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Afghanistan and Pakistan

Volume 497: debated on Wednesday 14 October 2009

May I ask Members who are leaving the Chamber please to do so quickly and quietly so that we can hear the Prime Minister’s statement and Members may have the chance to question him on it?

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on Afghanistan and Pakistan: first, on our work with the Government of Pakistan to counter the terrorist threat from al-Qaeda and the Taliban; secondly, on our priorities for Afghanistan in the next stage of the work our armed forces and civilians are undertaking there; and thirdly, on the conditions we are setting down for the next stage, including for the best possible protection of our troops, especially against—as I mentioned earlier—the growing threat of improvised explosive devices.

Earlier this afternoon we honoured those who have died serving our country in Afghanistan. Today, I also want to honour and thank all those who serve and have served there. Each time I visit them, as I did a few weeks ago, I find myself in awe of the immense skill, courage and sacrifice of our forces. It is right that we put on record in this House, and for times to come, our gratitude for the immeasurable contribution by all our armed forces to our security.

We should also pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of our allies in the 42-country coalition, including that of the 873 American soldiers who have been killed in the last few months, and of two of our closest partners in central Helmand—the Danes and Estonians—who have disproportionately suffered among the largest losses of all.

Every time I read to this House the names of those who have lost their lives in Afghanistan, every time I write a letter of condolence to their families and every time I meet the wounded at Selly Oak, I ask myself the question that has been asked already today—whether we can justify sending our young men and women to join our allies to fight on the other side of the world. I have to conclude that, when the safety of our country is at stake, we cannot and will not walk away; that three-quarters of the most serious terror plots against the UK have roots in the border and mountain areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan; that, as our security services report directly to me, while the sustained pressure on al-Qaeda in Pakistan combined with military action in Afghanistan is having a suppressive effect on al-Qaeda, the main element of the threat to Britain still emanates from al-Qaeda and Pakistan; and that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan would be a strategic failure for al-Qaeda.

Our objective is clear and focused—to prevent al-Qaeda launching attacks on our streets and threatening legitimate government in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But if we limit ourselves simply to targeting al-Qaeda, without building the capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan to deal with terrorism and violent extremism, the security gains will not endure. So over the last two years we have sought to build and support the Afghan army and police and to work with the Pakistan security forces. Our strategy is dedicated to counter-insurgency and what we have called “Afghanisation”. This guiding purpose, reinforced in our strategy and in the NATO strategy in April, is at the heart of the announcements I am making today.

First, there is our work with Pakistan against terrorism and extremism. As a result of the meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, which I chaired in New York on 24 September together with President Obama and President Zardari, there is now a clear plan for stabilisation and a policy that will assist the reconstruction of those areas of Pakistan where there has been military action recently. We welcomed the recent success of the Pakistan Government who decided to take action against the Pakistan Taliban in Swat, Dir and Buner. The support of the opposition demonstrates that a wide cross- section of Pakistan society now accepts that terrorism poses a threat as serious to Pakistan as to the rest of the world. It is vital that basic services and economic assistance be provided in the liberated areas of Pakistan as soon as security conditions allow. The Secretary of State for International Development is therefore today announcing a further British contribution of £10 million, in addition to the £22 million that we have already provided for humanitarian assistance in those areas.

Secondly, in Afghanistan we will now move further and faster to implement our strategy, which starts with training, mentoring and partnering the Afghan army and police. The more that the Afghans can take responsibility for security, the less our coalition forces will be needed in the long term—and the sooner our troops will come home.

In recent weeks, I have discussed this approach with President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen, and I have met Admiral Mullen, the US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and Generals Petraeus and McChrystal, as well as our own military commanders here and on the ground. Britain supports General McChrystal’s ambition to accelerate the growth of the Afghan security forces—an ambition that lies at the heart of his report—with the Afghan army building to 134,000 within a year; that is, by next October.

The Afghans are committed to the recruitment of 5,000 soldiers a month from next spring; the new NATO training mission, established at Strasbourg, expects to help train 40,000 Afghan soldiers in 2010. Britain is setting up a new training centre that will train about 900 junior officers and non-commissioned officers each month. In Helmand, last year there were only 4,200 Afghan soldiers; this year there are an extra 50 per cent.—more than 6,000—and at our request the Afghan Government undertook to send more units to support Operation Panther’s Claw. Although those units arrived, they were below strength and not yet fully ready for the task. In a province that faces 30 per cent. of the violence in the country, we need more and better Afghan participation—and we need it from now.

That is why I can announce that the Afghans will set up a corps headquarters in Helmand and that British forces will be ready to partner 5,000 of the 10,000 Afghan troops whom the coalition will be training in Helmand over the next few months, not just embedding mentors with Afghan units, as we have done in the past, but working integrally right up to the top of the command chain. In future operations, the protection of populated areas must be the shared responsibility of Afghan and coalition forces. This will be central to the new benchmarks and timelines that we, and General McChrystal, will set out as part of a new framework for the transition to Afghan authority. That will involve Afghan forces taking responsibility for the security of the Afghan people, and doing so area by area.

As 19 Light Brigade completes its tour of duty, I know that the whole House will join me in thanking Brigadier Tim Radford, and the men and women whom he leads, for their service throughout this hard-fought summer, and in sending our best wishes to 11 Light Brigade, which is replacing them. That brigade will deploy with further enhancements to deal with the deadly threat from explosive devices—including more specialist troops and more equipment—to protect our forces, to find and defuse the improvised explosive devices and to identify and target the networks that build and set them.

It should be noted that 19 Light Brigade was able to prevent 1,200 explosive devices from being detonated. It will pass on that experience of success to its successors, together with the equipment enhancements that I announced on my recent visit, and which will come on stream later this month and next to help them. That includes increased flying hours for unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance—a 33 per cent. increase for Hermes, 50 per cent. for Desert Hawk and next year 80 per cent. for Reaper. It also includes an extra £20 million committed to a fourfold increase in the total number of Mastiff and Ridgback mine-protected vehicles since April, and the first Merlin helicopters to be deployed in Helmand in two weeks.

