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Deployment to Mali

Volume 557: debated on Tuesday 29 January 2013

On 14 January the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), made a statement to the House outlining the UK’s deployment of two C-I7 transport aircraft to provide logistical support to France, as well as a small detachment of technical personnel deployed to Bamako airport to assist with the reception of the C-I7 aircraft. Since that announcement, we have decided to extend our support to the continued provision of one C-I7 in support of the French for a further three months. There are currently about 20 people deployed in Bamako supporting liaison with French forces and, following a French request for additional surveillance support, we have deployed a Sentinel R1 aircraft to Dakar, Senegal, with supporting ground crew and technical support staff of about 70 people.

EU Foreign Ministers agreed on 17 January to establish an EU military training mission to Mali—EUTM—and work is ongoing to scope that mission. Today in Brussels, representatives from EU member states, including the UK, will meet to discuss the individual member state contributions to the mission. The UK is prepared to contribute up to 40 personnel to the EUTM, either in an HQ or training team role. We do not envisage UK personnel fulfilling a force protection role, and it is quite possible that all 40 personnel will not be required, dependent on the contributions from other member states. I can assure the House that we will not allow UK personnel to deploy on any mission until we are satisfied that adequate force protection arrangements are in place.

Today in Addis Ababa the African Union is hosting a donor conference to discuss how the international community can support the African-led intervention force, AFISMA, in delivering the role that the United Nations Security Council has mandated it to fulfil. The UK will today offer £5 million for two new UN funds to support the strengthening of security in Mali, with £3 million directed to AFISMA and £2 million to activity in Mali that facilitates and supports political processes for building stability. The UK is also prepared to offer up to 200 personnel to provide training to troops from Anglophone west African countries contributing to AFISMA, although the numbers required will be dependent upon the requirements of the AFISMA contributing nations. To establish those requirements, we have deployed a small number of advisers to Anglophone west African countries that are likely to contribute to the AFISMA mission, to assess their needs and to gain situational awareness.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers will provide an update to the House on the outcome of the discussions in Brussels and Addis Ababa at the appropriate moment.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and thank the Secretary of State for his answer.

British involvement in Mali and the wider region is deepening, and it is clearly in everyone’s interests that we do not allow legitimate Governments to fail, particularly when faced with extremists. It is no secret that I opposed our recent interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, because I fear that one can be drawn into ever-deepening conflicts. Afghanistan illustrated the dangers of being sucked into larger deployments. That mission morphed into something much larger: it changed from a mission to defeat al-Qaeda or deny it the use of Afghanistan to one of nation-building.

Drawing on our lessons in Afghanistan—and, perhaps, on other interventions—will the Government clarify the following points? We need greater clarity on the role of British troops. The Government have said they will not be placed in a combat role, but there are a host of grey areas between combat roles and support roles. What exactly will these advisers do? Will they be involved in logistics or training, or will they advise on strategy? Equally importantly, how will they be protected? Are we deploying troops on the ground to protect these advisers, or are we relying on our French colleagues to provide that protection?

May I also ask the Secretary of State what exactly is the exit strategy? It is very easy to get drawn into these situations, but it is not always clear what the endgame and exit strategy are, and even what the endgame looks like. What are the contingency plans if military progress does not go to plan? Is there talk on the table that we should perhaps be deploying or committing, or be prepared to commit, more troops if the fighting goes badly? At the moment, that is all going well, but the situation can change very quickly.

Finally, what lessons should we learn from United Nations Security Council resolution 2085, which was passed last year and called on local African nations to lead the combat role in defeating these extremists in northern Mali? There was tremendous delay in the implementation of that resolution. What lessons have we learned from that, because we seem to be playing catch-up? On a related but slightly separate issue, what is the international community’s broader strategy on encouraging local forces to play a more proactive role, not only in Mali, but in the wider region, in combating these extremists? These are legitimate questions and the British public and we as a House need to ask them, because there is a real danger of getting drawn into a much larger deployment, particularly if things do not go to plan on the ground.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his questions. First, the UK has a clear interest in the stability of Mali and in ensuring that its territory does not become an ungoverned space available to al-Qaeda and its associates to organise for attacks on the west. Secondly, we have established military co-operation with France, which is an important part of Britain’s strategy for the future, and this situation, along with the Libya campaign, is an opportunity for us to demonstrate the validity of that working relationship with France. The role of British troops, as I set out in my response to the urgent question, is clearly not a combat role, and it will also not extend, as we envisage it at the moment, to a force protection role. We are looking for force protection arrangements to be put in place, probably by the French, but certainly by the European Union in relation to the EU training mission.

