fighter planes is also expected.

Hoon said that "technology will be a key driver for change," but opposition parties warned that the plans could result in reduced troop numbers and erosion of British military readiness.

Conservative Party defence spokesman Nicholas Soames said that while his party agreed with the main points contained in Hoon's report, it had serious questions about the defense budget.

"Given that there are so few hard facts ... we are concerned that a whole raft of decisions on cuts will start to leech out later," he said.

"Cutting manpower numbers would be pure folly," he said.

"The focus on effects-based operations is welcome, but it must not come at the expense of troop numbers," said Paul Keetch, defense spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. "Winning the peace in the new security environment is as important as winning wars. For that we need enough peacekeepers."

The official report came as shortcomings in military supply lines were highlighted this week in a document released by the government's National Audit Office (NAO).

The office said that some frontline forces in the war on Iraq weren't provided with adequate uniforms. In some cases, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons suits didn't reach or didn't fit fighting soldiers.

While the NAO called the overall operation "extremely impressive" and gave a thumbs-up to modified tanks and rifles that had previously performed poorly under desert conditions, officials said confusion reigned over the process of doling out equipment.

"The lack of confidence in the ability of the logistics system to meet units' needs in-theatre led to a considerable degree of misappropriation of equipment and stores moving through the supply chain," the report said.

See previous story:
UK To Spend More In Iraq, Afghanistan (Dec. 10, 2003)

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