That is highly specialised equipment that must be manufactured, delivered and adapted, and personnel must be trained to operate it before it can be put into action. However, no one should doubt our commitment to responding as fast as we possibly can to this new and deadly threat from the Taliban, and nor should they doubt the scale of our financial commitment to our soldiers and to this campaign. Since 2006-07, we have increased annual military spending on the Afghan operation—spending from the Treasury reserve, in addition to the defence budget—from £700 million to £1.5 billion to £2.6 billion, and now to more than £3.5 billion this year. We are determined to provide our forces with the resources that they need to keep them safe, and to make the right decisions about equipment and troop deployments as part of our wider strategy.

To meet the changing demands of the campaign, which require greater concentration of our forces in central Helmand, we have confirmed the decision that we made in the National Security Committee in the summer: that one of the British units—the regional battle group for southern Afghanistan—will be redeployed to Helmand with immediate effect. To support our plan and to train more Afghan soldiers and police, while maintaining the security of our forces, I have agreed in principle a new force level subject to the following conditions.

The first is that a new Afghan Government demonstrate their commitment to bring forward the Afghan troops to be trained and to fight alongside our forces. I talked yesterday to President Karzai and Dr. Abdullah and received assurances that it is their determination that this will happen. The second condition is that, as before, every soldier and unit deployed to Afghanistan is and must be fully equipped for the operations that they are asked to undertake. The third condition is that our commitment be part of an agreed approach across the international coalition, with all countries bearing their fair share.

The combination of force levels, equipment levels and tasks that I am setting out today follows the clear military advice from our chiefs of staff and our commanders on the ground on implementing our strategy and reducing the risk to our forces. It is on that basis that I have agreed in principle to a new British force level of 9,500, which will be put into effect once those conditions are met.

As I have said, we do not yet know the results of the first round of the Afghan elections. But although they were the first ever elections run by the Afghans themselves and took place against the backdrop of a serious insurgency, we cannot be anything other than dissatisfied with the intimidation and corruption that has been exposed by Afghan and international observers. The Electoral Complaints Commission has set out a process of investigation, including the disqualification of fraudulent votes, and this process must be allowed to run its course.

When I spoke to President Obama last week, we agreed that when a new Government are formed, the international community, including Afghanistan’s neighbours, must develop a contract with the new Government that includes the commitment to growing the Afghan army; tough action on corruption; a more inclusive political process, including reaching out to the reconcilable elements of the insurgency; and stronger Afghan control of local affairs. Those are the necessary changes that I discussed with President Karzai and Dr. Abdullah yesterday, for without those changes the efforts of our military will be hampered and the new Afghan Government will not gain the trust of the Afghan people.

A better future for Afghanistan, with its village and rural population, can only be forged if there is stronger governance right down to district level. Last year we doubled the number of advisers we put in for civilian help, and now our joint civilian-military teams—the first in Afghanistan—are supporting not just Governor Mangal, but district governors and village shuras. During the past year, four new district governors have been appointed in Helmand. The Afghan Government are now functioning in nine out of their 13 districts, compared with five last year, and we are supporting community councils to consult thousands of local people.

To ensure that this work has immediate backing, we have announced an extra £20 million for the stabilisation work in Helmand—money that is already being disbursed—to increase the number of Afghan national police in Helmand by 1,000 a year for each of the next three years and to build a new police training academy and new facilities for district governors. We are also working with coalition partners to extend such support to the 34 provincial governors and 400 district governors right across Afghanistan.

British aid will therefore continue to help to pay the salaries of teachers and doctors, but we are also ready to fund and partner the first Afghan teams sent for stability purposes from Kabul to work alongside us in Helmand. We want to reinforce the hard-won gains of our forces in this hardest of summers while fostering greater Afghan responsibility for their own affairs.

We will have prevailed in Afghanistan when our troops come home because the Afghans have not only the will to fight, but the ability to take control of their own affairs. The right strategy is one that finishes the job, giving Afghans the tools to take over themselves. A safer Afghanistan is a safer Britain. A stronger Pakistan is also a safer Britain. We must never again let the territory of this region or any region become a base for terror on the underground or in the streets, cities and airports of Britain. We must not permit it and we will not permit it. We have the right strategy and we will see it through. I commend this strategy to the House.

We have long called for regular reports to Parliament on Afghanistan and Pakistan, so we very much welcome this statement. I would like to ask the Prime Minister about three areas: first, Britain’s input into the US strategic review; secondly, the equipment for our troops; and thirdly, the military’s request for extra troops.

On our overall strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and President Obama’s review, the Prime Minister said that he supports General McChrystal’s ambition, but can he tell us whether he basically agrees with General McChrystal that we need a proper, fully fledged counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan? The Prime Minister rightly says that our military effort should increasingly be geared to training the Afghan national army. We agree with that and support it, and we welcome the extra Afghan troops who will be in Helmand, but does he agree that in order for this to work, the Afghan national army needs to be more representative of the country as a whole? Can he tell us what progress is being made on that vital front?

As the Prime Minister said, the recent elections were widely seen as flawed and corrupt. If reruns of contests are not possible, does he agree that the clearest possible message should be sent to President Karzai that when British soldiers are fighting and dying for his country, the corruption and ineffectiveness of his Government are completely unacceptable?

On the Taliban, do we not need to get much smarter at distinguishing between individuals who pose a real long-term threat to the security of the UK and its allies, and those who do not? Does the Prime Minister agree that, while we should not be negotiating with the leadership of the Taliban, we should be breaking up the movement, separating out those who are more motivated by money or other factors rather than by ideological commitment? Can he tell us a bit more about what progress is being made on this front?

As the Prime Minister has rightly said, security in Pakistan has a direct link to security here in the UK. While the success in the Swat valley of which he spoke is welcome, the recent siege at the army HQ in Rawalpindi—just a few miles from the Pakistan capital—was deeply disturbing. Will he tell us what the British Government are doing to increase the Pakistan Government’s ability and capacity to deal with the rise of extremism? Will he address specifically the question of what he thinks is now being done, if anything, to shut down the Quetta shura?

The Prime Minister has said that the deployment of extra troops is conditional on the military assuring him that they have the necessary equipment and training, but will not people think that it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that they have the necessary equipment? Will people not also ask why, after eight years, we are still playing catch-up on equipment? As we have said repeatedly, helicopters are crucial. Will he tell us what progress has been made on getting more Chinooks to theatre? He said in his statement that the “first Merlin helicopters” will be deployed in the next two weeks. Can he assure the House that all six Merlins from Iraq will be in Afghanistan by the end of the year, as he promised? We welcome the delivery of the new Ridgback and Mastiff armoured vehicles, but, according to yesterday’s Public Accounts Committee report, only one in five of the Mastiff fleet were classified as fit in June 2008. Will he tell us whether that completely unacceptable position has now improved?