My hon. Friend asked me about the exit strategy. France has made it clear that it envisages a short intervention to stabilise the situation on the ground while the African forces from neighbouring countries and the Malian army deploy to sustain the situation in the longer term. We concur with that strategy. I should say, again, that it is not our intention to deploy combat troops; we are very clear about the risks of mission creep and we have defined very carefully the support that we are willing and able to provide to the French and the Malian authorities.

My hon. Friend referred to UN Security Council resolution 2085 and the time delay in deploying African forces. I think it is well known that the intention was to deploy African forces in support of the Malian authorities later this year, but the situation on the ground has become more urgent, hence the decision by the French to intervene. Some of these forces require equipment and some require additional training, and the response time to the mobilisation envisaged by resolution 2085 has perhaps been longer than we would have liked. The lesson we can learn from that is that if we want local forces to be able to deploy and respond to resolutions of this nature, we may have to take a more proactive role in resourcing them to do so.

On the broader strategy for encouraging local forces to tackle extremism, part of our defence posture, set out in the strategic defence and security review 2010, is to devote an increasing proportion of our defence resources to upstream engagement, building capacity in fragile nation states to allow them to deal with early threats to their security, rather than waiting for the situation to degenerate to the point at which it requires outside intervention.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving us the opportunity to discuss security in north Africa today, and I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. It is essential that Mali does not become a haven for terrorism, which would allow militants to oppress a people, hold territory, destabilise a region and threaten UK interests. It is therefore vital that the international community enables Mali and its neighbours to defend themselves.

Let me turn to six specific issues. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that no UK personnel will be redeployed to Mali from Afghanistan? What other European allies plan to commit trainers and at what level?

There will be broader worries about mission creep. The UK commitment to Mali has grown from lending the French two transport aircraft to the deployment of perhaps hundreds of troops to the region. It appears clear that Islamists have chosen to abandon population centres and might now melt away across near-non-existent borders. It is possible that they will be able to regroup and return to carry out the type of terror attacks we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the ability and intent of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its associates to do so?

I want the Secretary of State to say more about force protection. If UK trainers are based in Bamako, which has not to date been the centre of violence, that might make them and the capital a target. Our forces will, I assume, be armed, so what will the rules of engagement be? UK trainers might be non-combat, but that does not mean that they are without risk. They are deployed and will need to be protected in a hostile environment, so what security guarantees has he received from French forces about protecting UK trainers as a condition of this deployment from day one?

We all know that lasting stability will be achieved through a political process, so will the Secretary of State outline the strategy to achieve that? In particular, will he give his assessment of whether the Tuareg people will be part of the process?

While we consider the importance of winning hearts and minds in Mali, there is another country where public consent must be retained and that is here in the UK. The public are wary and weary of conflict as a consequence of recent history. There will be worries about mission creep and the safety of UK trainers and it is essential that the Secretary of State allays those fears today.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, although I have to say that there was a little bit of fence sitting. Although we all recognise that the public are wary and weary of conflict, I did not hear a clear indication of whether he supports the actions that the Government propose to take in support of this French mission.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the redeployment of troops from Mali to Afghanistan and I assume he meant Afghanistan to Mali. We are acutely conscious of the primacy of the operation in Afghanistan and the limits of what we have been able to offer the French in this operation are defined largely by the need not to degrade our capabilities in Afghanistan. We are looking all the time at what we can do without impacting on the air bridge or the operation in Afghanistan. As he noted, our initial response was to offer logistical support as that was what was urgently required to get French troops and equipment into Mali. The French ask has evolved to include additional surveillance capability, which we have now provided with the Sentinel R1. Over the next weeks and months the requirement will be for training of the Anglophone African troops who will provide the force in support of the Malian army in due course.

