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Troop Numbers (Afghanistan)

Volume 567: debated on Monday 2 September 2013

5. What progress he has made in drawing down the number of UK troops in Afghanistan to around 5,200 by the end of 2013. (900044)

As the Prime Minister announced on 19 December 2012, UK force levels will reduce from 9,000 to 6,000 from this autumn, and to about 5,200 by the end of 2013. That figure may, of course, fluctuate and occasionally exceed this total due to temporary surges into theatre. Our force level reduction is in line with the draw-down plans of our NATO allies and reflects the progress of the Afghan national security forces in assuming overall security responsibility for the country.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Clearly, I put on the record my salute to all those brave servicemen and women who have given their lives or been injured, and those who place their lives on the line every single day, in support of our security. The worst thing would be if we withdraw our troops from Afghanistan and then have to go back. Will he inform the House on what progress he is making on getting the ANSF to take over from our brave servicemen and women?

As my hon. Friend will know, the focus of our armed forces is now on encouraging the ANSF and training, helping and mentoring them. We are very encouraged by the progress that we see. For instance, a major operation took place in the summer in the Logar and Nangarhar provinces, involving a large number of Afghan troops. It was very successful and it also demonstrated the increasing capability of the Afghan air force, so we are on track. Despite the scepticism of some, the ANSF are looking on track to assume responsibilities overall.

Will the Minister also update the House on whether any decisions have been made on the post-2014 UK contribution to Afghanistan and when he will be able to share any likely numbers?

I cannot share the exact numbers with the hon. Lady. What I can say is that our focus will definitely be on the Afghan national officer academy, which is just outside Kabul. We are very much concentrating on that, but of course we need to consider force protection and other issues, and the actual details cannot yet be given.

At a time when some commentators outside the House doubt the utility of UK military force, it is crucial that those from all parts of the House again put on the record our respect for the remarkable contribution that our men and women are making in Afghanistan.

Let me return to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), on which the Minister attempted an answer but did not give enough details. Will he say to the House in more detail what he understands to be the current commitment for UK equipment being retained in Afghanistan post-2014? When will the Government be in a position to share with the House the precise number of UK military personnel who will remain in theatre post-2014?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments about our armed forces, which, notwithstanding any excitements last week, are still doing an extremely good job in Afghanistan. I pay tribute to them as well.

Our focus after the end of next year will most definitely be on the Afghan national army officer academy outside Kabul. I am afraid that I cannot yet give the right hon. Gentleman or the House details of equipment that we might be leaving behind or anything like that, but we expect to announce it by the end of the year.