My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
“Last December, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister set out a clear and long-term framework for bringing security and political, social and economic development to Afghanistan. I should like to give the House an update on some of the progress that we have made since then in Afghanistan, based on my most recent visit to Afghanistan last month, and to set out our future plans for the UK’s military contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, ISAF.
“The security situation in Afghanistan has improved in the past 12 months. The Taliban’s leadership has been targeted successfully and recent operations in southern Helmand have disrupted severely its training and lines of communication. This has had two principal effects. First, its sphere of influence has been reduced. Nine-tenths of the security incidents are confined to one-tenth of the country. The rest is relatively peaceful. Secondly, we have seen the Taliban reduce its ambition from insurgency to terrorism. Its campaign is now limited to intimidating Afghan communities, coercing the vulnerable into becoming suicide bombers, and carrying out brutal and indiscriminate attacks on the international community and, above all, on Afghans themselves—men, women and children. As its conventional attacks have failed, we have seen its tactics shift to mines, roadside bombs and suicide vests. These tactics run deeply counter to the Afghan culture. So does the Taliban’s reliance on paid foreign fighters—the so-called “ten dollar Talibs”—who now make up the majority of those doing the fighting for it. I fully recognise that the Taliban’s new tactics pose a different but very serious challenge both to our forces and to local people. We need to ensure that we do all we can to mitigate this new danger and I am fully engaged on making sure that we do so.
“I share the understandable international concern about the break-out from Kandahar prison on Friday 13 June. The Government of Afghanistan are leading the response to this incident and we are monitoring it closely. We have always said that the challenge of supporting an Afghan lead on security goes wider than support to the Afghan armed forces to include the justice sector, and we are already engaged in supporting a programme of justice reform that includes work on prisons. International support to the Afghan Government’s security response is being provided through NATO’s presence in Kandahar. Let me conclude here by saying that, notwithstanding the extremely serious nature of this incident, it does not change our view that the Taliban is losing the fight in southern Afghanistan.
“The Afghan people, like people the world over, long for security, stability and prosperity. They understand that the Taliban cannot deliver these things. Our forces, alongside the US, Canadian, Dutch, Australian, Danish and many others, are in Afghanistan to fulfil a UN mandate, to support the elected Government, to train and mentor the Afghan army and police, and to give the Afghan people hope for the future. I believe, as I think does the great majority of this House, that Afghanistan is a noble cause, but we also know that it comes at a tragic human cost, as we have been reminded over the past week. The recent deaths of five members of 2 Para, as well as the 97 other UK fatalities in Afghanistan since 2002 and all those UK personnel who have been wounded or otherwise scarred by this conflict, are an enduring measure of the dangers that our young service men and women face on operations on our behalf.
“The military knows better than anyone that this is a campaign that cannot be won by military means alone. Once security has improved—and it has—delivering improvements in infrastructure, governance, rule of law, schools, hospitals and services must follow. Generating these in a country devastated by decades of conflict, and the fourth poorest in the world, is difficult and challenging. It will be a long term endeavour, but I saw real progress here during my trip. There is now a tangible sense that life for many Afghans is improving.
“In Helmand, they have a new and extremely able governor, Governor Mangal, who is spreading the writ of the Government of Afghanistan further into this once lawless province. During the week of my visit, the local people of Garmsir reopened their hospital for the first time in two years. In Lashkar Gah they had also just opened a new high school; some of the girls attending that school will represent the first women in their families ever to go to school and receive an education.
“We in the UK are not alone in our commitment to Afghanistan. Last week, 80 countries and international organisations met in Paris at the International Conference in Support of Afghanistan. In Paris, the Afghan Government’s national development strategy was launched. This plan provides an Afghan blueprint for the future development of their country. Last week in Paris the international community pledged $20.4 billion to help fund it, and reaffirmed its support for Kai Eide in his role in co-ordinating efforts to help deliver it. I do not underestimate how much remains to be done, but the green shoots of development and democracy are becoming ever more firmly rooted in a security environment that has improved out of all measure since UK forces deployed to southern Afghanistan two years ago.