The right hon. Gentleman asked for an assessment of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. It is fair to say that our situational awareness of the Maghreb is not as great as we would like it to be. It is not an area where Britain has had traditional involvement, but we are making strong efforts to obtain awareness of what is going on there. We should not underestimate the potential for terrorist threats to emerge from the Islamic Maghreb, but nor should we overestimate the strength of the Islamists in this region.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about our forces on the ground in Bamako. Bamako is well to the south of Mali and the problems are in the north. I agree that it is not impossible that Islamists could penetrate the south of the country in small groups, but there are many reasons why it might be difficult for them to operate there. The rules of engagement for British personnel will be on the basis of self-defence when they are based at Bamako. Force protection is provided within the airfield at Bamako by the French forces on the ground. As I said earlier in relation to any UK training mission, we will not allow any UK trainers to deploy until we are satisfied that adequate force protection measures are in place.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the political process, and of course a political process is essential. I envisage that the European Union will be engaged in economic and political development in Mali in the future. The involvement of the Taureg people, of course, is essential to a sustainable and lasting peace in that country.

May I repeat to my right hon. Friend what I said unavailingly to his five Labour predecessors as Defence Secretary that the more frequently western forces intervene in Muslim countries, the greater will be the spread of jihadism throughout the whole Islamic world and the higher the threat of terrorism in this country?

I hear my right hon. Friend’s warning loudly and clearly, but of course precisely the problem that we are dealing with is that Mali is not an Islamic country. Mali is a country with a majority Christian population, with a significant Islamic minority. It is a country of two halves geographically, climatically, religiously, culturally and ethnically. That is the challenge, but the solution must be a democratically elected Government in Bamako who effectively represent all parts of that country. That is the long-term aim that we all aspire to achieve.

Our commitment to Mali and the region has grown considerably over the past few days. Notwithstanding the relatively positive news that is coming from the country, no one really believes that the security issues will be addressed in the short term. How long does the right hon. Gentleman envisage the deployments that he is confirming today are likely to be? The relatively small numbers that he is reporting to the House need to be supported by far larger numbers if such an operation is to be sustained. How many people overall will be necessary to sustain the commitment over time?

I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s last point. The numbers that we have outlined are the numbers that we envisage sustaining the Sentinel aircraft based in Dakar, Senegal—about 70 people. That is the requirement to sustain the aircraft there. We have about 20 people on the ground in Bamako. The C-17 we envisage staying for up to three months. We have not set a time limit for the surveillance capability; it will stay for as long as we can provide it without impact on other operations and as long as it is useful. The training mission has not yet been defined, so it would be premature for me to talk about a time scale, but it clearly will be a finite time scale in preparing the African Anglophone nations’ forces for deployment to Mali.

The liberation of Timbuktu and other towns in the north is, of course, very much to be welcomed, but my right hon. Friend will remember from the precedent of both Iraq and Afghanistan that the liberation of towns and cities is the easy part and that there is every probability that there will be many years of asymmetrical conflict in Mali unless a political solution is achieved. Will he advise the House whether he is having discussions with the Foreign Secretary to ensure that Britain can make a contribution that, in particular, would try to divide the jihadi terrorists from the other local insurgents who do not have international aspirations, thereby making the prospect of ultimate peace that much more foreshortened?

My right hon. and learned Friend is right of course to warn of the prospect of asymmetric conflict. Although it is reassuring that towns such as Timbuktu have been taken by French forces, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that that is equivalent to the defeat of the Islamist forces in the area. They have melted away and will, no doubt, regroup and return in one form or another.

My right hon. and learned Friend is also right in saying that the key strategic imperative is to separate the jihadists from those northern Malian rebels whose discontent with the Government is more secular in nature. There is some evidence that that is already happening and that the presence of Malian Government and French forces in the area will encourage and accelerate that process, but I can assure him that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is acutely aware of the need for rapid political progress, as well as rapid military progress.

Will the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister bear in mind that, whatever the merits of what is presently proposed, the American catastrophe in Vietnam started with the deployment of American troops in a training and advisory capacity?

I am sure that those lessons have been taken firmly on board and are part of the military folklore that informs decision taking today.

Although my right hon. Friend may be able to justify in the short term the step change in Britain’s commitment in Mali that he has announced this morning, what account is being taken of the long-term implications of such a commitment, not least if there is success in Mali followed by displacement of al-Qaeda to other more favourable countries in north Africa? How far are we willing to pursue them?

