Navy chief warns against seeing Afghanistan as 'only game in town'

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The Independent Online

Britain must look "beyond Afghanistan" and ensure it has the flexibility to deal with future conflicts and threats to security, the head of the Royal Navy said today.

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope paid tribute to Britain's troops in Afghanistan but warned against viewing the conflict as the "only game in town."

"We need to ensure that we, as a nation, have the strategic flexibility to deal not just with Afghanistan, but also the broad range of other threats and challenges to our national interests today and in the future," he told a defence breakfast meeting held in the City of London.

He added that Britain should be prepared for "surprises and strategic shocks" citing the Falklands War as such an event. "It came in from the left field," he said.

In his speech he warned that the so-called "soft power" work of the Armed Forces - in areas such as humanitarian work and peace mission support - depended on the "underpinning credibility" of "hard power" or the ability to fight and win wars.

His remarks come amid a review of defence policy with fears that major defence equipment programmes are on the line.

The comments also come after the chief of the army, General Sir David Richards, called last night for a "radical" shift in priorities away from "hugely expensive" equipment towards getting more troops on the ground.

Admiral Stanhope, breaking off from his set speech, insisted that "much" of what General Sir David had said "resonated" with his own speech today.

He said: "Whilst there is a desire to see a split between us and indeed, if I may say so, a frenzy of "chiefs again at loggerheads" - we are not, what we are trying to do is pursue a clear well-articulated debate about what defence needs."