Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup focused this year's speech to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) about British defence issues on the progress that troops have made in Iraq as well as the ongoing situation in Afghanistan.
During the speech, which he gave on Monday 1 December 2008, Sir Jock also acknowledged that 2009 will be a challenging year for the British Armed Forces and stated that the priority would be to carry on being committed to defeating terrorism.
On Iraq, Sir Jock said:
"We're now close to the stage where we can alter fundamentally our mission in Iraq. We intend to move to the sort of bilateral military partnership that we have with other friends in the region, and to work with the Iraqis in those areas and on those issues where they want our support. That transition will dramatically reduce the number of people we have on the ground in Iraq."
On recent speculation that troops will deploy from Iraq straight to Afghanistan, he said:
"We cannot simply make a one-for-one transfer from Iraq to Afghanistan. I'm not saying that we couldn't or shouldn't do more in Afghanistan if we judge that to be necessary. What I am saying is that we have to be able to sustain whatever we do.
"Our task is: to reduce the insurgency to a level that poses no significant threat to progress in Afghanistan; to ensure that core Al Qaeda does not return to the country; and to ensure that Afghanistan remains a legitimate state and is able to handle its own security. But Afghanistan's challenges will be far from ended when we achieve those aims."
On current operations in Afghanistan, he said:
"The joint civil-military task force in Helmand is having a real impact here. It's necessarily slow going, given the lack of human capital and the weakening of traditional tribal structures after decades of conflict. And there are undoubtedly occasional backward steps. But for all that it's halting and erratic, the overall motion is forward. This is an area where we're going to need patience and persistence. It's for this that the military is creating time and space in Helmand.
"But I can't leave it there. Everybody in this audience is only too well aware that Afghanistan is only part of the problem. The Secretary of State for Defence set out clearly in a recent speech why dealing with the ungoverned space that subsumes Helmand is in the United Kingdom's national interest."
To conclude, CDS made it clear what the UK's priorities are:
"Terrorism, whatever its source, is the real threat to our national interests - Pakistan as well as India; the UK as well as Afghanistan. And the opportunity for us all to reaffirm our joint commitment to defeating it, however long it may take."
Click here for the full speech (HTML format), on the MoD website.