General Sir Mike Jackson, who stepped down as the UK’s army chief in August, has criticised the government’s handling of its armed forces, saying Britain must not “cut and run” from military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said a failure to see the campaigns through to their proper conclusion would be morally wrong and a disaster.

Gen Jackson slammed defence bosses for “considerable inertia” in not recognising that pressures in Iraq and Afghanistan had grown beyond expectations.

His comments were in contrast to those made recently by his successor, General Sir Richard Dannatt, who also criticised the government but said Britain should get out of Iraq because it was making the security situation there worse.

Gen Jackson also said the British government has deprived its military leaders of authority and underpays its soldiers.

Speaking at the BBC’s annual Dimbleby lecture, he said the Ministry of Defence suffered from a fundamental failure to understand the ethos of the armed forces.

He suggested soldiers on operations were underpaid. “Not much over £1,000 a month . . . on operations is hardly an impressive figure,” he said, and described some military accommodation as “shaming”.

Gen Jackson said military chiefs of staff had suffered a “diminution” of authority. It was “time that real authority was restored to the chiefs of staff in order to match the responsibility which indubitably and rightly they carry”.

He was also critical of the commercial “best practice” objectives set by the MoD. The ministry congratulated itself on achieving affordability, for example in military accommodation, he said, but what was achieved was far from meeting the needs of soldiers and their families.

Until now, Gen Jackson has been relatively quiet and some of his colleagues have said privately that he should have been more forthright in arguing the military’s point of view while he was still serving as head of the army.

The MoD said it was open to informed criticism. It was, it said, unusual in that it acted as both a government department and as the UK military’s strategic headquarters. The department was, it said, “staffed by civil servants and members of the armed forces working closely together, and with a clear sense that their priority is to support our forces on the front line”.

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