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Volume 449: debated on Monday 24 July 2006

10. Pursuant to his oral statement of 10 July 2006, Official Report, columns 1132-35, on troop levels in Afghanistan, from what sources additional equipment needs in Afghanistan will be met. (87193)

We will provide two additional CH47 helicopters, one in September and one in October. One will be drawn from the Falklands, and might be replaced by a commercial contract. The other will be drawn from the Chinook-47 deployable pool. Those changes, coupled with recently announced increases in helicopter hours, will give us the flexibility required to meet the demand. Helicopter force levels will remain under constant review.

My constituent has just received an e-mail from her brother, who is serving in Afghanistan, which ends:

“If it weren’t for the inherent stubbornness and capability of the honest Tommy to simply get things done, the true professionalism of the best armed forces on this earth coupled with the exceptional efforts of a few exceptional officers, the prospects for this campaign would be bleak indeed”.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is essential that the lives of those brave British Tommys taking part in this vital mission should not be put at risk due to poor availability or poor positioning of essential kit, including helicopters? In that respect, how many helicopters are currently fit for purpose? What is he doing to reduce the number that are currently out of service?

The force that we have deployed in Afghanistan, and the additional forces that I announced to be deployed there, were designed by the commanders and approved by the chiefs of staff. I have not, and nor have any of my predecessors, refused to provide anything that has been requested for our operations in Afghanistan. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have provided additional support for the helicopter fleet in particular.

The mere fact that we are replacing helicopters elsewhere with contractors suggests that there is a shortage of helicopters. I, too, am receiving communications from relatives of people deployed in Afghanistan who are concerned about the level of support. Can the Secretary of State tell me how many other countries in NATO are deploying helicopters in Afghanistan?

If the hon. Gentleman receives such communication, he should pass it on to me immediately, and I will deal with it. I look forward to receiving from him tomorrow the communication that he has received in relation to those matters. The conclusion that he draws about the deployment of those two helicopters is incorrect. The fact that we are deploying helicopters from the Falklands suggests that the military are doing what they do. If resource can be deployed from somewhere else to do that work, that seems to me to be appropriate. Again, if the hon. Gentleman has concerns that come to him from constituents, he should pass them on to me and I will deal with them.