“This focus on development does not mean that we are complacent about security; far from it. As I said before, the shift in tactics—while being, in one sense, a sign of strategic weakness—presents us with a different but still serious challenge, one which our forces are confronting with the same courage, professionalism and intelligence that they have shown throughout the campaign. At the same time, the Prime Minister’s December Statement made clear that, over time, we plan to rebalance our military commitment, from one based on direct combat operations, to one of support for the Afghans’ own security forces. There is some good news here: the Afghan National Army is a success story. Afghan soldiers are fearless and redoubtable fighters, and the ANA is respected and admired by the Afghan people. Their professional competence is also increasing by the day. The first ANA Kandak, or battalion, has now reached Capability Milestone 1, which means that it is capable of fully independent operations. Our soldiers are finding that the level of mentoring required by the Afghan National Army has markedly reduced as their capability and experience grows. This is no mean achievement.
“Creating an effective police force is proving to be a more difficult challenge. To accelerate this process, the coalition has introduced a process called focused district development, which is, in effect, a mass training and retraining of the Afghan national police, district by district. This ambitious plan has an annual budget of $2 billion per year and is making a big difference, but we have to accept that creating an independent, effective police force in Afghanistan will not happen overnight.
“Counterinsurgency campaigns are ultimately about winning the support of the local population. With the diminishing relevance of the Taliban’s campaign and the increasing delivery of development, I am in little doubt that we are winning. In this context I have decided, with the military advice of the Chiefs of Staff, to make a number of adjustments to the profile of our forces in Afghanistan. Currently we have 7,800 troops in Afghanistan, deployed to Helmand, Kandahar and Kabul. As a result of a recent review, I have approved the removal of around 400 posts from the Afghan operational establishment. These posts are no longer required due to reorganisation and the changed nature of the tactical situation. At the same time we have identified a requirement for, in total, 630 new posts, creating a net increase in our forces in Afghanistan of some 230 personnel to around 8,030 by spring 2009.
“Broadly these adjustments have three aims: first, to improve the level of protection afforded to our personnel; secondly, to increase the capacity of our forces to deliver training and mentoring to the Afghan national security forces; and, thirdly, to increase the capacity of our forces to deliver the civil effects of reconstruction and development in an insecure or semi-secure environment. All of these aims are vital if we are to sustain the progress that we are making.
“Let me set out the nature of these changes. The first objective of these force adjustments is to increase the protection that we are able to give our brave service men and women as they conduct their mission in Afghanistan. In the months ahead we will deploy more troops to man the additional Viking and Mastiff vehicles that we have already ordered. Further specialists will deploy to man reconnaissance and warning systems in our forward operating bases across Helmand. We will also reinforce the Royal Air Force Regiment squadron that helps defend Kandahar airfield. The House will recall that improvements that we have made to ground support and crewing arrangements for our CH-47 Chinook and AH-64 Apache helicopters have increased the total amount of flying time per month available to our commanders in Afghanistan. Part of this uplift will be delivered by an increase in helicopter crews which I am announcing today.
“Among the most potent of all our capabilities in deterring and denying the insurgency is our ability to project close air support. In Afghanistan we have a contingent of Harrier GR-7s and GR-9s that have proven time and again their value in defending the lives of our troops, our allies and those they are there to protect. The Harrier force, first deployed to Kandahar airfield in November 2004, continuously has been in operation ever since. This is an impressive record by any standards but I am very mindful of the strain that this extended deployment has put on the crews, their families and the wider roles of Joint Force Harrier. I have therefore decided to withdraw the Harrier force by spring 2009 and to replace it with an equivalent force of Tornado GR-4s.
“I have already mentioned that by developing the Afghan security forces we are setting the conditions to allow them to take an increased role in their own security. To accelerate this we will expand our fourth Operational Mentor and Liaison Team to accelerate the development of the Afghan National Army and we will continue to train the Afghan national police. In particular, we will focus our efforts to help Afghan National Army and police commanders to develop the skills they need to lead their forces effectively in a demanding and often very dangerous area.
“The improved security situation that our forces are generating has provided us with a real opportunity to increase the rate of our delivery of civil effect. I have therefore decided that when 3 Commando Brigade deploys to Afghanistan this October, it will deploy with an additional infantry battalion headquarters and sub-unit. These forces will operate in southern Helmand to ensure that we are able to consolidate and exploit the security gains that we have made in that area. Three Commando Brigade will also deploy with an extra troop of Royal Engineers to support our provincial reconstruction team by undertaking quick impact projects in support of the local community. These forces will be supported by more medical, logistical and equipment support troops.
