Accessibility links

British Army Chief Warns Against Afghan Defeat

Afghan police stand by as flames rise from an oil tanker in Kunduz hit by Taliban rockets

Afghan police stand by as flames rise from an oil tanker in Kunduz hit by Taliban rockets

LONDON (Reuters) -- The new head of the British army has backed calls to send more foreign troops to Afghanistan, warning delay would cost more lives, risk huge strategic failure and embolden al Qaeda with "terrifying" results.

General David Richards used his first official interview on October 4 to issue a wake up call to what he said were the "enormous risks" of losing the war.

Richards, who took over as chief of the general staff in August, told the "Sunday Telegraph" newspaper "failure would have a catalytic effect on militant Islam around the world and the region" because NATO, the most world's most powerful alliance, would have been beaten.

"If al Qaeda and the Taliban believe they have defeated us -- what next? Would they stop at Afghanistan?" he asked.

"Pakistan is clearly a tempting target not least because of the fact that it is a nuclear-weaponed state, and that is a terrifying prospect.

"Even if only a few of those weapons fell into their hands, believe me they would use them.

"The recent airlines plot has reminded us that there are people out there who would happily blow all of us up."

Three Britons were jailed for life in September for plotting to blow up airliners bound for North America using bombs made from liquid explosives.

The general's comments were published as NATO reported on October 4 that eight American and at least two Afghan soldiers had been killed near the Pakistan border in the deadliest battle for more than a year.

The army chief repeated his assertion that Britain was ready to send more troops to Afghanistan if they were needed.

"If you put in more troops we can achieve the objectives laid upon us more quickly and with less casualties," he said.

The number of British service personnel killed since the invasion in 2001 rose to 219 this week, and the government has come under increasing pressure for the way it has handled the war.

Army General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has said the war would likely be lost without more troops to fight the Taliban.

Richards said sending extra troops would allow NATO to begin winning the psychological battle against the Taliban, who he said were winning the propaganda war.

"What we need to demonstrate is that we, NATO and the Afghan government, offer a much brighter future which is more secure, with jobs, education and better health."