My right hon. and learned Friend talks about a step change in Britain’s commitment in Mali. Let me set this in context. In the SDSR, we made it clear that a greater part of Britain’s defence effort in future would be devoted to training, supporting and upskilling local forces in fragile areas, to prevent the breakdown of order in such countries. We are proposing to deploy up to 200 troops in a training role to support four Anglophone countries in west Africa to prepare forces to intervene in Mali. That seems to me to be a very well leveraged use of British forces, British resources and British capability to deliver effect at minimal cost and risk to ourselves.

The Secretary of State has drawn attention to the fact that discussions involving other countries are taking place in Brussels about the commitment that they are prepared to make to Mali. Will he update the House on commitments that have been made thus far by EU neighbours, including countries such as Denmark, and confirm that those discussions also involve countries that are not in the EU, such as Norway and Canada?

The hon. Gentleman is right; some offers of assistance have already been provided—I have just had a discussion this morning with the Belgian Defence Minister—but it would be better, if he does not mind, to await the completion of the discussion today. I can assure him, as I have already assured Mr Speaker, that one of my colleagues from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will come to update the House as soon as we have the readout from that discussion and the one in Addis Ababa.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) was entirely right to urge on my right hon. Friend extreme caution in this matter. However, does my right hon. Friend not agree that the EU training mission to Somalia is a useful precedent here? That is one of the areas in EU defence that has actually been rather successful, unlike most of the rest of it, and that is therefore a proper course to follow. Will he give us an indication of what the Nigerians intend to do? That is a Christian and Muslim country; it should be able to help out in Mali; and it has well trained troops as well.

I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend that the EU training mission in Somalia has been a success. Indeed, I see some similarity between the situation in Somalia and that in Mali. What is required in Mali is military training, economic development support and rule of law and civil governance reform, to help that country to achieve stable and sustainable government in the future. That is something that I believe the EU is well positioned to lead on and to deliver, and we look forward to supporting it in that effort.

Now that the Defence Secretary is talking about sending in troops and weapons, will he bear it in mind that when the intervention took place in Libya—at a very low level, we were told by the Government at the beginning—and when those Benghazi rebels were provided with large numbers of weapons, we found that al-Qaeda and other terrorists in Mali and north Africa were using the same weapons that Britain and other countries had supplied. That is mission creep, and if he is not careful, it will get even worse.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I did not refer to weapons. We have talked about troops in a training role. Our preference would be that that training is carried out in the countries that are providing the troops—Nigeria, Gambia, Sierra Leone and Ghana—and if not, that it is carried out in Bamako. It will not be in the forward regions where the fighting is taking place.

I support the deployment of a Sentinel R1, but may I urge my right hon. Friend to be slightly careful about the use of language? We have already deployed a C-17 to Bamako, and that C-17 has a section of the RAF Regiment within it—for force protection. Force protection personnel are combat troops. They may not be used in combat, but they are combat troops.

Yes, I hear what my hon. Friend says. The C-17 is currently carrying out missions moving equipment and troops from France to Bamako and from Dakar in Senegal and other capitals in the region into Bamako, so its mission is into the country, rather than within the country.

After 11 years of warfare in Afghanistan, does the Secretary of State accept that there is no appetite whatever in this country for British troops to be sucked into a new war, a war far away, and a war that could easily escalate? Does he also accept that arising from what he has said today, there should be another statement as quickly as possible next week on what has occurred?

I have already made a commitment that there will be another statement on the outcome of the meetings today. It may be next week; it may be sooner. As soon as we are in a position to inform the House, we will do so. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course there is no appetite to be sucked into another war—there never is—but there is an appetite to be safe and secure. There is an appetite to ensure that terrorists cannot establish freedom of movement in an area such as the Sahel in order to attack us in the future. I say again that this appears to me to be a very limited and well-leveraged intervention by Britain in support of the French, who have deployed significant numbers of troops and equipment, and who are doing the heavy lift alongside the Malians. What we are now proposing to do is help to reinforce the English-speaking African countries which have also indicated that they are prepared to contribute forces to deal with this as a regional problem. That is the right way to solve such a problem, and our limited support for it is a highly effective way of Britain leveraging its capabilities.