“In addition, we will attach civil/military co-operation officers to each of our battlegroups and we will form military stabilisation teams on the model of the ad hoc team that we deployed with great success in the wake of the reoccupation of Musa Qala. Both of these measures will enable us to take forward development projects, including quick-impact projects in areas where the level of threat remains high.
“My announcement today of a net uplift of 230 additional troops does not in proportionate terms represent a very significant increase. It does not mean our mission is expanding. It means we are taking the steps necessary to take our mission forward as effectively as we can, with a force whose profile and capabilities are optimised to the conditions that they face. As I have explained, the uplift and rebalancing will enable our forces to strengthen their protection and to increase the rate at which they are able to build Afghan capacity in security, governance and development. Some of these new capabilities will need a year before they are available for operations in Afghanistan. Others will deploy much sooner. And, of course, we shall continue to work to develop the optimum balance of forces and capabilities, in conjunction with the Afghan Government and our allies, in what can be rapidly changing conditions. These additional forces will ensure we can maintain the growing reach of the Afghan Government in Helmand, increase the military contribution to development and accelerate the pace of Afghanisation.
“We talk in this House in terms of numbers, units and strategies. But as the events of the last week have reminded us, behind these numbers are individual young men or women working courageously in strange, difficult and dangerous conditions far from their families back home. Constantly I am impressed by their bravery and resourcefulness, and on behalf of the Government—and, I am sure, the whole House—I express our gratitude for their service to the nation, and commit myself to continuing to do everything we can to support them. “Mr Speaker, I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I, too, pay tribute to our Armed Forces. They have performed superbly in Afghanistan. Those who have given their lives there are irreplaceable to their families and friends, and we will remember them in our thoughts and prayers.
The Minister knows that we on this side of the House wholeheartedly support our troops in what they are doing in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, we feel increasing anxiety about the news coming out of that country, particularly about the shortcomings and questionable attitudes on the part of the Afghans themselves. The terrible corruption in the Afghanistan Government needs to be addressed urgently.
We welcome the extra troops mentioned in the Statement, particularly the extra helicopter crews and ground support and more troops to man the new Vikings and Mastiffs. We also welcome the extra Royal Engineer troops to help with the vital work of reconstruction. However, former NATO commander General McNeill has said that many more troops are needed to defeat the Taliban-led insurgency. “It’s an under-resourced force,” he said. Does the Minister believe that the force size is now sufficient?
We have consistently raised concerns about the force size in Afghanistan. Does today’s increase not make a mockery of the Government’s national security strategy, published only 12 weeks ago? It says that,
“we are entering a phase of overall reduced commitments, recuperation of our people, and regrowth and reinvestment in capabilities and training”.
Is it not the case that our forces will be more overstretched, not less?
The Government must ensure that they provide our dedicated and courageous service men and women with the support and equipment they need to ensure that the sacrifices of the past two years are not in vain. The House will be aware of Brigadier Ed Butler’s imminent retirement. He is one of Britain’s brightest soldiers and took the opportunity to denounce chronic resource shortages which dogged the battle groups that he once commanded in Kandahar.
As the Statement pointed out, recent deaths in Afghanistan have shown the Taliban’s shift toward suicide bombing as a tactic. We have seen in Iraq what this can mean. Will the Minister give the House an assurance that all necessary protective equipment is available to minimise the risk to our Armed Forces? Will she give an assurance that the Afghan police and military are giving their fullest co-operation in attempting to minimise these threats?
We are concerned also about the lack of development in Afghanistan. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, pointed out that western aid to Afghanistan is one-50th per head of population of the amount spent in Bosnia and Kosovo, and less in terms of resources than has ever been put into a successful post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction effort. What recent discussions have the Government had with the Pakistan Government about Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan and the Afghan Government’s threats to mount cross-border raids into Pakistan?
Ignoring Afghanistan or, worse still, abandoning it is not an option. The costs of failure are much too high to contemplate. The Government know that they have our full support in their objectives in Afghanistan, but they need urgently to address the gap between commitments and military capabilities if we are to succeed.
My Lords, I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the families of the five paratroopers who were killed in Afghanistan last week and whose bodies were brought to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire today. As has been said, our service personnel are involved in a noble cause and they are fighting with considerable bravery in Afghanistan.
