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Profile: General Sir Mike Jackson

01 September 2007

Profile: General Sir Mike Jackson

The former head of the Army, Gen Sir Mike Jackson, has criticised US policy in Iraq. What sort of man is Sir Mike?
Reportedly nicknamed Darth Vader and The Prince of Darkness by his men, Gen Sir Michael Jackson commanded an instant respect among his troops.

Renowned for his ferocious pursuit of perfection on military exercises and dubbed "Macho Jacko" by the tabloids, he was seen as a hard but fair commander.

Sir Mike, now 62, began his army career learning Russian in the Intelligence Corps at the height of the Cold War.

Alongside his hard man image he was seen as intelligent and able and it has been said he could have succeeded equally well in a civilian - even political - career.

Born into a military family, he joined the Army at the age of 19 before graduating from Birmingham University in 1967.

He transferred to the Parachute Regiment in 1970 after completing his time with the Intelligence Corps.

Distinguished leadership

Sir Mike, whose military hero is the Duke of Wellington, rose to command the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment between 1984 and 1986.

He also commanded 3 (UK) Division, spent two years at the Ministry of Defence and served in Berlin and Northern Ireland.

He was commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia between 1995 and 1996.

He went on to command Nato's ACE Rapid Reaction Corps from 1997 to 2000.

In 1999 he took charge of the Kosovo Force - known as K-For - in the successful operation to end the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in the former Yugoslav republic.

During the Kosovo campaign he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for the leadership he showed.

Sir Mike headed K-For troops for the sensitive mission in Kosovo 

During the mission his strong character famously resulted in a clash with his American commander General Wesley Clark.

When ordered to intercept Russian forces which entered Kosovo without the alliance's agreement he refused.

"I'm not going to start the Third World War for you," he is reported to have told General Clark.

As head of K-For Sir Mike not only won the respect of his soldiers but also that of aid workers and diplomats who met him.

"Generals are generals because you defer to them and he is a particularly strong proponent of the art," one British officer said at the time.

He stepped down as head of the ACE Rapid Reaction Corps in February 2000.

Bloody Sunday

After leaving his post he was promoted to full general and made operational head of the British army.

He took up the role just a month before the Iraq war, replacing General Sir Michael Walker.

A month into the war in Iraq, he was called away from his duties to give evidence to the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

He was adjutant to the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment in January 1972, when paratroopers killed 13 Catholic men on an illegal civil rights march in Londonderry.

Sir Mike married his wife Sarah in 1985. He has two sons and a daughter. His son, Mark, followed him into the military and has served as a paratrooper in the Gulf.

High profile

His Who's Who entry lists his interests as travel, music, skiing and tennis. He also penchant for whisky and cigars.

As head of the Army - a role which he retired from in August - Sir Mike became one of the most widely known British generals since World War II.

He had to deal with claims of Iraqi prisoner abuse at the hands of UK troops and growing discontent about the role of coalition troops in the Middle Eastern country.

He launched a probe into the abuse allegations, admitting they had damaged the army but insisting the situation would be worse if there had been a cover-up

His high media profile made him wince but it did not stop him speaking his mind when he thought it necessary.

His willingness to give his views, however controversial, has continued into his retirement.

BBC News