Britain's naval chief raises questions about Libya campaign
The head of Britain's Royal Navy sparked a fierce debate Tuesday with his suggestion that defence spending cuts could undermine the current NATO-led campaign in Libya, dpa reported
In comments to journalists, Admiral Mark Stanhope said the military intervention, launched in March, would be "unsustainable" beyond the present target date of six months.
"Beyond that, we might have to request the government to make some challenging decisions about priorities...we will have to rebalance," the admiral was reported as saying.
The controversy coincides with a lively debate in Britain about both the length and the costs of the Libya mission, which is estimated to have reached 100 million pounds (163 million dollars).
The Royal Navy leadership has in the past made clear that it is extremely unhappy with the government's decision to scrap an aircraft carrier as well as its fleet of Harrier jump jets under spending cut plans announced last October.
The carrier and its planes would have been useful in Libya, including for "ground support operations," the admiral argued. But the government has said there was no need as Britain's RAF planes were using a base in southern Italy to launch their Libya operations.
But even though the admiral's remarks might have been fuelled by anger over cuts, he received support from a string of military colleagues, most of them retired.
However, General David Richards, the chief of the defence staff, reacted furiously to the remarks.
"We can sustain this operation as long as we choose to. I'm absolutely clear on that," he told the BBC, suggesting that Stanhope's remarks were "misconstrued."
Defence Secretary Liam Fox also rejected the admiral's remarks. "We are able to continue as long as required." Britain's role in the intervention had shown it remained a "leading military power" and had the resources necessary to take part.