However, throughout the Statement was a thread of optimism which I question. The rather dismissive phrase “ten dollar Talibs” belies the strength of the Taliban forces, as evidenced by the serious clashes of the past 24 hours. The phrase,
“the green shoots of development and democracy are becoming … firmly rooted”,
is a shade dangerous. “Green shoots” is always questionable when used in political terms, particularly in a situation such as Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, we welcome the net increase in our forces and the redeployment announced today. However, we still have significant forces in Iraq whose military role, whatever their political significance, is at best limited, whereas the need for more forces in Afghanistan is unquestionably desperate. There should be a redeployment sooner rather than later. I would have been much more encouraged today if, parallel to the statement that we were increasing our forces, the Defence Secretary had indicated that he had secured agreement from other NATO forces to put more of their troops into Afghanistan in support of the coalition’s efforts.
I have five questions to put to the Minister, the first of which is on the Kandahar breakout. Are the Karzai Government receptive to advice from the coalition on improving security in the prisons there? Are any of our experts helping the prison authorities? Have any of the prisoners who escaped been caught? Secondly, if a FRES-type vehicle were available, would it be deployed in Afghanistan? Thirdly, on the welcome deployment of the Tornado aircraft, is work being undertaken to modify the Typhoon for future use in Afghanistan? Fourthly—the noble Lord, Lord Astor, referred to this—do the Karzai Government have the support of Her Majesty’s Government and the coalition in threatening to send forces over the border into Pakistan if Taliban incursions continue? My final question is on opium, of which there was no mention in the Statement. Is the coalition any nearer to an agreed policy in regard to opium production and/or confiscation?
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their comments about the work of our Armed Forces. Whatever detailed questions we may wish to pursue about arrangements on the ground or the attitude of the Afghans, the one thing that we can all be proud of is the work our Armed Forces have done—and we should always pay tribute to the sacrifices they have made. I think that that unites everyone.
Both noble Lords asked a number of questions and I shall try to deal with all of them. There was some crossover between them. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lee, that a great deal of work has been done on opium and drugs. The production of poppies is often closely related to those areas where the Taliban has a significant degree of control. We have worked with the Afghan Government. We advise them and try to assist them, but they take the lead in what is their domestic problem. We have to increasingly accept that while we can offer advice, give guidance and make suggestions, we are trying to get to the situation where the Afghan Government control Afghanistan. One thing we have to do is to extend their range of governance, because that has been one of the problems.
The attitude of the Afghans and the situation of corruption, which is often linked to poppy production, concerns everyone. That is one of the reasons we say that our role is not simply military; it is to help the Afghan Government establish the rule of law and a justice system for their transition to a more sustainable democratic country in which people can go about their normal lives with the guarantee of proper justice being administered in that area. There is a long way to go. There is no tradition of a court system that we would recognise. That is one of the problems and one of the reasons why we have put some effort into not only trying to train an Afghan police force but also giving help, advice and training to people who might be judges within that system or work within the court system. It is very complex. The backlog of training and the lack of experience is significant, and something that we have to take on board all the time.
General McNeill was quoted regarding the need for more troops and the size of the forces that are there. I remind the House that we are in Afghanistan under a United Nations resolution with NATO in the lead. Forty countries are contributing in one way or another. Seventeen ISAF countries are working in the south and the east in difficult circumstances. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place a short time ago that the attitude within NATO and within our allies generally has been improving.
At the Riga conference when ISAF was talking about how many troops could be deployed, the figure was 32,000; at Bucharest it was 47,000. By the time of the Brussels discussions just last week, the figure had grown to 50,000. Therefore, we are seeing significant improvements and more of our allies putting in helicopters or providing support. Although we always want people to do more—I do not think that we should make any bones about that—there is movement in the right direction. Not least for that reason I do not think that our announcement today cuts across the national security strategy about the overall reduced commitments that we will see. They will not be instant but we can see the direction in which we are moving in those areas where we are committed.
Questions were asked about support and equipment. There have been concerns in the past and things could have been done differently in some areas but we have learnt a great deal given the unique nature of the deployments in which we have been involved. The threat that we are facing changes almost on a monthly basis. Therefore, we have had to adapt. At one time a certain type of body armour might seem to have been adequate but we have learnt how to improve it, and the same is true of vehicles. At certain times certain vehicles are extremely popular because troops feel safe in them, but if the threat changes you have to adjust that situation. We have seen significant improvements in terms of helicopters and the vehicles that have been provided already such as the very successful Mastiff vehicles. Ridgback vehicles will come into operation next year. Personal protection afforded by way of kit has improved significantly. We take all these issues extremely seriously. However, the situation is changing so it will always be a challenge. We will always look to find new ways of keeping one step—or, we hope, slightly more than one step—ahead of the challenges that we face.
