Former US army boss says vexatious claims against UK veterans risk weakening 'special relationship'

Posted On: 
19th October 2018

Failure to crack down on vexatious claims against UK Army veterans could jeopardise British alliances around the world, an ex-US military boss has warned.

General David Petraeus said alliances with the US and other Nato countries could be undermined
PA Images

General David Petraeus, who led forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, said British troops were being “greatly diminished” by legal battles about alleged actions during their time in combat.

His comments come amid a campaign to drop investigations into allegations about the activities of British forces during The Troubles and the Middle East.

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General Petraeus said an “overly expansive” interpretation of European human rights laws had left UK forces fighting under a “different legal framework” to the US and other nations.

He argued it could end up “potentially limiting the use of force by British armed forces engaged in combat, targeting activities, and detention operations”.

“The UK's armed forces are, of course, among the most accomplished and capable in the world, recent reductions in their numbers notwithstanding,” he told the Policy Exchange think tank.

“But Britain's considerable fighting capacity will be greatly diminished if it cannot reform the legal framework within which it fights, restoring the primacy of the law of armed conflict.”

He urged politicians to stand up and “defend the defenders” against what he called the rise of “lawfare” to avoid them becoming more “risk averse”.

And in an article for the Times he added: “The very special relationship between our two militaries, which has been built over decades of serving together in the hardest tests of battle, could be put at risk by the present situation.”

He argued that in the case of Afghanistan, the threat of later legal claims could “undermine the British military’s capacity to detain enemy combatants and to work with others, including the Afghan government and Nato allies”.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has called for an amnesty for all soldiers who served in Northern Ireland, which could mean letting members of the IRA off the hook.

But Theresa May has so far resisted the calls - sparking anger among some of her backbenchers who served in the forces.

Plymouth MP Johnny Mercer told the House Magazine her stance left him feeling like he was not “proud to be a member of the governing party”.