The Prime Minister tells us that the troops going to Afghanistan will be properly trained and equipped, yet today we see that training for the Territorial Army, including some who are going to Afghanistan, has been cut. Will people not conclude from that that he is not fully on top of what is happening in his own Government? On the additional 500 troops that he has announced, can he confirm that that is what the military have actually asked for? Vitally, will he also make it clear that the troops announced today are new, additional soldiers, not troops who are already there and who have had their stay extended?

I want to return, if I may, to what the Prime Minister said to me when I asked about the military’s request for extra troops in the summer. On 13 July, in the House, I asked him specifically whether commanders had asked for more troops to do more things and whether he had been asked for 2,000 more troops. He replied:

“I have been reassured by commanders on the ground and at the top of the armed services that we have the manpower that we need for the current operations.”—[Official Report, 13 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 26.]

Yet we now know that the military did ask for 2,000 more troops in March this year. Will he tell us why that option was rejected? Will he also explain why he gave such an evasive answer on such an important issue as troop numbers? Does he not understand that we are only going to carry the public’s confidence if we are straight with them about the choices that we face?

Finally, let me ask about what is being done to put our entire effort in Afghanistan on to a proper war footing in Whitehall. We need a clear sense of direction from Ministers, a clear sense of who is in day-to-day charge, and a Government machine that responds quickly and decisively. Will the Prime Minister tell us today what he is doing to make that happen? Let me be clear: we support the mission in Afghanistan, provided that we are realistic about what we are aiming to achieve. To us, the overriding aim must be to train the Afghan forces so that they can take responsibility for their own security and our soldiers can come back home.

I will answer every specific point that the right hon. Gentleman has raised, but I want to stress that the decisions that we are announcing today have been made after the fullest possible consultation with our American allies, with the Secretary-General of NATO, with our own military commanders on the ground and with the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Chief of the General Staff. I have regularly met them over the past few weeks to deal with these issues.

The right hon. Gentleman should also be aware that the National Security Committee has been meeting every week throughout the summer to review events and dispensations. That committee has the advantage of being a committee not simply of Ministers such as the Foreign Secretary, the International Development Secretary, the Defence Secretary, myself and others; its membership also includes the commanders themselves, our security services and those people who can advise us on the issues on the ground. On some occasions, we have had a regular input from our ambassador in Kabul. It is completely not the case that these matters are not being properly co-ordinated at the centre of Government by a National Security Committee with the advice of our commanders at all times and with regular meetings and discussions with our allies.

Let me deal first with the right hon. Gentleman’s question about Pakistan. He is absolutely right to say that there are risks in Pakistan, as the Pakistan Taliban in particular are engaged in activities against the Pakistan Government. He should also note, however, that in the past few months in Pakistan we have seen the most encouraging coalition of forces: the Opposition parties as well as the Government, and the security services as well as the army, are determined to take on the Pakistan Taliban in those areas where they have a foothold. They are taking the fight to them, removing them from the territory and doing an incredible amount of work to ensure that displaced people can get back into their own areas.

This was reflected in the Friends of Democratic Pakistan meeting that we held at the United Nations. That meeting involved not just ourselves and America; there was representation from all the major countries in Europe and elsewhere wanting to support the efforts of the Pakistan Government to deal with the problem that they face. I have had assurance from President Zardari—we know that there have been discussions because the Defence Secretary and the Home Secretary were in Pakistan very recently; the Foreign Secretary is also in direct touch—that the Pakistan Government plan to take their campaign from the Swat valley into Waziristan at some point. They are planning how to deal with not only the Pakistan Taliban but the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda itself. It was encouraging, having defined the problem as one that covers the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, that while we had hoped for years that the Pakistan authorities would take action, they are now doing so. As the Leader of the Opposition said, they recognise that the terror threat is very close to home for them.

On Afghanistan, I was asked about General McChrystal’s report and about a number of issues relating to equipment. I want to ensure that people understand the process of consultation that we have gone through, and the logic of the decisions that we have made. The basic elements of General McChrystal’s report relating to the principles of future operations involve a move from counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency, and a move from an emphasis on holding areas to being with the largest areas of population and winning hearts and minds. The aim is therefore not simply to eliminate the Taliban but to win the support of the Afghan people. It is for that reason that the general is proposing—rightly so; we ourselves proposed this some months ago—that the partnering and mentoring of the Afghan forces to build up the Afghan army and security forces are absolutely central to everything we do.

When we went in on Operation Panther’s Claw, we wanted the Afghan forces to hold the ground. They came, but they were not strong enough or well equipped enough to do so. We need an Afghan army that is properly strengthened and properly equipped. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly says, that means getting a balanced army across the country as well as getting troops to come from other parts of the country to Helmand, where 30 per cent. of the violence takes place. Our aim is to move from an Afghan army of 90,000 to one of 134,000, and to train the troops but also to have them in action with our own troops right up to headquarters level. We believe that, in the next year, that extra 50,000 or so troops can be achieved through a recruitment rate of 5,000 a month and through those troops being sent into Helmand.

The integration of people who are part of the Taliban or the insurgency and who could be persuaded to come over is a central element of the work that we are doing. The Foreign Secretary emphasised that in a speech only a few weeks ago. The importance of it has led General Lamb, who acted with great distinction in Iraq, to go to work with General McChrystal on the very process of reintegration and splitting the Taliban.

There are Pashtun nationalists, people hired for a dollar or two a day, young people who want to assert their independence, and Taliban and al-Qaeda ideologues. We have got to separate the people who worry that they are hit with an occupying army from those who simply want al-Qaeda or the Taliban to regain control of Afghanistan and practise terrorism from that country. I believe that all parties share our determination on political reconciliation, but it is important to note it.

Let me answer the questions on equipment. There will be two Merlin helicopters there very soon and our plan is get six there as soon as possible. The problem has been that we have to re-blade the helicopters from their work in Iraq; then the pilots have to be trained for the difficult and different terrain of Afghanistan. That work is going on; I have seen it at first hand when I have visited the RAF base in which it is being done. I was also asked whether we would have other helicopters. Chinooks will be going there next year; Lynx has been remodelled for high intensity and very hot atmospheres, and they are going there from next summer. With Mastiff and Ridgback, I think I am right in saying that 500 vehicles have been sent to Afghanistan in the last period of time. The equipment for Mastiff and Ridgback is now second to none. Of course we want to get more there as soon as possible, and we are making that happen.