Non-interventionism is in vogue, but does the Secretary of State agree that because of the nature of the UK, our trade routes and our status, we have huge interests across the world, and consequently, that this sort of capacity-building exercise is time and money well spent?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I remind her and other hon. Members of the risks to our society and the societies of our allies if we allow areas of ungoverned space to fall under the control of al-Qaeda and its associates and to become a place where they can plan and execute attacks on our interests.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that Mali is in a post-colonial situation and there is great tension between the north and the south, and that the failure of successive Governments in Mali to address the wishes of the Tuareg people has led to this conflict, as has the exploitation of the country’s minerals? Does he not accept that unless there is a political solution to those issues in Mali, western forces will be there for a very long time and we will be sucked into a horrible war from which we will end up ultimately having to make a humiliating retreat?

I do not accept the last part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I of course accept that, for there to be a sustainable peaceful situation in Mali over the longer term, there will have to a political solution to the tensions that exist between the north and the south of the country—tensions that, frankly, were created by a colonial map drawer and were pretty predictable when one looks at the ethnic and religious make-up of that country. But the fact that the regional powers are prepared to deploy in support of the Malian army is something that we should very much celebrate and support. Let there be a regional solution to the short-term problems in Mali, and by all means let us be active and forward-leaning in our support for a long-term political solution to the problem.

I strongly support the Defence Secretary’s announcement today, which I believe to be well judged in every particular. I welcome the fact that other countries in the EU recognise the threat to all of our security that would be represented by ungoverned space in that part of the world, and their willingness to join in this training mission. So long as we are being guaranteed that there is no question of our moving into a combat role, I do not think we should view these or any subsequent requests for practical help as mission creep. We should be willing to make a long-term contribution in west Africa, building up regional capacity so that on future occasions western troops will not be required to move in.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I agree with the sentiments that he expressed. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we have no intention of entering a combat role in Mali. The French have taken the lead and supporting them is the sensible and the right thing to do.

Thirteen years ago I went to Sierra Leone with the Defence Committee and saw British troops and Gurkhas training the Sierra Leonean armed forces. I am therefore very pleased that Sierra Leone is one of the countries that is prepared to take on the African mission, but does not this raise a wider question of long-term co-operation between the European Union and the African Union to make sure that we do not have to have ad hoc intervention forces, which might take a year or maybe longer to establish, but that when necessary we can intervene to preserve democracy and defend people against extremism?

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. The EU training mission in Somalia and the support arrangements for the African Union intervention in Somalia have come to work very well, but they took a while to get together at the beginning. Now we are embarking on a new activity on the other side of the continent and we are starting from scratch again. His point is well made. Is there a mechanism by which we can create some standing apparatus to ensure that when the need arises for local or regional intervention, supported by outside expertise and resources, we can provide it quickly and effectively? I am happy to pass on those thoughts to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s reassurances about the very limited commitment in Mali not cutting across our capabilities in Afghanistan, but he well knows that the C-17s play a central role in the air bridge and in our commitment to withdrawing by the end of next year. Is he absolutely certain that there will be no possible diminution in that determination if, for example, the commitment of the C-17s were to be extended beyond the three months to which he is committed?

The commitment that we have made on the C-17 is for three months and the reason that we have limited it to three months is precisely because we would want at that point to review what impact, if any, any extension beyond that time would have on the air bridge to Afghanistan. Afghanistan remains our principal focus and we will not do anything that will impinge upon success there.

Nobody welcomes the deployment of British troops abroad, but the UK is right to provide support to France and to the Anglophone west African countries, which, in long run, ought to be giving the security guarantees that are needed in Mali. Will the Secretary of State explain why this is an EU security lead rather than a NATO security lead, what liaison there is between the EU and NATO, and what both bodies are doing to assess where the rebels and their armaments will go next so that we can have a regional response to the crisis?

My view is that this type of operation, where there is a military component and a much wider dimension within the country—a need to establish the rule of law and proper civil governance, and an ongoing need for economic development assistance—is ideally suited to EU involvement. At the moment, the French operation is a national operation, but the fact that the EU has been prepared to propose a training mission is welcome. There is, as yet, no NATO activity around this operation. It is a French operation first, then an EU and an AFISMA operation.

I should correct something that I said earlier. I said that the majority of Malians were Christians, but in fact the majority of Malians are Muslims. The ethnic split, not the religious split, puts the majority in the south.

