msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/14/2010 12:30:03 AM ET 2010-11-14T05:30:03

The new head of Britain's armed forces says that the West cannot defeat al-Qaida but that defeating it is "unnecessary" because it can be contained.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Gen. David Richards said al-Qaida would pose a threat to Britain's national security for at least 30 years. But he argued that the terrorist group could be managed to allow security for the British people.

"In conventional war, defeat and victory is very clear cut and is symbolized by troops marching into another nation's capital," Richards was quoted as saying. "First of all you have to ask: do we need to defeat it [Islamist militancy] in the sense of a clear cut victory? I would argue that it is unnecessary and would never be achieved.

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"But can we contain it to the point that our lives and our children's lives are led securely? I think we can."

He said "education and democracy" should be used as weapons against al-Qaida, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

In the interview, Richards also told the Sunday Telegraph:

  • Prince William is unlikely to serve in Afghanistan, but his brother, Harry, could return to front-line duty in Helmand Province. Harry currently is training to be a helicopter pilot.
  • Britain's government and military had been "guilty of not fully understanding what was at stake" in Afghanistan and the Afghan people were tiring of NATO's inability to deliver security.
  • However, NATO was making progress in Afghanistan. "Don't give up folks."

Richards also said large budget cuts planned for the nation's military would not affect its ability to defend the Falkland Islands, the U.K.'s disputed territory in the South Atlantic.

Former British military commanders warned Wednesday that the country's defense cuts had effectively invited Argentina to attempt to recapture the Falkland Islands, the U.K.'s disputed territory in the South Atlantic.

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In a letter to the Times of London on Wednesday, five ex-military chiefs said the loss of Britain's Ark Royal aircraft carrier and fleet of Harrier jets under the country's austerity plans effectively invited Argentina to attempt to recapture the islands.

The territory was the subject of a brief war between the U.K. and Argentina in 1982, and has been the source of simmering tension ever since.

Last month, Prime Minister David Cameron announced an 8 percent cut to the annual 37 billion pound ($59 billion) defense budget over four years as part of measures to tackle Britain's budget deficit.

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