Talking to diplomatic sources this evening, there’s a depressed recognition that the Taliban and its allies have scored a major victory in forcing Nato to scale back joint patrols with Afghan forces. Here, the government has mishandled the news. Number 10 is trying to deny the strategic importance of this shift, while the normally sure-footed Philip Hammond made a series of clumsy answers to questions in parliament.
Part of the problem is that Hammond was sent to the Ministry of Defence not for his interest in military matters but for his commitment to balancing the books. In private, he says that he hopes his legacy will be a genuinely, balanced MoD budget—and he does appear to be making impressive progress towards that goal. But this focus meant that when Hammond was informed of the move to scale back joint patrols on Monday, he failed to grasp its significance.
This incident may well bring into the open the increasingly tetchy relations between Hammond and the services. Nearly all defence secretaries, have difficulties with one— or all — of the services. But the need for budget cuts and the strategic defeat that Afghanistan is fast turning into mean that relations between Hammond and the brass have become tarnished particularly quickly.