UK has choices on replacement of Trident, says Danny Alexander

Review of nuclear deterrent options will show like-for-like replacement of Trident is not only option, says Lib Dem minister

A government review into the UK’s nuclear deterrent options will show that like-for-like replacement of Trident is not the only option, Danny Alexander has said.

The chief secretary to the Treasury said the two-year review, expected to be published next month, does not come to any conclusions but will show there are choices available to the country.

He said these alternatives would help nations move on from the “cold war postures of the past”.

The Liberal Democrat party leadership is against the £20bn like-for-like replacement of the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent and demanded an official review into other options when the coalition with the Conservatives was formed.

But the report is expected to show that the alternatives are either impractical or more expensive.

Alexander, who has been leading the review for the last nine months, told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “That review was completed two weeks ago and submitted to the prime minister and deputy prime minister.

“The question it is trying to answer is: ‘Is complete renewal of Trident and the way previously planned the only way to protect our country in the future?’

“While the review doesn’t come to any conclusions, I think when we publish the results in a few weeks’ time people will see that there are choices available to this country.

“There are alternatives where we can – as President Obama said in Berlin last week – move on from the cold war postures of the past and try and set out a new future for this country with a deterrent that is credible, but where this country can play a role in supporting disarmament in future.”

Research for a parliamentary committee last week found more Lib Dem voters back replacing Trident if a cheaper alternative is not viable than those who would oppose it.

In a series of polls for the public administration select committee, Lib Dem backing for four new submarines reached 47% after voters were shown information about Trident and asked to decide what they would support if the government ruled that alternative systems were not an option, while 42% wanted disarmament.

The research by YouGov was commissioned to look into deliberative polling, which repeatedly asks voters the same set of questions but presents them with additional information and arguments throughout the process.

MPs urged the government to use the system to build up a more accurate picture of voter beliefs, which could then be used to influence policy-making.

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Reservists to fill frontline army gaps

Territorial Army to be renamed Army Reserve and expanded from 19,000 to 30,000 in latest series of measures following defence cuts

The government will fill the gap in army numbers after the most severe cuts in a generation with a sharp rise in the number of reservists.

During a visit to Helmand province, David Cameron announced that the number of reserve forces, who will be given a special £42m equipment budget, would increase from 19,000 to 30,000 by 2018.

The government said at the time of the strategic defence and security review in 2010, when plans were laid out to reduce army numbers from around 100,000 to 80,000, that it would turn to reservists to help make up the difference.

The prime minister, who said the Territorial Army will be renamed the Army Reserve, said measures would be unveiled in a white paper on Wednesday to allow reservists to take on more operations alongside regular members of the armed forces.

Defence secretary Philip Hammond will propose improved equipment for reservists from a £42m budget, including night vision systems mounted on helmets and imaging night sights. There will also be improved training exercises for reservists, including a trebling of the number overseas and financial incentives to be given to small and medium sized enterprises to encourage them to let staff join the reserve.

Cameron paid tribute to the armed forces after meeting reservists and full-time troops day in Helmand province. He said: “I think Armed Forces Day is just an opportunity to say a very big thank you but also to say how proud we are of our armed forces. I’m pleased to be here in Afghanistan to make that point: so many men and women have served in Afghanistan and so many still here today. Obviously the numbers are coming down, we are bringing our forces home. They have done a magnificent job. “

Critics of the defence review in 2010 said it was wrong to try to make up army numbers by turning to reservists. The white paper is designed to show that their role will be enhanced and will allow reservists to work more closely with “regular”, full time members of the army.

Cameron also announced £3.8m in support for charities that support members of the armed forces with a particular focus on mental health. He said: “These charities are doing important and innovative work to help veterans who are battling mental health problems. We owe these men and women a great debt of gratitude and this is exactly the kind of help we should give to those who have given so much for our country.”

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David Cameron and army divided over Afghanistan role after 2014

Despite military’s fears, prime minister stands firm on security arrangements after British leave in spite of military’s fears

Military commanders are pressing for international forces to be allowed to provide extensive logistical advice to Afghanistan until 2020, after concluding that local security forces will be unprepared for full operations when the Nato mission ends next year.

In a sign of tensions between Downing Street and the military, the prime minister used a visit to Afghanistan to rule out any British involvement in such a role after Nato concludes its combat operations at the end of 2014.

Speaking at a press conference in Kabul with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, David Cameron hailed the work of Afghan security forces, though he left open the possibility that other Nato countries could provide logistical support after 2014. He said: “There will be no British combat troops after the end of 2014. British troops are coming home. That is happening right now.

“After 2015, we have said that our contribution will be an officer-training academy, which President Karzai asked us to establish. We have not made any other commitments, and nor have we been asked to. Of course, other Nato countries may choose to do more and assist the Afghan forces – not in a combat role. But from everything I have heard, the Afghan forces are doing a good job; they are highly capable, motivated and they are capable of delivering security.”

The prime minister spoke out after military sources raised the alarm about security in Afghanistan after 2014. Sources said they have concluded that Afghan forces will need highly technical military advice on providing close air support, the distribution of food and fuel, and on medevac facilities. There were concerns recently in Sangin when an Afghan brigade had to call off a mission after running out of fuel.

British military commanders have been able to make their assessments after Nato handed control of security for the whole of the country to Afghan forces this month. The commanders have concluded that a great deal has been achieved, but that Afghan forces will not have built their capacity to full operational levels by the time Nato combat troops leave at the end of 2014.