I have already said that I will investigate what the Leader of the Opposition said about the Territorial Army, but I emphasise to him that the Territorial Army is part of our mission in Afghanistan. Anybody who goes to Afghanistan has the assurance that we will do everything in our power to make sure that they are fully equipped for the tasks that they undertake.

I was asked about the numbers of troops in Afghanistan and the issues that arose. A number of options were before us earlier this year for different kinds of operations that we might mount in Afghanistan. We took the necessary decision to send more engineers to Afghanistan to protect ourselves against the IED threat. A range of options were discussed and we decided to raise the number of troops from 8,100 to 9,000 until we could see what was happening with the American review of strategy and also what happened during the election campaign. We raised the number from 8,100 to 9,000, and we are now making a decision to raise the number again from 9,000 to 9,500. We are redeploying the regional battle group to central Helmand, because that is the best use of it as we try to undertake the task of protecting our forces while at the same time conducting our Afghan support exercise for Afghan troops. The decisions taken have been agreed by all our military advisers as the right decisions to take for the future.

The reason for imposing conditions is obvious. We cannot train the Afghan forces without the Afghan Government making those forces available to be trained. We want to go in harmony with the American decisions that General McChrystal and the President are discussing. I believe that what we are saying today is consistent with what the Americans will decide.

Of course, we want to be absolutely sure that the troops we send are properly and fully equipped for the future. In other words, whenever there has been a need for us to protect our troops and to move forward the campaign, which is now about Afghans taking more responsibility, we have been prepared to send the troops, to make the investment, to provide the finance and to support the troops on the ground. I hope that the Conservative party will be able to maintain what has been a consistent bipartisan approach to a necessary exercise in Afghanistan, and that we can proceed on the basis that there is support in all quarters of the House for the activities that we are undertaking.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, quite a lot of which I welcome. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches have argued that we cannot fight and succeed in this war on half horsepower, with half measures, with half-baked thinking. Time is running out for the mission in Afghanistan and we need a radical change in direction.

The Prime Minister set out today a number of conditions on which the deployment of extra British troops will depend, but does he agree that, ultimately, the key condition is that they should have a realistic chance of success, which requires above all a credible new strategy? The public are rightly cautious about a drip, drip accumulation of British forces in Afghanistan without any overarching strategy to work from or realistic goals to work towards. More troops may be necessary, but they will not be sufficient to guarantee success.

I welcome what the Prime Minister said today about new Merlin helicopters and more Mastiff and Ridgback vehicles, although we need more detail on when they will be available on the ground and on whether the poorly armed Snatch Land Rovers have now been withdrawn from service as the Government promised in the past. Does the Prime Minister not agree with General McChrystal’s conclusion that focusing just on force or resource requirements misses the point entirely and that there is more to this than just boots and equipment on the ground? Does he not agree that the key and central failure in Afghanistan is the lack, still today, of a co-ordinated international plan? What is the Prime Minister doing to advance a political surge to run alongside any new military surge?

As Secretary of State Clinton said this week, not everyone who calls himself a Taliban is necessarily a threat to the United Kingdom or the United States. I welcome what the Prime Minister said a few minutes ago on that issue, but can he be more precise? I see the Prime Minister is smiling, but can he address the point? What programmes, what budgets and what staff have been allocated to the fairly serious job of reconciliation and grass-roots diplomacy in Afghanistan? Beyond the borders of Afghanistan, what progress has been made to bring other countries in the region together, to share intelligence on the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and to tackle the opium trade?

On military strategy, General McChrystal has highlighted the need to defend urban centres. Does the Prime Minister concede that it is now better to focus our forces on defending the more populated areas rather than operating from remote outposts in a Taliban-dominated countryside in Helmand?

Finally, the Karzai Government have spectacularly failed to win the trust of the Afghan people. They are beset by corruption, crime and the influence of warlords. The Prime Minister talked in his statement about the need for a more inclusive political process, but let me press him again on the issue that I raised with him earlier. Does he agree that, regardless of electoral outcomes, only a full Government of national unity can now deliver a platform for progress in Afghanistan?

The right hon. Gentleman’s first remarks were that we did not have a strategy for Afghanistan and that we needed to think it through. His second set of remarks, however, revealed that he has not understood that our strategy is to give Afghans more responsibility for their own affairs, to train up the Afghan army and military, to train up the security forces and police, and to make sure that civilian government in Afghanistan is more effectively done. That is why I will have to correct the right hon. Gentleman when it comes to some of his proposals.

Yes, General Lamb is working on how he can help to reintegrate into civilian society people who desert the Taliban, but in the end it has to be a process of the Afghans themselves coming together and working together for the future. Equally, as far as a Government of national unity is concerned, it is not for us to prescribe what the Government should be. That is for the electorate, and for their verdict to be taken into account by President Karzai, Dr. Abdullah and all the other people involved. If a re-run or second round of the election is necessary, that may have to happen. We have to accept that that is in the hands of the electoral commission, which will make recommendations after it has looked at spoiled and fraudulent ballots.

Our strategy in Afghanistan is to build up the army from 90,000 to 134,000 as quickly as possible; to build up the police from about 98,000 to about 150,000; to build up the civilian shuras and the district and provincial government in Afghanistan to make it more effective; and to be in a position to hand control of Afghanistan, area by area, back to the Afghan people. That seems to me to be the most sensible policy.

As far as vehicles are concerned, there has been a sea change in the way we have brought in Mastiffs and Ridgbacks. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is an issue about small vehicles, and we are looking at that at the moment. I suspect that he will hear from the troops on the ground that, although the IED threat is real, the vehicles brought in during recent months are by far the best they have ever had and the best in the world. We will do everything that we can to ensure that there are better vehicles in the future.

As for President Karzai and governance, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We cannot tolerate a situation in which we have British forces, indeed allied forces, in Afghanistan, and a Government who are tolerating corruption. That is why President Obama, I and others will propose to whoever takes over the government of Afghanistan that there must be a contract that is monitored to deal specifically with corruption, to deal with the appointment of governors in a fair way so that we can deal with corruption in the provinces, to deal with the training of Afghan forces for the future, and to deal with something which, although I was not able to talk about it today, is absolutely important to the Afghan people: to create a climate for economic activity which involves wheat rather than heroin, and in which small businesses can develop and Afghan people can have a stake in the future of their country. That is the way forward, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will find a way in which to support it.