Things go wrong in war. While I absolutely understand all the rightly cautious points that the Secretary of State has made, what forces are earmarked and what contingency plans are in place for when those things do indeed go wrong?

We do not expect things to go wrong. We are talking about deploying a small, 200-strong-maximum training force, probably to Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia, and, as I have outlined, we have a very small number of forces on the ground in Bamako. As my hon. Friend would expect, permanent joint headquarters continually makes plans for contingencies, although he would not expect me to outline in detail what those plans are. He will know from his own experience that the military are almost obsessive-compulsive about having contingency plans for every operation that they are engaged in, and I can assure him that they will have contingency plans for this one.

Why have the Government not honoured the pledge that the Foreign Secretary gave me a fortnight ago when he gave a broad assurance that we would discuss in this House, and vote on, whether we deployed soldiers abroad? When the Government decided to go into Helmand province in 2006, they hoped that not a shot would be fired. Then, only two British soldiers had died in combat after five years of warfare; now, the figure is 440. Is not there a grave danger that Mali could turn into another Helmand?

No, I do not think so. I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to an answer that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave in relation to the use of war powers. The troops that we are talking about deploying will not be used in a combat role, and the war powers issue does not arise. They will be deployed in a training and support role.

Limited military engagement in a supportive capacity to the French and African forces is a precursor to the nation building that is likely to be required, alongside what has been achieved in Somalia, in order to reduce the Islamist al-Qaeda threat. Does my right hon. Friend agree that compared with Afghanistan, Mali and the wider Sahel region is in Europe’s back yard and is a direct threat to our common security?

Allowing ungoverned space in Afghanistan would also represent a direct threat to Europe’s security. We know that a significant proportion of the security threats to the UK arise, and have arisen in the past, from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. What is a threat to Europe’s security and Britain’s security is ungoverned space in which terrorists can organise, exercise freedom of movement, and launch attacks. Wherever ungoverned space arises, whether it is in Somalia, the Sahel, or the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, we have to take appropriate action to close it down so that that space becomes properly governed and properly monitored.

I thank the Secretary of State kindly for clarifying many of the issues that concern us. There is a great humanitarian crisis developing in Mali, with 230,000 people displaced and 150,000 people having left the country. Will the deployment involve help for the deepening humanitarian crisis and for the infrastructure rebuild?

My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary is very much engaged with this issue. The deployment that I have talked about today is a training mission, but we are also looking to provide humanitarian support in the short term to deal with the movement of people in response to conflict, and in the longer term as part of an EU initiative to support the development of civil governance and economic development, particularly in the north of the country, thus addressing some of the underlying problems of at least part of this insurgency.

In this increasingly troubled world, will the Secretary of State reflect on whether it is prudent and in Britain’s interests to cut the size of our armed forces?

I can tell you my view on that, Mr Speaker. It is prudent to have a balanced defence budget and to be able properly to equip the troops that we have and seek to use to defend this nation’s security. I am afraid that given the state of the defence budget that we inherited from Labour, we have taken the only responsible set of actions that we could take in order to secure Britain’s defence for the future.

May I support and welcome the steps taken by the Government, which I am sure are welcomed by countries near Mali? The Secretary of State mentioned ungoverned space. One country with a lot of ungoverned space is Yemen, where yesterday eight people were killed in a suicide bomb attack by affiliates of al-Qaeda. If the Government of Yemen request the same support that those other countries near Mali have requested, will our Government be prepared to give them that support?

We have good relationships with the Government of Yemen and we provide advice and support to them. The President of Yemen was in London a few months ago, and we had very constructive discussions. The action proposed by the AFISMA countries is mandated by a UN Security Council resolution, and the action that we are taking is to support these countries in the discharge of that mandate.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that it has for some time been the intention to provide training in a number of west African countries as a form of upstream engagement? For the clarity of the House, will he elaborate on the differences between AFISMA, Operation Newcombe, and the EU training mission?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This training support should be seen in the context of our ongoing and very good relations with the Anglophone countries of west Africa, where we already have in place excellent military-to-military relationships and provide some training to them. This is very much a continuation and a stepping up of an activity for which there is established precedent, and I hope that the House will support it on that basis.

