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Britain's top military officer to step down early

Britain's top military officer is to step down within months, before his term was due to end, it emerged yesterday.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, whose post as chief of the defence staff was to continue until April 2011, will leave in the autumn after the new government's strategic defence review, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said.

The Ministry of Defence's top civil servant, Permanent Under Secretary (PUS) Sir Bill Jeffrey, will also depart at the same time.

They were both asked to extend their terms by the previous Labour government.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Dr Fox said: "Both the chief of defence staff and PUS are here longer than they needed to be.

"They were asked to stay on and willing to do so, not least to see the transition into the new government. And I think that the transition's been extremely smooth, and I've been discussing with them, as with other senior staff, how we transition to the new structures and what might be the appropriate times to do it.

"And I'm going to do it at a time that suits the Government to do it, but also at a time which treats our long-serving personnel with some respect.

"We've talked about the best time to be replacing our senior staff, probably at the end of the Strategic Defence Review in the autumn."

The news comes during an upsurge in violence in Afghanistan, with more than 30 Nato servicemen, including six British troops, killed since the start of the month.

Nearly 300 British servicemen and women have now died in the country since 2001.

But the MoD has also been subject to long-running accusations that it failed to provide the proper kit to soldiers.

Giving evidence to the Iraq War Inquiry earlier this year, Sir Jock, who was deputy chief of defence staff (equipment) at the time of the invasion, singled out problems with supplying enough combat body armour, desert combats and boots for frontline troops.

He said it would have made a "significant difference" if the military had been given the six months considered necessary to prepare for a large deployment - in the event they had just four months.

The shortage of body armour was blamed for the death of tank commander Sergeant Steven Roberts, 33, one of the first British soldiers killed in Iraq.

Permanent Under Secretary Sir Bill Jeffrey has been in his post since 2005, during which the department has faced fierce criticism over its procurement procedures..

He sent a message to MoD staff on Friday, saying he would stay until after the Strategic Defence Review.

Sir Bill said: "The secretary of state has now said that he would like me to see through the defence interest in the (Strategic Defence Review).

"I am very glad to do so, because, like others, I see the review as a real opportunity to set defence on a good course for the future. There will be an announcement in due course about the process for identifying my successor."

Likely candidates to replace Sir Jock, a former jet pilot, include the chief of the general staff, General Sir David Richards, or the vice-chief of the defence staff, Gen Sir Nicholas Houghton.

Belfast Telegraph


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