Order. I want to accommodate as many as possible of the more than 30 Members who are seeking to catch my eye, so I am looking for single, short supplementary questions and, of course, economical replies.

On Saturday 24 October, thousands of people will march through London calling for British troops to come out of Afghanistan, and they will represent the views of millions of people in this country. Does the Prime Minister not realise that this is a war that does not enjoy popular support? It has gone on for eight years, it has cost too many lives, and it has no end in sight. Can the Prime Minister produce a strategy to end it, and not to continue the occupation?

I must tell my hon. Friend that our strategy is to create a situation in which British troops can start coming home, which means strengthening the Afghan forces to enable them to do this job.

I think that my hon. Friend should remember the circumstances in which we went into Afghanistan in the first place. Forty countries are with us in a 41-nation coalition, and every other country that has been involved in Afghanistan has put troops, equipment or civilian staff into it. It is important to recognise that there is widespread support for this operation across and beyond NATO. I think that before people consider their final view on Afghanistan, they should look at the strategy that we are actually proposing: a strategy that gives Afghans more control of their army and police forces to enable our troops to come home over a period of time.

We have still not been given a proper answer on the request for 2,000 extra troops, so I will not bother to ask about that.

One of the key aspects of bringing security to the Afghan people is the training of police who are free from corruption. In Iraq we found that it was of great assistance if the Iraqi army mentored the Iraqi police. Will a similar approach be adopted in Afghanistan?

That is one of the approaches that we are considering. The European Union responsibility for the training of police forces has been with Germany, and it has done a great deal, but more must be done. It is possible to envisage circumstances in which the army will help with the training of police forces, and it is possible that there will be more civilians training them as well. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we cannot just talk about training the army. As I said, General McChrystal recommended a build-up of the police forces from 98,000 to 150,000. That is a big increase, but those forces must be in the right places, they must of course be paid—that is one of the problems that we have experienced before—and they must be free of corruption. That is an order that the Afghan Government must accept.

The whole House will be greatly reassured by what my right hon. Friend has said about the need to reconcile and reintegrate many of those who are loosely called Taliban, but who are certainly not under the direction of the three main insurgencies. He will be aware that in Iraq, 100,000 Sunnis were signed up, reintegrated and paid by the Americans to join the Iraqi national army in a matter of three weeks. A way ahead like that would be possible, but does my right hon. Friend not see that President Karzai is an obstacle? He is widely implicated in the fraud that took place in the election, and in the corruption that extends throughout the country. Can my right hon. Friend not think of ways of ensuring that Dr. Abdullah is much more closely involved in the execution and administration of politics in the country?

I have talked to both President Karzai and Dr. Abdullah about how, whatever happens about the election, they can work more closely together and ensure that there is some common purpose, but that is a decision for them to make after they have seen the findings of the independent electoral commission.

I agree with my hon. Friend that unless corruption is dealt with, the reputation of Afghanistan and the trust that people will have in its Government will be severely limited. I also agree with him that reintegration must be a central element of what we do. A large number of people would be prepared to leave the province of the Taliban. We must have a strategy for that, not just at national level but at local level, and that is exactly what we are working on now.

While it is unlikely that the Taliban can be eliminated, even with increased NATO troops, is it not equally true that it is impossible for the Taliban to conquer Afghanistan relying, as they do, on roadside bombs and suicide bombers? Does that not point to the need to convince the Taliban that NATO will stay there for as long as necessary? That means that even if we are able gradually to withdraw our ground forces, we must give a commitment to long-term NATO air support working with the enlarged Afghan Government.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made an important point. In hand-to-hand, one-to-one fighting, the Taliban have lost. That is why they have changed their tactics, and why their tactics are now essentially those of guerrilla warfare. That is why they are laying devices to kill or maim our soldiers, and why 80 per cent. of deaths—not just British fatalities, but fatalities across Afghanistan—arise from the use of IEDs.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right to suggest that the Taliban cannot win a conventional war, but can only disrupt our attempt to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. He is also absolutely right to say that we must think ahead. We must send a message to the Taliban that we are not going to walk away, and that—as he rightly suggests—NATO will stay the course. At the same time, however, we must be prepared to integrate those elements of the insurgency who are not among the Taliban ideologues into the framework of a civilian society that can develop in the future.

In July, when I last visited Afghanistan, I saw for myself not only the tremendous job that our armed forces are doing there, but the growing use of the Afghan national army in front-line operations. However, I am less clear about how the Afghan Government are being encouraged to take responsibility for the overall security situation. Will the Prime Minister say something more about what action he is taking in that regard?

The Afghan security services have already taken responsibility in some areas of Afghanistan, but it has become absolutely clear that they must be better trained, better equipped, and better able to deal with both military and civilian tasks. That will involve not just the army but the police. Training and partnering must develop apace. Training and mentoring will mean, in some cases, embedding British forces with the Afghan forces, but what is currently being proposed is that similar units of Afghan and British forces should work together with a joint command. That would make the training of Afghan forces more rapid, and give them experience of what is happening on the ground more quickly.

As I have said, it is incredibly important that if we take and hold ground, that is done not only by British forces but by Afghan forces, so that Afghanistan’s own forces are holding ground against the Taliban for the future. That is why the strategy of partnering is so important to the next stage.

After eight years, what confidence can we have that the strategy announced by the Prime Minister today has a better chance of success than the strategies previously announced by this Government?

We have been proposing something similar for the last 18 months. I think people have recognised that unless there is a strategy allowing Afghan people to take more responsibility for their own affairs, we cannot see a way through this that does not involve British or other troops being there for many, many years. The importance of what we are saying today lies in the fact that it is supported by NATO itself, and is very much in tune with what General McChrystal is saying. He has reconsidered the American strategy. As he says, he is moving from counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency: he is concentrating on people and winning their support, rather than concentrating on areas and eliminating Taliban military. At the same time, he is completely signed up to the idea that we must train and partner the Afghan forces.

