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Volume 404: debated on Thursday 8 May 2003

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The commitment of the United Kingdom to helping the people of Afghanistan rebuild their country is well established. We are already extensively engaged in a range of activities from security to reconstruction to humanitarian aid. In conjunction with our international partners and the Afghan Transitional Authority (ATA), progress has already been substantial, particularly in Kabul.Looking to build upon that progress, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr Ingram) informed the House in answer to a Parliamentary Question on 9 April,

Official Report, column 296W, from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), we have been interested in leading a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and were conducting the necessary preparatory planning work. We have had wide-ranging discussions with the ATA, the United Nations, regional leaders and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). As a result of these talks and planning, we have decided to participate in the coalition's deployment of PRTs. The role of these teams is to aid the extension of the ATA's capacity, the development of a stable and secure environment in the Afghan regions and to stimulate security sector reform and reconstruction. Overall, there are expected to be eight such teams. From July 2003, the United Kingdom will lead the PRT in Mazar-e Sharif and the five surrounding provinces.

The UK PRT will initially be military-led and deploy for up to two years. It will initially comprise some 50 troops who will liaise with Afghan military forces in the region and provide the Team's support and protection. The PRT will include civilian staff from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development (DFID) who will be responsible for providing political and development advice respectively. DFID will also provide funding for the PRT to support appropriate development programmes in close connection with the central and local Afghan authorities. We have invited the ATA to provide a representative to work with the PRT, which will also employ directly a small number of local staff. By encouraging and facilitating dialogue between all the political groups and militias around Mazar-e Sharif, the Team will contribute towards the Afghans themselves creating a safer and more stable environment. We therefore anticipate the structure of the PRT may change over time and we shall in any event be seeking to include personnel from other members of the coalition as soon as is practicable. In the future, we may also look to contribute British personnel to PRTs in other regions.

The PRTs are not a part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul. Our decision to lead the Mazar-e Sharif PRT is additional to our commitment to the ISAF. We shall retain our current ISAF commitment for the duration of the joint German—Dutch leadership of the Force. We expect to remain a significant troop contributor when a NATO headquarters is deployed in August 2003 as part of the Alliance's package of measures to enhance its support to the ISAF.