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Volume 496: debated on Monday 13 July 2009

4. What recent estimate he has made of the projected costs of military operations in Afghanistan in each of the next three years. (285624)

The estimated financial cost of operations in Afghanistan for this financial year is £3.5 billion, as recently published for the first time in the MOD’s main estimates. The cost of military operations is dependent on a number of variable factors that are difficult to predict, including changes to operational tempo and the conditions in theatre at the time. We do not, therefore, attempt to project costs for the subsequent two years.

Following the Chancellor’s pledge over the weekend that our forces will have whatever they need, how does the Secretary of State anticipate funding future operational requirements, given that in future years his ministry will have to pay back every penny over £635 million that it spends on urgent operational requirements? Is that not a case of robbing the future to pay for the military today?

We have not gone over those limits, and therefore there is no need for a repayment. I have just announced to the House that the £635 million limit has been raised by a further £101 million; that is some indication that the Chancellor is trying to assist.

But in assessing those costs, does the Minister acknowledge that there are real, understandable doubts among the general public, not about our being in Afghanistan but about whether we have the required number of troops and the right sort of equipment to let them carry out their tasks? Could he respond to the public’s concerns?

My hon. Friend will recognise that the number of troops and the costs of the Afghan mission have gone up considerably in the past three years. However, I get the opportunity, which many others in the House do not, to go out to theatre on a regular basis, and I meet troops back here, and I hear repeatedly that the equipment that they have has been improved massively over the past couple of years.

The Secretary of State said a moment ago that Merlin and Lynx Mk 9 helicopters are being prepared for use in Afghanistan, but what further steps is the Department considering to ensure that helicopter needs in Afghanistan are met in future?

We are planning a spend of about £6 billion on helicopters over the coming years. We need to try to spend that as wisely as we can to ensure that we have no capability gap, particularly when our people are involved in the operations that they are today.

The Secretary of State rightly says that it is difficult to anticipate the precise costs, but airlift is clearly one of the areas where we have capacity constraint. Given that Germany currently provides 70 per cent. of ISAF’s airlift capacity but is severely constrained by the national caveats, is he having discussions with the Germans to try to lift them?

We try on every occasion to encourage our NATO allies to do the absolute maximum. There is little doubt that we are pulling our weight in the Afghan theatre or that the operation is absolutely vital to our safety back here in the UK and to NATO’s credibility, so we hope and press all the time for our allies to do whatever they can to ensure success.