I believe that that is the right strategy, because it gives us a way forward. It moves from the status quo in a way that shows that if the Afghans can take responsibility for their own affairs more quickly, we can bring our troops home more quickly.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the threat posed by al-Qaeda applies to all NATO member countries? Will he join me in urging some of our more reticent European allies to contribute on the same brave and dangerous level as the British armed forces?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there must be burden-sharing. Before the elections, I and others persuaded some other European countries to contribute more, and there was a greater contribution from other countries in the run-up to the elections. It is now for all of us—once the strategy is set out by President Obama and then by NATO itself; and there is a meeting taking place in the next few days to do that—to persuade other countries that this is the right way forward for them. Some countries will find it better that they are training Afghan forces and not engaged in military action on the ground; some will be prepared to contribute more money rather than more helicopters; some may be prepared to contribute equipment rather than staff on the ground—but everyone must accept that if they are part of the coalition they have got to share the burden.

As I am a member of the Territorial Army who has served in Afghanistan, the Prime Minister will understand my particular interest, and it is worth remembering that a large percentage of our forces in Afghanistan are members of the reserve. Indeed, as one of the EOD—explosive ordnance disposal—trained engineers to which the Prime Minister referred, it is likely that I may have to go there again, perhaps even sooner than I think after this question. This week, however, I was told that I may not be able to train again until next April. How can that be right and, more importantly, what sort of message does that send to the members of the reserve forces whom the Prime Minister claims to value so much?

I will look in detail at the individual cases that are raised but, as I have said, our focus is on Afghanistan at present, and those people who are likely to go to Afghanistan will get the training that is necessary.

I am interested in the new timelines that the Prime Minister mentioned in his statement. What will happen in 2011 when Canada withdraws its combat forces from Kandahar, which is next door to Helmand province? Will we be expected to move in there, or will the Afghan army be expected to step up to the plate? What is going to happen in 2011?

It is not the assumption that we will move in. Yes, there will be greater presence from the Afghan army, because its numbers will have grown by about 50,000 over the next period of time. We are also awaiting an announcement from the Americans on what they will be doing. Some of their troops who they announced in the previous round are yet to arrive in Afghanistan. Therefore, I think that quite a few changes will be taking place as a result of announcements from different countries.

The Prime Minister is right to emphasise the role of the Afghan security services, but Afghanistan is bigger, more complex and presents a more difficult problem than Iraq, and as Iraq’s indigenous security forces number 600,000, how does the Prime Minister imagine we can succeed in Afghanistan with less than half that number?

First, Afghanistan is very different from Iraq. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman should accept that the figures I have given for the army are the increase in numbers over the next year—from 90,000 to 134,000. That is not necessarily the limit on the numbers that will be placed in the Afghan army or the limit of our ability to train members of the Afghan army. I have already given a figure on the rising numbers of police who will be trained for the future. As we know, in the end, Afghan civil society at the local level must operate as well, and where it does operate successfully—perhaps through tribal chiefs, the shuras that have been developed, or the community councils that have been created—that can make a huge difference. We are dealing with a different country and different conditions, but the limits I have referred to on the training of the army for the next year are not the limits on the army for the future.

I ask the Prime Minister to maintain a close interest in the poppy cultivation problem. Such cultivation funds the insurgency, and the heroin produced wreaks havoc on the streets of our country. What progress is being made in reducing the amount of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan?

The International Development Secretary will be able to write to my hon. Friend in detail about the success of Governor Mangal’s programme in Helmand, where in order to replace poppy cultivation we encouraged the growing of wheat. Partly because the wheat price has been high over the past few months, that has been very successful in moving thousands of farmers from poppy cultivation to wheat farming. We will be extending the programme over the course of the next year. That is one way in which we are reducing the dependence on poppy cultivation in Helmand. We realise that that is a continuing challenge, however.

I should also say that there is considerable evidence the people who are involved in the industry of growing heroin are also those involved in placing IEDs, which have caused so much havoc among our troops, and a lot of our surveillance work is now related to tracking those people. One of my announcements today was the increased surveillance that will take place in Afghanistan of those who are trying mainly by night but also by day to plant IEDs.

Even allowing for the considerable and remarkable expertise of British troops in training the Afghans, at which they have been very successful, the timelines outlined in the Prime Minister’s statement will be extremely tight. Given the further advice that he received earlier in the year from the chiefs, is he satisfied that there are within 11 Light Brigade enough British soldiers to hold, clear and build on that ground until there are sufficient Afghan soldiers to take the strain?

I agree that one of the big questions is how we can train Afghan forces at a far more rapid rate than before. At present, we are seeing recruitment of Afghan forces at a rate of 2,000 a month. That will rise to about 5,000 a month. Of course, not every one of them will go on to get full training or even turn up, so we are talking about an estimated increase of 4,000 a month over the next year. I have talked to General McChrystal about this, and we have talked to the American authorities as well as to NATO, and it seems to be a practical proposition. Steps are being put in place for it to happen. Karzai is sure that he can provide the numbers of those who will be prepared to be recruited to the armed forces. That is the first stage; if we are to go in to train, we must have the Afghan forces with whom to do so.

On numbers, I want to make sure that the House understands what I said earlier. I said that we discussed a number of options earlier this year. None of them included raising the number of forces by 2,000. We discussed several options. We decided to raise the numbers to 9,000. We decided we would review that after the elections had taken place because a lot rested on security related to the conduct of the elections. We have now conducted that review, and we have been in touch with the Americans, and by agreement with our commanders on the ground and the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Chief of the General Staff and others who have been involved—I met all the chiefs yesterday for breakfast—we have decided on the increase to 9,500 subject to the conditions I set out. I hope people will understand that at all times we have acted in good faith.

First, may I associate myself with the respect paid by the Prime Minister to all those who have lost their lives in Afghanistan and all who have loved them?

The Prime Minister’s statement puts considerable emphasis on growing the capacity of the Afghan army. Does he recognise some future danger in building an ever stronger army if at the same time we indulge a systemically weak and corrupt Government? Does the history of Pakistan not point out the danger of such an equation, and what is being done to mitigate these risks?