The signs of disagreement between No 10 and the military emerged as the prime minister visited Afghanistan amid heavy security after the recent Taliban attack on the green zone in Kabul. An unusually strong blackout was imposed on the visit after the Taliban intercepted communications on the prime minister’s travel plans to the country in 2010.

Cameron arrived after Lieutenant-General Nick Carter, the deputy commander of Nato operations in Afghanistan, told the Observer that opportunities to build a dialogue with the Taliban were missed in the past decade. The US recently announced that it would hold talks with the Taliban, who have been allowed to open a political office in the Qatari capital, Doha.

Cameron indicated that he had some sympathy for Carter’s view. But he made a point of acknowledging the unease of the families of …read more  

International forces will provide advice to Afghan military until 2020

Senior military sources say Nato will continue to play major role as Afghan forces are unprepared for 2014 withdrawal

International forces will provide logistical advice to the Afghan military up until 2020 after concluding that Afghanistan’s national security forces will be unprepared for full operations when Nato combat troops withdraw from the country at the end of 2014.

As David Cameron paid a visit to British troops in Helmand province on Armed Forces Day, senior military sources indicated that Nato would need to play a major role in Afghanistan until the end of the decade.

The prime minister said British forces were reaching the final phase of the 12-year campaign. But senior British military sources said the Afghan forces would need advice on providing close air support, the distribution of food and fuel and on medevac facilities.

British military commanders have been able to make their assessments after Nato handed control of security for the whole of the country to Afghan forces earlier this month. The commanders have concluded that a great deal has been achieved but that Afghan forces will not have built their capacity to full operational levels by the time Nato combat troops leave at the end of 2014.

The military advice contrasts with the approach of the prime minister who aims to have a minimal British footprint in Afghanistan by 2015. Britain is to provide financial help and is to run an officer training academy near Kabul dubbed “Sandhurst in the sand”.

The prime minister arrived in Afghanistan on Saturday after Lieutenant Nick Carter, the deputy commander of Nato operations in Afghanistan, told the Guardian that opportunities to build a dialogue with the Taliban were missed in the past decade. The US recently announced that it would hold talks with the Taliban, who have been allowed to open a political office in the Qatari capital Doha.

Cameron indicated that he had some sympathy for Carter’s view. He told Sky News in Lashkar Gah: “I think you can argue about whether the settlement we put in place after 2001 could have been better arranged. Of course you can make that argument. Since I became prime minister in 2010 I have been pushing all the time for a political process and that political process is now under way.

“But at the same time I know that you cannot bank on that which is why we have built up the Afghan army, built up the Afghan police, supported the Afghan government so after our troops have left, and they will be leaving under the programme we have set out, this country shouldn’t be a haven for terrorists.”

The prime minister said it was right to talk to the Taliban as he dubbed the Nato operation a success after it denied al-Qaida a base in Afghanistan. He said: “We want a political solution as well as making sure we have a security solution. What we have done in Afghanistan is we came here to stop it being used as a base for terrorist activities. That …read more  

'We should have talked to Taliban' says top British officer in Afghanistan

Exclusive: General Nick Carter says west could have struck a deal with Taliban leaders after they were toppled a decade ago

The west should have tried talking to the Taliban a decade ago, when they had just been toppled from power, the top British commander in Afghanistan has told the Guardian, barely a week after the latest attempt to bring the insurgent group to the negotiating table stuttered to a halt.

General Nick Carter, deputy commander of the Nato-led coalition, said Afghan forces would need western military and financial support for several years after western combat troops head home in 2014. And he said the Kabul government may have to accept that for some years it would have only shaky control over some remoter parts of the country.

Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, he said: “Back in 2002, the Taliban were on the run. I think that at that stage, if we had been very prescient, we might have spotted that a final political solution to what started in 2001, from our perspective, would have involved getting all Afghans to sit at the table and talk about their future,” he said.

Acknowledging that it was “easy to be wise with the benefit of hindsight”, Carter added: “The problems that we have been encountering over the period since then are essentially political problems, and political problems are only ever solved by people talking to each other.”

But he believed the police and army had been shaped into sustainable institutions that were strong enough to protect a critical presidential election next year, and guarantee stability for “the majority” of the country after the western withdrawal.

The US and Afghan governments are pushing hard for negotiations to end a conflict that has dragged on for more than 12 years. But critics have long argued that the west could have struck a deal with moderate Taliban leaders after ousting the group from power in 2001, perhaps saving thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

One academic who studies the Taliban said the group tried to reach out to their own and the US governments until 2004, and would have made major compromises. “There would not have been too much negotiating to be done, even, in 2001 or 2002, because the Taliban’s senior leadership made their approaches in a conciliatory manner, acknowledging the new order in the country,” said Alex Strick von Linschoten, author of An Enemy We Created.

Today the insurgent group dominates swaths of the country, and seems ambivalent at best about negotiating ahead of the departure of foreign troops. Underlining how challenging efforts to broker peace talks are, the latest efforts collapsed in diplomatic farce last week.

The Taliban opened an office in Qatar which was meant to be a formal base for meetings, and was welcomed by Washington, but the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, shut down the process after Taliban spokesmen presented the villa as a de-facto embassy for a government-in-exile.

Carter said he was confident that Nato’s handover of security to Afghan forces, finalised last week, would eventually …read more