UK & World News
Jihadist Threat 'To Rise With Afghan Pullout'
The withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan risks further increasing the threat of an attack on the UK by home-grown jihadists, the former head of the Armed Forces has warned.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News, Lord Richards of Herstmonceux said the current fighting in the Middle East should serve as a "wake-up call" to the West.
Lord Richards - who stepped down as Chief of the Defence Staff last year - described the Allied invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a "strategic error", the full consequences of which are only being experienced today.
And he warned increasing numbers of British Muslims could be radicalised if conflicts like Syria and Iraq are not brought to a halt.
"We're not communicating very well," he said. "A lot of young people feel alienated. I think you have to take positive action to assist them to stay on the path most want to.
"But the real key is to make sure things going on in other parts of the world don't become flag bearers for just a few people to start causing trouble here.
"If we don't deal with it then there's a threat here which could grow and it is growing."
The Government estimates around 400 British-born fighters are currently in Syria and Iraq.
Three men - two from Cardiff and one from Aberdeen - featured in a recent promotional video made for ISIS insurgents released last week.
The threat posed by jihadists returning from such conflicts to Britain may increase, Lord Richards said.
"It could get bigger. So you need to snuff out a problem like this at the source, not just put up the barriers as they come back into this country."
In the interview, Lord Richards said in hindsight the invasion of Iraq was a mistake.
"No doubt Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator but it liberated a whole load of other forces and we're seeing that play through today."
British troops are due to withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of this year and Lord Richards said he feared a similar situation could arise.
"It's a wake-up call. I fear what we are seeing in Iraq could happen in Afghanistan next year and the thing we should be focusing on now is containing this."
He suggested the influence of social media meant a small minority of insurgents could start a major conflict.
"You only need a few hotheads and suddenly the law of unintended consequence can start taking control.
"It's not going to be an old fashioned war this - this is a generational struggle.
"With modern means of communication only half a dozen people can start to corrode a country from within. Then states over-react and that fires up more people. So it's a very clever and difficult form of warfare."
Lord Richards said the Afghan armed forces needed better equipment and better training.
Without international support, Lord Richards said he feared "we will see what is happening in Iraq happen there in nine months time and that will be a tragic waste".
He added that as a result of the rise of jihadists, the Coalition needed to re-examine defence cuts otherwise "we could be caught out".
"I'm worried the armed forces will not be in a position to do everything that might be asked of them if we don't address that question now."