Sentamu warns defence cuts would 'risk safety of nation'

Service personnel return fire in Afghanistan
Image caption The Archbishop said he does not believe reservists can form the 'backbone' of the British armed forces.

Cuts to the number of full-time military personnel would "risk the safety of the nation", Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu has warned.

In an interview with British Forces Broadcasting Service, Dr Sentamu criticised the government's plans to increase reliance on reservists.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said the Army will have to lose 20,000 regular soldiers by 2020.

The MoD said recent operations showed reservists offered "enduring" support.

During his Christmas message to servicemen and women serving overseas, the archbishop said his "greatest anxiety" was the way in which the cuts were being carried out.

"These defence cuts need to be done with far, far greater sensitivity because we live still in a world that is very fragile and there are people out there still, wanting to do harm to... many, many people.

"To replace professionally trained, full time serving soldiers with part-timers, I'm afraid, for me. I don't think that can be the backbone of the British army," he added.

Image caption Dr Sentamu called for the cuts to be carried out with 'greater sensitivity'

Under government plans, the Territorial Army will double in size from 15,000 to 30,000 and be known as the Army Reserves while the number of full-time soldiers in the British army is set to fall from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020.

Army, Royal Navy and RAF reservists will receive more training and increased opportunities for promotion in exchange for having to make a greater commitment to regular training and deployment.

Responses to a consultation on the proposal will form part of a government White Paper to be published in the new year on the future role of reservists.

Commenting on the archbishop's remarks, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence pointed out it was re-shaping the armed forces with an extra £1.8bn over the next 10 years to provide "more training, equipment and recruitment".

He said: "The mobilisation of some 30,000 army reservists, including over 20,000 in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, over the last decade has demonstrated that reservists can support operations worldwide on an enduring basis."

In his interview, the archbishop also paid tribute to the work of British forces in Afghanistan, adding that he continued to pray daily for the troops serving away from home, whom he described as "the bravest of the brave".

Dr Sentamu has previously questioned whether British troops are being cared for properly by the government.

In 2009, he challenged whether troops serving in Afghanistan were getting the treatment they deserved from Whitehall under the terms of the military covenant.

The covenant is an informal understanding between the government, society and service personnel, under which the nation is expected to support troops and provide fair treatment, respect and reward in return for the sacrifices associated with a life in the military.

In 2008, the archbishop raised £100,000 for the families of troops serving in Afghanistan by completing a sponsored parachute jump.

Dr Sentamu has close ties to the Yorkshire Regiment who lost 10 soldiers this year serving in Afghanistan.

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