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Afghanistan

Volume 451: debated on Wednesday 1 November 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the answer of 4 September 2006, Official Report, column 1688W, to the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), on British troops (Afghanistan), if he will describe the welfare facilities for armed service personnel serving in (a) Kabul, (b) Camp Bastion, (c) forward bases in Helmand province and (d) other operational theatres. (91803)

Personnel serving in Kabul and Camp Bastion have access to the following Operational Welfare Package facilities:

Expeditionary Forces Institute retail and leisure facilities.

Access to the internet and 30 minutes of publicly funded telephone calls per week.

A free Forces Aerogramme and Forces Postcard service and a subsidised postal packet scheme that allows parcels up to 2kg to be sent at the UK inland rate.

An electronic Aerogramme service.

Televisions and British Forces Broadcasting Service transmissions.

DVD players and DVDs.

Video gaming machines and games.

Radios and British Forces Broadcasting Service transmissions.

Combined Services Entertainment personality visits.

Newspapers.

Magazines.

Books.

Board games.

Operational fitness equipment.

In addition to this standard Operational Welfare Package provision, and recognising the need for extra deployable equipment capable of operation in the forward bases, the following facilities have been provided in Afghanistan:

TEXTLINK e-mail that allows e-mail, SMS texting and letters to be transmitted between theatre and the UK.

IRIDIUM hand-held satellite telephones that enable access to the 30 minutes of free welfare calls per week.

Onward delivery and uplift of mail and electronic aerogrammes via the base location on routine resupply tasks.

For other operational theatres the Operational Welfare Package has enabled the MOD to provide sustainable operational welfare to personnel on operational deployments and exercises that are of two months or more in duration and outside north west Europe. The exact composition of the Operational Welfare Package will depend on specific circumstances such as the nature and duration of the deployment; the operational situation in-theatre and the environment and infrastructure of the country in which the operation is taking place.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the countries of origin of those fighting for the Taliban killed by UK forces in Afghanistan; and what estimate he has made of how many have come from each country. (95160)

The majority of Taliban fighters killed by UK forces are of Afghan or Pakistani origin. We assess that small numbers of foreign fighters and stateless terrorists have been active in Afghanistan, and some of these will have been killed in fighting with ISAF forces. We are not able to judge how many have been killed in total, or indeed the break-down by nationality.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence in what ways the security situation has (a) improved and (b) worsened since the recent deployment of British troops to Helmand province in Afghanistan. (95930)

Insurgent attacks against UK forces in Helmand increased in intensity following the establishment of regional outposts in the north of Helmand during the summer. However, the past two months have seen an improvement in the security situation in northern Helmand, which has resulted in a rebalancing of UK forces across the province, including the handover of Musa Qaleh to local elders. The situation in the south of the province remains broadly stable, if fragile in places.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what information he has received in respect of the percentage of the Afghan (a) population and (b) economy dependent on the cultivation of poppies. (97534)

[holding answer 30 October 2006]: The UN Office on Drugs and Crime conducts an annual Afghanistan opium survey. According to the 2006 survey, 2.9 million people (448,000 families) are involved in the opium cultivation which equates to 12.6 per cent. of the total population. The total farm gate value of opium crop as a proportion of GDP is approximately US$755 million (11 per cent.).

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what study his Department has made of the lessons of past counter-insurgency campaigns relevant to the framing of NATO’s strategy in Afghanistan. (97537)

[holding answer 30 October 2006]: UK forces are able to draw on a number of doctrinal publications that deal with the lessons learnt from previous counter insurgency campaigns. These include “The Joint Warfare Production” (second edition), “The Military Contribution to Peace Support Operations” and “The Army Field Manual”. In addition, the Ministry of Defence’s Development, Concept and Doctrine Centre is reviewing doctrine better to reflect the current operational environment.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what estimate he has made of the proportion of Taliban fighters that are non-Afghan nationals. (98307)

The majority of Taliban fighters encountered in Afghanistan have been of Afghan or Pakistani origin. We assess that a small number of foreign fighters are also active in Afghanistan. It is not possible to provide a break-down by nationality.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of future requirements for troop numbers in Afghanistan. (97042)

We keep our force requirements under constant review and are responsive to requests from theatre in order to ensure our commanders on the ground have the tools that they need to achieve the mission as part of the NATO led International Security Assistance Force.