The hon. Gentleman makes the very important point that if we are to have Afghan responsibility for Afghan affairs, we need both local and national Government who work effectively. I would perhaps put more emphasis than the hon. Gentleman on local government being effective. For most people in Afghanistan the hold of central Government is very weak indeed. However, I agree that President Karzai and those who will hold authority in Afghanistan after the elections—whoever they are—must take responsibility for making sure that we have corrupt-free government across the country. A lot is related to the heroin trade, as has been said, but there is a responsibility on those who rule Afghanistan to make sure that the confidence we have placed in them by sending troops to deal with the problems is repaid by their cleansing the Government of corrupt activities. That will be part of the contract with any future Government in Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister’s statement was silent on the continued abject failure of the major European NATO countries to provide troops on the ground in Helmand province. In respect of his comments on hearts and minds, may I suggest that his Government take some leadership? Over the summer his Ministers have told me:

“No steps have…been taken by UK Trade and Investment to encourage the export of goods from Afghanistan”


“No locally produced food has been procured for British troops in Helmand Province by the MOD Food Supply Contractor.”—[Official Report, 14 September 2009; Vol. 496, c. 2188W and 2122W.]

Is there not a case for the British Government to boost the economy of Afghanistan, and in that connection may I urge his Ministers to discuss matters with UK-based charity POM354, which is doing that on the ground in Afghanistan as we speak?

There is, of course, a case for that and we would want to see it happen in the future. The hon. Gentleman has been to Camp Bastion and knows the arrangements that have to be made in an area that is otherwise barren to ensure that our troops are properly fed and equipped. He knows the airlifts that take place to make that possible. We should be proud that we have been able to supply equipment, food and everything that is necessary for our troops by ensuring that these airlifts take place. He is right that, over time, we must be able to encourage local Afghan industry too.

The Prime Minister mentioned in his statement welcome investment to ensure that the kit and the equipment to back up our brave armed forces in theatre is available. On the question of Army vehicles, he mentioned the Ridgback and the Mastiff—of course, the very successful Jackal vehicle has also been used. Can he assure me that the MOD is looking at a replacement for the Snatch vehicle that combines protection and a lower profile, so that as we move into stabilisation that kind of vehicle is available for our armed forces?

I think that my hon. Friend is talking about a vehicle that is made near or in her constituency. She is right to say that the Jackal is a very important vehicle. It is very popular with our troops and we depend upon it greatly.

May I put it to the Prime Minister that anyone who thinks that a NATO-trained Afghan army recruited from 67 mutually hostile tribes will defeat the Taliban is living in a political cloud cuckoo land?

There is a 41-nation coalition that sees its responsibility as making sure that we can deal with the terror threat of al-Qaeda and that the Afghan Taliban do not return to power in the way that they did before. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that 6 million children are at school in Afghanistan—1 million girls, who would never be at school if we left Afghanistan to the Taliban, are at school. More importantly, people in Britain are safer. Three quarters of the plots that we have discovered in Britain come from the Pakistan border area. If the Taliban and al-Qaeda are allowed to roam free there, we are at risk. Whatever difficulties he diagnoses from the history of Afghanistan—many conclusions can be drawn from its vexed history—we have a duty to protect our citizens and to ensure that we do everything in our power to build the capacity of the Afghan people to run their own affairs.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the reason for the growing opposition in Britain to the military position in Afghanistan is that people simply cannot see victory occurring, even if we were to stay there for another eight years? I, for one, am totally opposed to increasing the number of troops, and if there is an opportunity to do so, I will certainly vote against this.

I have to say to my hon. Friend that we have laid out a strategy that does not leave things as they are. It is a strategy that says that we have to train Afghan forces and that they must be in a position to take responsibility where British troops, and American and other troops, are taking responsibility now. That seems to me to be the best way forward. That training function will require us to make a contribution to it. We are prepared to make our contribution, and I believe that there will be wider support, both in this House and among the general public, than he suggests.

The Prime Minister admits that 80 per cent. of our casualties have been caused by roadside bombs. What proportion of the convoys attacked by those bombs were resupply convoys, which could and should have been transported by air but which were not because of the disgraceful shortage of air transport capacity?

I just do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s conclusion. A lot of the casualties have, unfortunately, been those people who have been on foot patrol, trying to build relationships with the Afghan people, so that we are seen not as an occupying army, but as an army that works with them. Where vehicles have been blown up we investigate what has happened, and I am happy to give him the details.

How dare we ask more British soldiers to risk their lives for a corrupt President, his depraved police and the barbaric warlords, when we have already lost more British lives than have been lost by all our European allies? Every surge of British troops in the past has resulted in a surge of targets for Taliban bombs and British deaths. Do we not need new thinking, rather than more troops putting their lives at risk in an impossible war?

We have been setting out the new thinking about Afghanisation over the past few months. I hope that my hon. Friend understands that we are doing everything in our power to counter the IED threat; we have taken very big steps to increase the surveillance and the detection, and we have had a great deal of success. As I have said, 1,500 instruments have been dismantled or discovered as a result of the work of our security services and our forces. He should understand that a great deal of progress has been made. On the regime, he is right to say that we must continue the battle against corruption, but I say to him that we are part of a 41-nation coalition. We are working with other countries, and they are suffering casualties, too. We must understand that the high rate of casualties this summer has been the result of the change in tactics by the Taliban, and that America and other countries have been as affected as we have been.

Yesterday, my son was deployed to Afghanistan for the third time. I wish to take this opportunity to say how proud I am of him and his colleagues, and of the outstanding service that they give to our country. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether he has any plans to extend the Chinook fleet, because in Afghanistan flying is safer than driving?

At a meeting of the Pakistan-India friendship forum last weekend, I was struck by the number of people whose families live in the region who expressed their concern that the Government might pull out prematurely. Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that notwithstanding the process of Afghanisation, which many people who spoke to me support, he will maintain the support for the change in governance that those families so clearly want?

We want to see that change in governance. We want to strengthen, first of all, the Pakistan Government, as they take on not only the Pakistan Taliban, but al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban in Quetta. We also, of course, want to strengthen the Government of Afghanistan to make them free of corruption. At the same time, we want them to have a security force that is equal to dealing with the problems of creating order in their own country. I assure people that that is our purpose.

Public opinion on Afghanistan is, at best, hanging by a thread, because of the anxiety about corruption, because of the ongoing concerns about the loss of military and civilian life and because the public do not know what success in Afghanistan will look like. Will the Prime Minister tell us today not a time scale, but how he will define what success in Afghanistan will look like, so that the public can measure against that and know when the troops can come home?

We can immediately measure our success in dealing with IEDs and preventing the deaths that they have been causing. We can immediately measure the number of Afghan forces that are being recruited, so that we can pursue our policy of Afghanisation. In the longer term, we want to see the Afghan forces be able to take responsibility, with the police in Afghanistan, for areas of the country, so that our troops are able, as a result, to come home.

