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Afghanistan: Peacekeeping Operations

Volume 481: debated on Monday 27 October 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence which districts of Helmand Province are deemed to be (a) under UK, ISAF and NATO forces or the Afghan Government control, (b) under Taliban control and (c) in indeterminate control; and if he will make a statement. (227374)

[holding answer 21 October 2008]: International Security Assistance Force, the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of Afghanistan have established a security presence in the districts of Lashkar Gar, Nahr-e Saraj (Gereshk), Musa Qal'ah, Sangin, Garmsir, Kajaki, Nawah-ye Barakzai and Nad Ali. Operations against the Taliban in Helmand continue, with the purpose of bringing more of the province under the control of the Afghan Government.

However, the insurgents continue to pose a threat through improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and opportunistic attacks.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what estimate he has made of the number of casualties of (a) insurgents and (b) civilians in Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2007-08. (227973)

We do not routinely collate data on the number of insurgents killed by UK forces in Afghanistan. Collecting and verifying data is extremely difficult given the nature of the conflict. As we have said repeatedly, our long-term strategy towards defeating the insurgency in Afghanistan is through a wide range of military and non-military activity and not through an attritional, purely military campaign.

We regret incidents where civilians are accidentally killed as a result of actions by international forces. Procedures are in place, and being constantly updated in the light of experience, both to minimise the risk of these casualties occurring and to investigate any incidents that do happen. Wherever possible, local populations are warned of impending operations. We should remember the insurgents are the real threat to the safety and security of the Afghan people by their indiscriminate use of violence. ISAF forces are not present on a permanent basis in many parts of Helmand province, which makes it difficult to monitor atrocities against the civilian population by the Taliban. It is therefore impossible to estimate with any confidence the number of civilian casualties in Helmand province in 2007-08 that have been caused by the current conflict.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what reports he has received of recent comments by President Zardari about the position of the Taliban in the conflict in Afghanistan; what assessment he has made of those comments; and whether he has responded to them. (229819)

Since the welcome return of a democratically elected Government in Pakistan, the Government have maintained close contact with President Zardari, his Cabinet and senior officers in the Pakistan military. International co-operation is central to our efforts in the region and I welcome the Government of Pakistan’s commitment to countering terrorism as a top priority. While I cannot discuss specific comments that President Zardari has made recently, we continually emphasise the important role that a stable and democratic Pakistan has to play in delivering success in Afghanistan and that both our and Pakistan’s interests are placed in jeopardy by Taliban operating from within its borders.