West 'cannot defeat al-Qaeda'


The West is fighting a war against al-Qaeda in which its forces can contain Islamic militancy but cannot achieve a conventional military victory, Britain's most senior officer was quoted as saying today.

Chief of the Defence Staff General David Richards underlined Britain's aim to end its combat role in Afghanistan by 2014-15 but did not estimate how much longer after that coalition troops would need to support Afghan security forces.

"First of all, you have to ask: 'Do we need to defeat it (Islamist militancy) in the sense of a clear cut victory?'" Gen Richards told the Sunday Telegraph. "I would argue that it is unnecessary and would never be achieved."

"But can we contain it to the point that our lives and our children's lives are led securely? I think we can."

His comments are the latest from Western military leaders and politicians who have been paving the way for coalition forces to exit Afghanistan over the coming years, even though the Taliban remains a significant threat to security there.

US president Barack Obama and British prime minister David Cameron hope to start bringing troops home next year.

The general, who became head of Britain's armed forces last month, said the region should be stabilised before any withdrawal is completed. "We are equally clear that we have got to support the operation thereafter to make sure that our legacy is an enduring one," he said.

British soldiers have been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001 as part of a US-led force.