Britain announces major military cutbacks

LONDON — Washington's closest ally unveiled its deepest military cuts since the end of the Cold War, with a cash-strapped Britain announcing Tuesday that it will withdraw thousands of troops from continental Europe, decommission warships, mothball an entire class of fighter jets and delay upgrading its nuclear arsenal.

The cutbacks would not affect the war in Afghanistan, where British troops make up the second-largest contingent after the United States. Britain said it would invest in more helicopters and armored vehicles to aid military operations there. By also committing to boost combat-ready special forces, officials here are seeking to reassure the Pentagon that Britain will retain its global role as deputy to Washington's sheriff.

Nevertheless, Britain's most sweeping military review in more than a decade is set to further diminish this nation's military might, particularly as a maritime power. For Washington, the moves amount to a tactical scaling down of military ambition by the one European ally consistently willing to back the United States with firepower in international conflicts, and come at a time when other NATO members, including Germany, are also making substantial military cuts.

As part of the plan, 20,000 British forces will withdraw from their post-World War II-era bases in Germany by 2020, and overall, British troops and civilian defense personnel will be slashed by 42,000. The equipment cuts, including the early decommissioning of the Royal Navy's flagship aircraft carrier, will force Britain to forfeit its ability to launch fighter jets from sea until at least 2019. The fleets of Harrier fighter jets — a stalwart of the skies for Britain for 40 years — are being eliminated. The planned Nimrod MRA4 reconnaissance aircraft, previously billed by the Royal Air Force as a "significant contribution" to the fight against terrorism, is also being scrapped.