General Sir Mike Jackson's outspoken attack on the Government was met with accusations of "too little, too late" yesterday from the men and women he once led.
In marked contrast to the admiration that followed the recent comments by the current head of the army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, who said troops should get out of Iraq sometime soon, his predecessor's warning that strategic failings and inadequate funding were putting troops at risk elicited a bitter response from many.
One contributor to an unofficial army website said: "This Jackson critique is entirely predictable and in keeping with a succession of military leaders who have resolutely failed to stand up for their men when in post. I will not bother to listen. If he feels that strongly about it, why did he not try and do something at the time, instead of fawning about with his New Labour bosses?"
The website was filled with similarly scathing comments yesterday.
Sir Mike had accused the Government of failing to give the armed forces the "wholehearted support" they need. His comments came after a lecture on Wednesday in which he said troops were being put at risk by underfunding and "overstretch" in Iraq and Afghanistan. He went on to criticise defence ministers for "considerable inertia" in failing to recognise pressures on operations had grown beyond initial expectations.
Nicknamed "The Prince of Darkness" for his gruff manner and gravelly voice, Sir Mike's appointment as the Chief of the General Staff shortly before the Iraq invasion led many to hope the former parachute regiment commanding officer would stand up to ministers. His perceived failure to do so led to bitter disappointment amongst the rank and file.
When his successor General Sir Richard Dannatt launched an unprecedented broadside on the Government just months into taking over the post, he was praised for his courage and "saluted" for his honesty.
If Sir Mike, who retired from the post in August, was hoping to bask in similar glory yesterday, he was very mistaken.
One military bloggers said: "Jackson has lost all credibility. Dannatt got in first and showed more courage by saying it while in office. And to think Jackson used to have a fearsome reputation. Oh how the mighty are fallen."
One senior officer said that the general consensus was "well done but you are five months too late".
"At least he is backing up his successor and he can potentially say things General Sir Richard Dannatt cannot say. One can see why he felt he was not in a position to say anything before because we are all government servants and we are not supposed to be political. But there is a feeling of 'why didn't you say it while you were in uniform? You would have earned tremendous respect'."
Asked yesterday why he had not made his views known before his retirement, Sir Mike indicated that he had aired concerns privately to ministers.
"It's not a question of whether I said things or not, it's a question of whether I said something publicly. I'm now a civilian," he said.
On Afghanistan, Sir Mike agreed the Defence Secretary at the time, John Reid, did not give "the full picture" when he said he would be happy if UK forces did not have to fire a single shot during their mission. It had come as no surprise to him that the military faced fierce resistance from the Taliban, he said.
Asked if Dr Reid was aware of this analysis, he replied: "I'm sure that advice was given. It's for you to make a judgement on what Dr Reid said, not me. It's not misleading. It was perhaps not the full picture, I accept that. He expressed it as a hope. I know the phrase very well."
On Iraq, he said: "Clearly, we are not winning right now, because of the nature of the security situation."
However, he cautioned against adopting the target that was set by yesterday's Iraq Study Group report , which talked of withdrawing the bulk of Allied troops by early 2008.
"We must look at achieving the right conditions. That's much more important," Sir Mike said.
'Pity he didn't have the guts...'
Quotes from The Army Rumour Service website
* 'Why speak up now? 'Too late, too late the maiden cried!"
* 'I think that when he had his facelift, he must have had another face added. I recall him giving a lecture berating the likes of the retired Guthrie and Boyce for speaking out... and not having the courage to do so whilst serving. Funnily enough, he is now doing the same!'
* 'Iron Mike finally grows a pair. Pity he didn't have the guts like Gen Dannatt to do it while he was in the chair...'
* 'Shame he didn't remember this stuff before he started to draw his pension.'
* 'Like most who achieve their own vision of greatness he failed, during his time in post, to remember those who allowed him to achieve it.'
* 'I thought it a well prepared and thoughtful speech although I join the others in wondering why he didn't say anything whilst serving.'
* 'Should he have spoken out earlier and if necessary resigned rather than hang around for his full term? The point is that now, no one in the military can really take his criticism of the Government seriously.'
"If he had resigned, he wouldn't have been invited to do the Dimbleby lecture (the first military man to be so) on the BBC, He wouldn't have been able to have such a grand platform to stick the knife in, when he is now inviolate.'
Quotes from the Royal Marine website
'Dear Sir Mike, your yellow streak is a clear beacon for us all. If you really felt that way, you'd have spoken up long before, or resigned before your pension was assured.'
'If Sir Mike had said that while he was still in the job, I think most people including me would have a huge amount of respect for him. Saying it now however, his comments are too little - too late.'Reuse content