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Britain's Defense Chief Signals Budget Cuts

As part of the sweeping spending review ordered by Britain's new government, the country's defense chief says his department will not be immune from cuts. Defense Secretary Liam Fox said hard decisions and reform would be coming, but he said Afghanistan remains a top priority.

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute, British Defense Secretary Fox said the country faces daunting financial challenges, some of which he blamed on the previous Labor government, and he said the Ministry of Defense would be facing cutbacks just like other governmental departments.

The findings of a strategic defense review are expected later this year. Fox said savings and efficiencies are part of rolling back the huge debt the government faces.

"We do have to operate in the financial climate we have inherited, and defense cannot be immune from that challenge," Fox said. "We will have to be tough and unsentimental to boot, if we are to do what needs to be done."

Defense Secretary Fox says fundamental structural change will have to come to the Defense department to increase efficiency.

"We intend to create a more efficient and leaner center, where everybody knows what they are responsible for and who they are accountable to, with the deadlines and budgetary disciplines taken for granted elsewhere," he said.

Re-examining priorities will mean some projects may be delayed or eliminated; ship and aircraft numbers could be affected.

A recent study by the Royal United Services Institute says Britain could be forced to cut ground troop numbers by 20 percent over the next nine years.

Liam Fox says, despite the budgetary pressures, Afghanistan remains Britain's top priority, and the troops there will get the best support possible.

But in more general terms, he added that the role of Britain's forces would have to change with the times.

"As much as structural reform is required, I am equally determined that the armed forces are reconfigured to meet the needs of the evolving security environment and satisfy the ambitions this country has," Fox said.

Just under 10,000 British forces are in Afghanistan, with most stationed in Helmand province. The country supplies the second largest NATO contingent to Afghanistan after the U.S.

Britain's new prime minister, David Cameron, on a trip to Afghanistan last week firmly ruled out increasing the number of British forces now serving there, and said British forces should not stay longer than necessary.