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Afghanistan Air Support

Volume 494: debated on Wednesday 24 June 2009

The statement by my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Bob Ainsworth) on 25 February 2009, Official Report, columns 24-25WS, referred to a delay from spring until summer 2009 of the deployment of Tornado GR4 aircraft to replace a broadly similar force of Harrier GR9 aircraft at Kandahar airfield, Afghanistan.

I can confirm that necessary supporting infrastructure at Kandahar is now in place and all Tornado GR4 urgent operational requirement enhancements have been delivered. Consequently Tornado GR4 aircraft deployed to Kandahar in mid-June and, after a period of joint operations with the Harrier force, today the Tornado GR4 force has taken over sole responsibility for RAF fast jet support in Afghanistan.

The transition from Harrier to Tornado in theatre has been seamless. During the handover the Tornado force has proved that it is fully capable of fulfilling all the roles required of it in support of coalition ground forces. Those forces will continue to benefit from the flexibility and broad range of capabilities offered by UK fast jet aircraft.

The remaining elements of the Harrier force are preparing to leave Kandahar shortly, with the final Harrier personnel planning to return to their home base at RAF Cottesmore in early July. Joint Force Harrier has made a significant and acclaimed contribution to coalition air operations during its four and a half years service in Afghanistan and the personnel within this force can be proud of all their many achievements in this operational theatre.