- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 19, 2010

LONDON | Britain will lose thousands of troops, reduce its ability to fight complex missions such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and delay a program to upgrade its nuclear defenses, Prime Minister David Cameron announced Tuesday.

Outlining the first defense review since 1998 — intended to sweep away strategies crafted before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. and to help clear the country’s crippling national debt — Mr. Cameron said 17,000 troops, a fleet of jets and an aging aircraft carrier would all be sacrificed.

Naval warships, 25,000 civilian staff and a host of bases will also be lost, while the country’s stockpile of nuclear warheads will be trimmed from 160 to 120.

Two new aircraft carriers will be built at a cost of $8 billion — but one effectively will be mothballed and another won’t have any British fighter jets to transport until 2019.

Instead, Britain will invest in its much admired special forces and develop expertise on cyberthreats to secure the country’s status as a major global power, Mr. Cameron said.

“Britain has punched above its weight in the world, and we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come,” Mr. Cameron told the House of Commons.

He said funding for the mission in Afghanistan, which does not come from the regular military budget, would not be trimmed, promising extra resources for troops there.

Military cutbacks come a day before Treasury chief George Osborne’s long-anticipated announcement of a governmentwide program to drastically cut department budgets and welfare bills.

The largest cuts to public spending since World War II are aimed at virtually eliminating Britain’s deficit, which stands at more than 10 percent of gross domestic product.

Mr. Osborne’s announcement will provide details of Britain’s spending plans for its intelligence agencies, though Mr. Cameron confirmed there will be an extra $785 million in funding to counter cyberthreats.

Mr. Cameron said there would be an 8 percent cut to the annual $59 billion defense budget over four years — but insisted that Britain’s spending on defense would remain above a NATO-demanded benchmark of 2 percent of gross domestic product.

Mr. Cameron said some military bases would be closed — though he didn’t specify which, leaving communities anxious.

In Morayshire, in the northeast of Scotland, residents warned that the closure of a Royal Air Force base there would ravage the local economy. About one-in-six jobs in the region, north of Aberdeenshire, including hotels, hospitals and retail are related to two threatened military bases.