The Secretary of State will have seen the report in Friday’s Le Monde about atrocities that have allegedly been committed by Mali Government forces as they have seized back territory. Will he explain why we are not making it an absolute requirement on the Malian Government to investigate and co-operate fully with the International Criminal Court before we give them a single shilling?

We are making the point very clearly to the Malian Government that if they want to benefit from the support of the United Kingdom and other members of the international community, they must respond swiftly and effectively to the allegations that have been made. The French forces command in Mali is also very focused on the need to address this issue promptly.

May I press the Secretary of State? Will he tell us more about the relationship between the European Union training mission and the French military mission? Will he also tell us what is happening to the Sentinel security system, which was going to be cut under the strategic defence and security review? Will it be reprieved?

To answer the last question first, the ongoing use of Sentinel is not currently funded beyond 2015. It remains one of the candidate programmes for the—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) cackles from the Opposition Front Bench, but he was a Defence Minister in the previous Government who left us with a £38 billion gap between the equipment they had ordered and the budgets available to pay for it. We are having to prioritise and identify the programmes that are most important to maintaining Britain’s national security. Sentinel is a candidate programme for funding after 2015, and we will continue to look at its run-on costs and whether we can justify the investment in them.

I welcome the rounded and proportionate response that my right hon. Friend has outlined. Has the National Security Council asked the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and other relevant Departments to talk to their French counterparts about how we can flesh out this mission as a whole so that it is not purely a military one?

Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend that DFID and Foreign Office officials and Ministers are in touch with their French counterparts and that there has been a great deal of traffic backwards and forwards between London and Paris over the past 10 days.

The Secretary of State mentioned £5 million being contributed towards United Nations funds. What proportion of that will come from the Ministry of Defence budget and what proportion, if any, will come from DFID budgets? Will he also tell us when we can expect an announcement on what kind of humanitarian assistance the British Government will provide and when?

I will alert my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary to the hon. Lady’s last question and ensure that when a further statement is made to the House—I anticipate that it will be made very shortly—that issue will be covered in it.

I am not absolutely certain, but I assume that the £5 million that I referred to will come from the conflict pool, which is a cross-Government, tri-departmental pool of money. If I am wrong about that, I will write to the hon. Lady and place a copy of the letter in the House.

My right hon. Friend has emphasised the issue of ungoverned spaces. Mali is five times the size of the UK, or thereabouts, with a quarter of the population, and Algeria ten times the size with a population three fifths the size of ours. What are his expectations for the proper governance of these vast, empty spaces?

Governance should not be confused with policing. Proper governance is about a system for bringing the people of the northern part of Mali into the overall governance of the country, making the Tuareg population feel part of the overall structure and having a demonstrably fair system for sharing the nation’s resources and wealth. That will be the key. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the sparsity of population and the vast spaces defy any aspiration to be able to police them in the conventional sense.

If there were ever an example of mission creep, this is it. Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), at what point will the Secretary of State test the will of Parliament?

I do not accept that this is an example of mission creep. What we have done is extremely modest. We are providing strategic air-lift support for a limited period and one surveillance aircraft, operating from a neighbouring, friendly country, and we are now talking about deploying up to 250 troops in a training role, most of which will be carried out in the countries donating the troop forces. I do not consider that to be an escalation of the scale characterised by the hon. Gentleman.

Given the difficult terrain in Mali and the surrounding area, is the United Kingdom likely to provide drone assistance, as it did in Libya and Afghanistan, either as surveillance or on a front-line basis?

We currently assess that we could not provide drones or unmanned aerial vehicles of any sort in support of the French campaign in Mali without it having an unacceptable impact on our operations in Afghanistan, so we have declined to do so.

The Secretary of State has rightly referred on a number of occasions to the need for political reform, economic development and humanitarian relief, but he will know that people have been saying that Mali has needed that for years and warning that if Mali did not get it, we would have problems with that country. It would be all too easy, after, I hope, a quick military success, for those long-term commitments to be forgotten, so what guarantees can we have that there will indeed be the sustained support that is undoubtedly needed from Britain and the European Union?

