Britain to replace military chief within months: minister

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Britain's new government said Sunday it was replacing the head of the military and the top official at the defence ministry but denied they were being sacked over concerns about the war in Afghanistan.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup was due to step down as chief of the defence staff next April, but Defence Secretary Liam Fox said he would be leaving after a strategic defence review was published in the autumn.

Bill Jeffrey, the top civil servant at the Ministry of Defence, would leave at the same time, said Fox, a member of Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government which took office last month.

"Both the chief of defence staff and PUS (permanent under secretary) are here longer than they needed to be," Fox told the Sunday Times newspaper.

The two men had been asked to extend their terms to provide some continuity between the former Labour government and the new coalition.

"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," Fox said.

He added: "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."

In an interview with the BBC, he denied Stirrup had been sacked over criticism that he had not done enough to support the 9,500 troops engaged in increasingly bloody battles with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

"I really don't think that whatever mistakes have been made in the past in Afghanistan or anywhere else that the blame should land anywhere else but firmly on the desks of the politicians," he said.

Stirrup was appointed to chief of defence staff in April 2006.

© 2010 AFP

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