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Afghanistan: Peace Keeping Operations

Volume 458: debated on Monday 26 March 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he (a) has taken and (b) is taking better to protect HM Forces from land mines in Afghanistan. (128285)

A range of measures are taken to protect UK armed forces from both anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. The best protection against mines can be provided by a combination of appropriate equipment and robust Training, Tactics and Procedures.

The UK Task Force has an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Task Force which is skilled and well-trained for dealing with mine incidents. The UK’s EOD Task Force has good knowledge of legacy minefields, and UK military personnel undertake mine awareness training.

While not designated a ‘Mine Protected Vehicle’ the newly procured Mastiff, a wheeled patrol vehicle with a less intimidating profile than our tracked vehicles, offers good protection against a range of threats including mines. We are rapidly procuring 100 of these vehicles for use in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and they will be delivered to Afghanistan this spring.

It is departmental policy that all troops deploying to Op. Herrick are provided with Enhanced Combat Body Armour before they deploy to theatre.

This armour, as well as protecting against small-arms fire, could additionally protect against shrapnel and blast injuries.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has for changes to the number of personnel deployed in Afghanistan. (129304)

As I explained to the House on 26 February 2007, Official Report, columns 619-21, the UK has decided to fill one of NATO’s most pressing requirements—a manoeuvre battalion for Regional Command (South). That means that over the summer our forces in Afghanistan will increase from around 6,300 to settle at around 7,700. The current planning assumption remains that these forces are committed until 2009. I and the Chiefs of Staff agree that this commitment is manageable.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) how many British helicopters are available to UK forces in Afghanistan; (129429)

(2) how many British (a) Chinook, (b) Lynx and (c) Apache helicopters are (i) operationally available and (ii) fit to fly on a typical day in Afghanistan;

(3) for how many flying hours per day on average the British (a) Lynx, (b) Apache and (c) Chinook helicopters are available in Afghanistan.

The following UK helicopters are currently based in Afghanistan: Chinook CH-47 support helicopters; Apache AH-64 attack helicopters; and Lynx light-utility helicopters. We would not expect all the helicopters to be available at any one time, due to requirements for routine maintenance, and therefore daily flying hours and availability will fluctuate. I am withholding further details as it would, or would be likely to prejudice the capability, effectiveness and security of our armed forces.

We continue to keep our helicopter requirements under review to ensure that we have sufficient helicopter support to meet current and anticipated tasks.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what reports he has received of the effect on the operational effectiveness of Lynx helicopters in Afghanistan of warmer weather conditions. (129450)

We recognise that all helicopters have lift or payload constraints, and we take these into account when deploying a number of different helicopters as part of a varied fleet. Aircraft can be affected by variations in temperature and weather conditions, but I am withholding the information as it would, or would be likely to, prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of our armed forces.