The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Geoffrey Hoon) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.The United Kingdom has a long-standing commitment to help the people of Afghanistan to rebuild their country as a stable, secure and prosperous nation. That process is now approaching a vital stage. NATO is in the process of expanding the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) by creating more Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). The coalition, meanwhile, continues to deploy PRTs of its own and to engage the remnants of the Taliban and its Al' Qaeda supporters that reject all the Afghan people have achieved since 2001. Both the ISAF and the coalition provide essential support to the Afghan Transitional Authority and to the United Nations' Assistance Mission Afghanistan as they prepare for the Afghan presidential elections which are due on 9 October 2004.These are important tasks and both the coalition and the ISAF merit our support. In response to a coalition request for the United Kingdom to provide a close air support capability to coalition forces operating in Southern Afghanistan, I have agreed the deployment of six Royal Air Force Harrier GR7 aircraft to Kandahar, Afghanistan. The aircraft will be provided by No. 3 Squadron, Royal Air Force, and the deployment is planned to be for nine months. The first personnel from 53 Field Squadron (Airfield Support), Royal Engineers, and No. 3 Squadron have already deployed to Kandahar and the force should be operational by the end of this month. The deployment will reach a strength of some 315 personnel in its early stages but will eventually settle at a strength of about 230. The cost of the deployment is estimated to be some £35.5 million.This is our first deployment of combat aircraft to Afghanistan in the current campaign. While their principal role will be to support coalition forces, the aircraft will also be available to support the ISAF. NATO has identified three such tasks: close air support as ISAF expands into Western Afghanistan; an airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability to support all ISAF forces, and; the provision of "air presence patrols" as part of the ISAF's support for the security of the Afghan presidential elections.The versatility of the Harriers, which will be equipped with laser-guided bombs, air to surface missiles and the Joint Reconnaissance Pod, makes them an ideal asset to meet all these tasks. Deployment of these aircraft confirms our commitment to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, our support for the ISAF and our determination to help ensure the success of the international community's support for the Afghan electoral process. The Army and Royal Air Force personnel will provide a highly capable and credible force that will contribute to improving the security environment in the region. This is another clear sign of the UK's long term commitment to achieving a stable and secure Afghanistan.