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. It is an unfortunate fact of life that it is only when countries force themselves to the top of the news agenda, sometimes for completely the wrong reason, that everybody recognises that we have known that there was a problem there for a long time and that we knew what needed to be done, but did not quite do it. I would hope, having now focused on the challenge and seen in Algeria the week before last the potential consequences of allowing terrorist organisations to gain ground in this area, that the EU in particular will have the will and the tenacity to see this through and to do what needs to be done over the medium to longer term.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) is surely right to raise the high human and financial cost of earlier interventions under the previous Government, but there is a danger of seeing everything through the prism of previous experience. I support the Defence Secretary’s commitment today to deploying considerable British military training capabilities alongside allies, with the support of neighbouring countries and with full awareness of the dangers of mission creep in Mali, for the better security of Europe. Does he agree, however, that training in fragile areas comes under the heading of conflict resolution and that it would, therefore, be appropriate for DFID to make a wholesome contribution to the costs of this training mission?

My ears are always open to any suggestion that anybody else might contribute to activity that otherwise falls on the defence budget, but as I said earlier the funding for this operation will come from the conflict pool and from pooled funds that are available for precisely this type of intervention. This is an arrangement that is working extremely well across Government and is one of the successes of the past couple of years.

Notwithstanding what the Secretary of State has said, he will understand that many will remain concerned about the quick-sand syndrome overtaking these deployments, particularly in the absence of the political and economic engagement developing a more visible and viable profile. He is right to characterise so darkly the terrorist threat, but he must also acknowledge that Malian Government forces face allegations of serious human rights abuses, including recently. How is he proofing those whom he is deploying in a support role against any future suggestion that they will be implicated in supporting such abuses in the future?

British forces have clear rules of engagement. The forces we have deployed so far will be limited to engagement on the basis of self-defence only if they are attacked. I have already acknowledged our concerns about the allegations that have been made about Malian forces, and I know that our French colleagues have similar concerns and are addressing them with the Malian Government and the Malian forces on the ground. This situation is in a state of flux on the ground. The Malian forces are regrouping. Some of their command and control systems are currently inadequate, but the French are seeking to make a difference on the ground.

What is the extent of military co-operation between Algeria, Mali and Nigeria? Will the South Africans provide any troops? With America increasingly looking to the Pacific, will European support for an African solution to this problem be enough without substantial American involvement?

I should tell the House that the United Kingdom has agreed to the use of US bases in the UK for the provision of refuelling support for the French forces, should the US choose to provide it. That is a decision for the US, but we would be comfortable with US aircraft operating from US bases in the UK for that purpose.

Nigeria is committed to providing troops to support the mission in Mali. I do not believe that the Algerians are committed in the same way, but they have an interest in security on the Algerian-Malian border. As far as I am aware, there is no commitment from South Africa.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that British forces are deployed on training missions not only in Africa but around the world? Will he also confirm whether the intelligence gathered by the Sentinel aircraft will be used in support of French offensive operations or just to safeguard our troops on their training mission?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that British military training missions are taking place in many countries around the world. British military training is highly sought after by many foreign Governments. It is one way in which we punch above our weight by having a degree of influence on foreign militaries and Governments that we might not otherwise have.

The intelligence output from Sentinel will be deployed principally not for the protection of British forces on the ground, but to deliver intelligence to the French to increase their situational awareness of what is happening over these vast tracts of land.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that an ethical foreign policy means one of muscular enlightenment, and that as a democracy we have a moral duty to intervene where possible to stop extremism and dictatorship, not just for the benefit of the world community, but for the people of individual countries?

I think that we have an absolute duty to intervene wherever there is a threat to Britain’s national security and the security of Britain’s interests around the world. This is exactly such a case. This is a well-judged, well-leveraged intervention that will deliver efficiently a result that is in Britain’s national interests.

I am sure that everyone welcomes the fact that Malian and French troops entered Timbuktu without resistance, preventing further damage to its people and fabric. Nevertheless, the city is in desperate need of support to rebuild its medical and educational facilities and its local economy. Will the Secretary of State ensure that British training and advice are given to Malian and African troops on how best to work with agencies to provide them with security and safety so that they can carry out their work?

My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary is heavily engaged in activities in Mali. I suspect that many people in this country thought that Timbuktu was a mythical place until it popped up on their television screens three days ago. My hon. Friend talks about an urgent need to rebuild medical and educational facilities. This city has not been occupied by rebel forces for years; they were only there for a few days. However, he is right that there is an urgent need to provide development support to towns and cities in the north of Mali, where the level of economic development is very low. I know that that is a focus of my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary.