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Afghanistan (Lines of Communication)

Volume 558: debated on Wednesday 13 February 2013

I have today laid before Parliament three bilateral reverse transit agreements with the Republic of Uzbekistan; and a Ministry of Defence departmental minute describing a gifting package which the UK intends to make to the Republic of Uzbekistan.

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) combat operations are due to be completed by the end of 2014. The Government have announced that UK troop numbers in Afghanistan, currently at around 9,000, are due to fall to about 5,200 by the end of 2013 with further significant reductions planned for 2014. The MOD has begun to plan for the recovery of some £4 billion of inventory deployed to Afghanistan. On current estimates, this could amount to the equivalent of about 6,500 twenty- foot containers of equipment, together with about 2,500 vehicles. The draw down operation is made even more challenging by Afghanistan’s remote geographical location, difficult terrain and potentially unstable regional security conditions.

Currently, the only surface option for the recovery of UK equipment from Afghanistan is by the southern transit route through Pakistan. We are in the process of opening this reverse transit route with the Pakistani Government. However, this route will be hard pressed to meet the capacity demands that ISAF draw down will generate. We have therefore been seeking to diversify our potential equipment recovery options by establishing reverse transit routes (surface and air) through the central Asian Republics and Russia—collectively known as the Northern Lines of Communication (NLOC).

Three reverse transit agreements have been concluded with the Republic of Uzbekistan, enabling the recovery of non-war like stores and, separately, motorised armoured vehicles, by rail; and equipment (including war-like stores and ammunition) and personnel by air. These are being published as Command Papers (Cm 8522, 8523 and 8524) and are today being laid before Parliament, each with an accompanying explanatory memorandum. These agreements have already completed Uzbek parliamentary ratification procedures and will enter into force once the UK formally notifies the Republic of Uzbekistan that our internal clearance procedures are complete.

My Right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe’s written statement of 23 February 2012, Official Report, column 83WS set out the broader context of the UK’s engagement with central Asia, noting that underpinning the UK’s growing prosperity and security interests in the region is our commitment to promote core values of the rule of law, human rights and democracy. As part of our promotion of regional security and stability, we will continue to engage with the Republic of Uzbekistan on these core values and on a range of security-related issues, including counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and border security, continued support to Afghanistan stabilisation, conflict prevention and crisis management work, counter-radicalisation and some aspects of defence reform and co-operation.

The Republic of Uzbekistan has already played a constructive role in helping to secure Afghanistan’s stability but will face increased security challenges once ISAF has withdrawn from Afghanistan. We have therefore been examining options for gifting surplus UK equipment to help meet those challenges. The departmental minute which I have today laid before Parliament describes a gifting package to the Republic of Uzbekistan of surplus Leyland DAF trucks and Land Rover spares that is intended to contribute to this. Both items have been examined and cleared against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria, which include an assessment of whether the equipment might be used for human rights violations or internal repression. Subject to completion of the departmental minute process, delivery will be undertaken progressively during 2013.