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Afghanistan

Volume 451: debated on Tuesday 7 November 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to his oral statement of 10 July 2006, Official Report, columns 1131-48, on Afghanistan (troop levels), how many (a) attack and (b) support helicopters will be deployed as part of the additional deployment to Helmand Province; when they will arrive; and from where they will be sourced. (85106)

I refer the hon. Member to the statements I made on 10 July 2006, Official Report, columns 1131-35, and 24 July 2006, Official Report, columns 74-76WS. The additional CH-47 Chinooks were drawn from the UK and from the Falklands Islands.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to his oral statement of 10 July 2006, Official Report, columns 1131-48, on Afghanistan (troop levels), which units will be operating outside harmony guidelines as a result of the additional deployment to Helmand Province; and what the average tour gap number will be for each unit. (85107)

I can confirm that, as announced on the 10 July 2006, Official Report, column 1133, the additional force package deployed to the Helmand Province contained 320 engineers from 28 Regiment Royal Engineers (28 Regt RE), an Infantry Company from the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (2 RRF), two Platoons from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment (1 R IRISH) and one company from three Commando Brigade Royal Marines. The armed forces harmony guidelines recommend a tour interval of 24 months between each six month operational tour. The average tour interval for 28 Regt RE as a whole is 24 months, although, 35 individuals deployed facing a tour interval of between six and 24 months. The average tour interval for 2 RRF is 34 months, although one individual will have deployed for 15 months in a 30 month period. The average tour interval for 1 R IRISH is 25 months but most of the 60 personnel who deployed will now experience a tour interval of six months. The company of three Commando Brigade Royal Marines who deployed as the force protection unit for 28 Regt RE have a tour interval of 28 months.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many civilians have been (a) killed and (b) injured by the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in each of the last six months. (94702)

I refer the hon. Member to the answer given on 26 October 2006, Official Report, column 2013, to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn).

Similar principles apply to the number of civilians injured as to the number of civilians killed.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the strategic objectives are of the UK forces in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement. (97254)

I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my predecessor on 27 March 2006, Official Report, column 670W to the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway).

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many UK armed forces personnel were in Afghanistan in each month between June 2003 and October 2006; and if he will make a statement. (97255)

Figures for the number of UK regular forces deployed in Afghanistan from December 2005 are shown in the following table. Figures for the number of UK service personnel deployed before December 2005 are not held centrally.

Deployment of UK armed forces1 in Afghanistan since December 2005

Date2

Total

December 2005

820

January 2006

840

February 2006

870

March 2006

1,900

April 2006

2,330

May 2006

3,880

June 2006

4,370

July 2006

4,590

August 2006

4,950

September 2006

5,220

October 2006

5,850

1 Figures include UK regular forces and mobilised reservists. They exclude civilians and Royal Fleet Auxiliary. 2 Figures are collated from a manual headcount of personnel in theatre, reported on a weekly basis. The figures shown are the closest available to the first of each month. Note: Due to the rounding methods used, totals may not always equal the sum of the parts. When rounding to the nearest 10, numbers ending in 5 have been rounded to the nearest multiple of 20 to prevent systematic bias.

Figures for the number of UK service personnel deployed before December 2005 is not held centrally on a month to month basis and only an average for the year can be provided. These data have not been statistically verified.

Average number of UK personnel in Afghanistan

2005

970

2004

660

June-December 2003

380

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of (a) the relationship between the Taliban and Afghan poppy-growers and (b) its implications for NATO’s counter-insurgency campaign. (97533)

[holding answer 30 October 2006]: There are links of convenience between the Taliban and traffickers based on personal relationships, tribal loyalties and business interests. The Taliban and drug traffickers share a common interest in resisting the Afghan Government and coalition forces. The Taliban are also attempting to exploit the continued existence of the drugs trade to undermine the central Government’s authority. Given these links we continue to monitor their development and to support the Afghan Government in disrupting them.

NATO supports the Afghan counter narcotics effort by securing the future stability of Afghanistan and creating the environment in which counter narcotics activities can have greatest impact, but it does not take direct action against the drugs trade.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has made to his United States counterparts on the effect on the counter-insurgency campaign of attempts by (a) NATO forces and (b) the Afghan Government to suppress the cultivation of poppies. (97535)

[holding answer 30 October 2006]: We regularly hold discussions on all aspects of the international community’s efforts in Afghanistan with the US and other nations that contribute to the international security assistance force.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when it was decided that UK forces in Afghanistan would be under US command; and if he will make a statement. (97588)

[holding answer 30 October 2006]: The vast majority of UK forces in Afghanistan are part of the NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which is currently headed by a British officer. Regardless of the nationality of the commanding officer, ISAF remains under NATO command.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with NATO chiefs about the deployment of additional troops in support of British forces in Afghanistan. (98070)

I discuss regularly with the NATO Secretary General and with NATO Ministerial colleagues the need to ensure that NATO commanders in Afghanistan have the forces they need to fulfil their mission, including British forces in Helmand Province. NATO Defence Ministers last met collectively on 28 September.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to his answer of 30 October 2006, Official Report, column 99W, whether any senior commanders in Afghanistan have asked for Warrior vehicles to be deployed there; and if he will make a statement. (99074)

[holding answer 2 November 2006]: As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated during Prime Minister’s Question Time on 1 November 2006, Official Report, column 294, Ministers have not received any formal requests for Warrior armoured fighting vehicles. Requests from operational commanders are considered first by the Permanent Joint Headquarters and by the Chiefs of Staff before they are presented to Ministers.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) if he will request a report on the recent accidental bombing of civilians by NATO planes in Southern Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement; (99217)

(2) which air force was responsible for the recent bombing in which up to 60 Afghan civilians are reported to have died; what assistance has been offered to the survivors; and what plans there are to compensate the victims.

NATO has commissioned a report into the accidental bombing of Afghan civilians on 24 October has still to be completed. Until the investigation is complete, it would be inappropriate to comment on the incident. In recognition of its responsibility to the Afghan people, however, the International Security Assistance Force has already provided medical assistance to a number of the injured.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps have been taken to ensure that women are fully included in Provincial Reconstruction Team development programmes in Afghanistan; and what assessment has been made of the potential effect of attempts by the Afghan Government to accommodate Islamist factions on women’s rights in Afghanistan. (99416)

I have been asked to reply.

Women’s rights are fully considered in the UK Provincial Reconstruction Team’s efforts to improve the lives of the people of Helmand. Gender awareness is an integral part of our effort to assist the national and provincial Afghan Government in laying the platform for lasting reconstruction and development across the province.

The Afghan Government is engaging with a wide range of groups to ensure proper engagement in the democratic process, but remains fully aware of its obligations under the Constitution, which provides for women’s equality and their right to participate in the political process, and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

We continue to maintain a regular dialogue with the Afghan Government’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, to ensure that women’s rights are not sidelined during the process of reconciliation and integration.