Following that point, this year this war has cost not only 200 British lives but 1,000 Afghan lives. It has also destabilised whole areas of Pakistan, all to install a Government who are a byword for corruption. Now we are sending a further 500 British troops and putting their lives at risk. What are the specific criteria for the success of the investment of those 500 troops, because many of us fear that we will back in a few months’ time for another 500 lives to put at risk?

I have just said—I hope that I am able to emphasise this—that the reason why those troops are being put into Afghanistan, which is being done on the conditions that I have set out, is to achieve not only security for our existing forces, but the training of Afghan forces. That is why we are doing this, and that is why the policy has moved from where it was a year or two ago to emphasising the build-up of Afghan forces and of Afghan police, so that Afghans themselves are able to take responsibility for their own affairs. If we do not build up the capacity of Afghanistan to deal with its own problems, at some point either the Taliban or al-Qaeda, influencing the Taliban, will have a bigger say in the running of that country. That is something that we need to avoid.

The recruitment, training and retention of an additional 52,000 police are a challenge and will take time, but the real challenge is the creation of a genuinely national police force in Afghanistan. When we were there in July, we were told that there were problems in persuading some people to serve in different parts of the country, which led to corruption and intimidation. What moves are therefore being made to ensure that the police force in Afghanistan becomes a genuinely national one?

I have just said that there is going to be a new training academy for police. That is one of the ways in which we can improve the quality of the police. I have also been in Helmand and watched how the Afghan police have worked side by side with the Afghan army and with the British civilian and military efforts. That has been a successful operation, and by building out of these successful operations, we will get the progress that we need for the future. Yes, national police training is essential. Quality is necessary, as is a corruption-free police force, and people will have to move around the country, because the recruits come from areas that are not necessarily the areas where we need people to be placed. However, the measures that we are putting in place—including the national police training academy—are designed to achieve that.

The role of non-governmental organisations and skilled civilians from across Government Departments, working alongside the Army, is critical to a comprehensive approach to supporting and building civilian capacity. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether UN resolution 1325, which builds on the important role of women in working to build civil capacity and towards peace, is part of our overall approach in Afghanistan?

It must be and will be. I would be happy to talk to my hon. Friend about how we want to move this forward after the end of questions.

Following that question, will the Prime Minister acknowledge that President Karzai is excluding women from his Government? In his discussions with President Karzai and Dr. Abdullah yesterday, what steps did he take to ensure that women will have a significant presence in any new Government, however it is formed, at both a national and a local level and that they will have access to secular courts of justice rather than having to rely on sharia?

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have regularly spoken to President Karzai about the need to respect the rights of women in the laws that are being enunciated in Afghanistan. I have sought from him regular assurances that there will be no changes in his position. The laws that are passed in Afghanistan must avoid discrimination against women and discrimination against the human rights of girls as well as those of women.

The right hon. Gentleman has said that the additional deployment is dependent on coalition countries taking a fair share. Will he tell us what he means by that? What assurances has he received, and will he give an undertaking that we will not see an additional deployment of British troops until other coalition partners have made their intentions wholly plain?

First, what I meant was that there has been no announcement yet from America about what its future disposition will be. We want to work with the Americans as well as with other allies to find the best way forward for our work in Helmand as well as in the rest of the country. I also meant that consultation between our country, other NATO countries and partners external to NATO will take place very soon. I believe that we will have announcements from America, in particular, in the next few weeks.

Frankly, I am staggered at the Prime Minister’s characterisation of the deaths from IEDs as being caused by foot patrols and not by the lack of helicopters. Commanders regularly complain of unnecessary logistical road moves. Will he not admit that many of these people are dying for lack of helicopters—yes or no?

The hon. Gentleman will have seen that Tim Radford, who commanded Operation Panther’s Claw, said that the operation was not hampered by the absence of helicopters. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that the deaths that have occurred from IEDs have occurred in different ways—some have been from vehicles that have been blown up and some from foot patrols—and he must look at the evidence.

From the long IRA campaign in Northern Ireland, we recognise the value to terrorists of being able to set up training bases in the haven of a safe foreign country. For that reason, we believe that the troops in Afghanistan are doing a sterling service for all people in the UK. I also welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement that we are now spending £3.5 billion on supplying troops, but given the reports about the unreliable equipment, the underestimation of the reserves that are required and creaky procurement in the MOD, what efforts are being made to ensure that the money is being spent on the right equipment and on an effective supply chain?

We are giving more money to the Afghan effort, not less. The money has gone up substantially over the past few years and for one reason—we want our troops to be properly equipped. Let me make it absolutely clear that the people who are in Afghanistan are in the numbers required for, and are equipped for, the operations that we agreed. If different operations were agreed, there would have been different numbers, but the numbers were there for the operations that were agreed and to meet the requirements of those operations. There should be at least some understanding of that. Of course, there could have been different operations and different numbers, but for the operations that were carried out, the forces that were required were there.

Was the Prime Minister asked for a further 2,000 troops or not? It is a straightforward question, and a straightforward yes or no will do.

It is a straightforward question and I have answered it on many occasions, including before the Select Committee on Defence. A number of options were put to us, but not one of them included 2,000 extra troops.

Returning to the vexed problem of backsliding by certain of our NATO colleagues, which makes it difficult for those of us who strongly support the mission to persuade our sceptical constituents, what more is the Prime Minister going to do to name and shame those colleagues and make it clear to them that the NATO alliance will crack without their full participation?

I think that I should tell the right hon. Gentleman—although he might not accept it—that over the past few months, in the run up to the election, additional troops were put in by some countries. That was a result of the meeting of NATO that took place on the borders of Germany and France earlier this year, where a number of countries committed to extra troops. We said—this was controversial, because some Members of the House did not agree with it—that we would review the position after the Afghan elections and in the light of General McChrystal’s review. That is what we have done, and it is what we will ask other countries to do, too.

Bill Presented

Equalisation of Tariffs for Gas and Electricity Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

John Austin, supported by Dr. Alan Whitehead, Dr. Vincent Cable, Mr. Andrew Dismore, Miss Anne Begg, Susan Kramer, Dr. Brian Iddon, Peter Bottomley, Mr. David Drew, Mr. Martin Caton, John McDonnell and Mr. Don Foster, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to make regulations for the purpose of equalising certain tariffs for gas and electricity; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 150).