November 26th, 2007 11:59 EST
British troops facing failure in Afghanistan because of cash crisis
British troops are facing "operational" defeat in Afghanistan because of years of government underfunding, a former head of the armed forces warned last night.
Unless more money is injected into the military, hundreds more soldiers could end up dead in battle, said General Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank.
Gen Lord Guthrie, 69, who served as Chief of the Defence Staff from 1997 to 2001, said: "Operational and tactical failure in Afghanistan is now not impossible to believe.
"The Prime Minister could be presiding over damaging one of the really great institutions of our state. It is about to break if he is not careful.
"No one will want to join the armed forces and the operational consequence of this is a failure in Afghanistan.
"It could well mean that the Taliban actually win a battle and kill a lot of our soldiers."
The warning came as it was revealed that the Army has suffered an unprecedented exodus of more than 1,300 officers in the past six months - more than double the rate in the previous 12 months.
Sources also claimed that Defence Secretary Des Browne had asked the Prime Minister for an extra £1 billion for his military budget, but was turned down.
Gordon Brown is said to have replied: "Don't give me any more bad news about defence spending."
A Ministry of Defence spokesman denied that Mr Browne had asked for more money from the Prime Minister, adding: "Recruitment remains robust and we are taking action."
But the reports follow a damaging week for the Government in which five former chiefs of the defence staff, including Gen Lord Guthrie, made a blistering attack on the Prime Minister and his Defence Secretary, accusing them of failing the armed forces.
Another of the five, Admiral Lord Michael Boyce, agreed that the persistent underfunding was "bound to have operational consequences".
"You have people leaving because of low morale and no Army infantry battalion is fully manned," he told the Sunday Telegraph. "The unintended consequence of all this could be some kind of operational failure."
A White House report on the war in Afghanistan has warned that the coalition is failing to meet its strategic goals despite military successes by US, British and Nato forces fighting the Taliban.
Senior Washington officials fear that the string of local victories against Taliban insurgents is being gravely undermined by the weakness of President Hamid Karzai's Afghan government and failures to improve the economy or achieve serious progress in reconstructing the war-ravaged country.
The US National Security Council evaluation says the military successes against the Taliban will not on their own be enough to achieve the strategic aim of turning Afghanistan into a stable country.
By OLINKA KOSTER