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Afghanistan

Volume 588: debated on Monday 24 November 2014

On 26 October, our troops left Camp Bastion and, as confirmed by the Secretary of State, the final UK personnel left Kandahar airfield yesterday. All of our major equipment and matériel has now left the country. A few hundred UK personnel remain in Kabul, at the invitation of the Afghans, to train the Afghan army’s future officers and provide continuing support to Afghan security ministries. I share the Defence Secretary’s view that our armed forces can take great pride in the completion of their deployment to southern Afghanistan. Thanks to their courage and dedication, the country has the best possible chance of a stable future. Our departure from Kandahar airfield is therefore an historic milestone.

Is not the need for a swift start to an inquiry into the Afghan war proved by the fact that today is the fifth anniversary of the start of the Chilcot inquiry, which planned to report within 12 months? Do not the loved ones of the 179 of our brave soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq need to know the truth and why they were sent there in pursuit of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, and the relatives of the 451 casualties need to know why we went into Helmand in the belief that not a shot would be fired? Can the Minister give us an assurance that these reports are not being delayed by those who will be judged guilty by them?

It was 453, and we honour them all. We have been learning tactical lessons through our operations in Afghanistan, such as better detection and defusing of IEDs. Of course we will want to look at broader lessons that can be learned from the campaign, but our focus has been on a successful draw-down and no decisions have been taken yet on any review. In making such a decision on a review, the Government will wish to learn how best any improvements could be made both quickly and practically.

I welcome the Government’s role in bringing together the London conference on Afghanistan, which is taking place on 4 December. Will the Minister briefly update the House on what the Government’s aims are? How hopeful are the Government of being successful at that conference?

The conference will centre mainly on economic development, but it is worth recording that we should be very proud of what our armed forces have done. We have assisted in training the Afghans to deliver their own security and to protect their elections, which led to the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history and the election of a national unity Government. It is now for the Afghans to determine their own future, with our ongoing support. They have done this because of the hard work of our troops. We have given them a chance; we must hope they will take it.

The position of Afghan interpreters is of great concern. Only a very few have been given the right to settle in this country. Can the Minister give us an assurance that the rest of them will be protected? After all, they sacrificed their lives on behalf of our country.

We have two schemes in place—those who served alongside UK forces for substantial periods are eligible to receive financial packages, and those who served alongside us on the front line have, in some cases, the option of resettlement in the United Kingdom. So far about 350 have opted for the resettlement package. There is a separate intimidation policy which protects those locally employed civilians at risk as a result of their employment with Her Majesty’s Government. In the most extreme cases that includes the option to resettle in the United Kingdom. The processing of those cases is ongoing, but it is important to remember that there are two schemes working in parallel.