Britain can sustain its military intervention in Libya for "as long as we choose to", the head of the Armed Forces insisted today.
The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, dismissed suggestions that the current scale of operations might not be sustainable much beyond the summer.
His comments came after Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, the head of the Royal Navy, warned that the Government would have to make "challenging decisions" if the mission lasted more than six months.
Gen Richards said it was "not correct" that the UK could only maintain operations for another three months and suggested the First Sea Lord had been misunderstood.
"He was actually answering a different question that's been misconstrued, but we can sustain this operation as long as we choose to, absolutely clear on that," he told the BBC.
Adm Stanhope said yesterday the UK was "comfortable" with the present Nato mission - which was extended earlier this month by 90 days to the end of September.
But he added: "Beyond that, we might have to request the Government to make some challenging decisions about priorities.
"If we do it longer than six months we will have to reprioritise forces. That is being addressed now. It could be from around home waters. I will not prejudge what that decision will be."
He also said elements of the operation would have been cheaper and "much more reactive" if the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal had not been scrapped.
His comments, in a briefing for journalists, sparked questions about how Britain would cope with a prolonged conflict in Libya, reopening controversy over the Government's deep defence cuts.
Critics of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) have seized on the lack of an aircraft carrier for the mission against Muammar Gaddafi's forces to back their case.Reuse content