Mention was also made of the amount of aid that is given to Afghanistan and whether the percentage is less than that given to Bosnia and Kosovo. Considerable aid is going into Afghanistan but the basic infrastructure is very limited. We cannot transform an area just by putting more money into it. We must be able to put in sustainable infrastructure and to co-operate with the Afghans as regards what they can absorb. The commitments that were made recently at the Paris conference show that people are willing to provide aid and support to Afghanistan but that must be done in a way that will produce sustainable and lasting benefits.
The House needs to understand just how difficult it is to patrol the border with Pakistan, which I think is nearly 3,000 kilometres long and comprises some of the most difficult terrain anywhere in the world in terms of altitude and small passes. That is a real difficulty which causes great concern and is a problem on both sides of the border, both for the Pakistanis and the Afghans. Much of what can be done comprises getting better co-operation between those countries, and that is what we have to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Lee, said that perhaps we were too optimistic because there was a thread of optimism running through the Statement. It is a cautious optimism, but if you look at the security situation now compared with that of a couple of years ago you will see that things have changed considerably, as was said in the Statement: nine-tenths of the incidents occur in one-tenth of the country. Therefore, much of Afghanistan is much more peaceful and much calmer than it was.
I understand that some escapees from the Kandahar prison break-out have been recaptured but details are very shaky. In terms of whether the Afghans are receptive to advice, I go back to what I said earlier about our willingness to provide advice on the justice system. That includes prisons but again we are building up a system with a different culture for the future than has perhaps existed in the past. We have to be aware of the difficulties that are involved.
The noble Lord asked whether any FRES-type vehicle would be deployed, were it available in Afghanistan. He should be aware that FRES is a programme for replacing existing vehicles over a number of years with vehicles that will be part of an integrated group, so that they will be compatible and which will have radios and electronic counter measures that do not interfere. It is an important concept for replacing vehicles. On what aircraft will be used, we have no plans to use Typhoon at the moment, although obviously all those things are kept under review.
We understand that there are issues still to be met, but both noble Lords who have spoken have shown that there is concerted support for the basic activities in which we are engaged in Afghanistan.
My Lords, will my noble friend accept that I, like every other Member of the House, echo the condolences that she expressed to the five brave young men of 2 Para who died bravely serving our country. They will be long held in our esteem and memory.
I have a couple of questions on the Statement. First, would it not be of greater assistance if our NATO allies did two things? The first would be to match the sort of expenditure on defence that we and the French are making so that they are in a better position to afford a proper contribution to a mission that they themselves have voted for, and in doing that, it would be helpful if they produced fewer caveats in relation to the deployment of their troops. It is clear that some of the troops of our NATO allies are deployed at less than the optimum if they are deployed in areas in which caveats make them less useful.
Secondly, I heard my noble friend’s answer to the noble Lord, Lord Lee, on the question of the poppy harvest and understand its complexity. But the proportion of the Afghan gross national product that derives from the cultivation of poppies and the illegal production of drugs from them is linked to criminality, as she said, and has a destabilising effect on the redevelopment of Afghanistan. I do not expect her to answer today, but will she undertake to look again at the report of the Senlis Council—a respected international consortium of charities? It examined at some length the process of the drug harvest in Afghanistan and concluded that in circumstances in which there is a global shortage of medical opiates, a useful contribution to the resolution of the drug problem could be the scheme proposed by the Senlis Council for the transfer of those illegal drugs into medical opiates, which would at least have the prospect of providing a realistic income to Afghan farmers who cannot readily replicate the income that they have now with some of the schemes that have been put forward.
My Lords, I know that my noble friend has followed with great interest what has happened in NATO over many years since his days in the Foreign Office and that he follows carefully what happens in Europe. His comment on expenditure on defence by European allies is valid in terms of a comparison, but it would be unwise for any Defence Minister to suggest to other countries exactly what they should be spending on defence. However, the comparison is valid and my noble friend makes his point well, as he does with his point about the caveats that are sometimes made by those who are willing to deploy. I remind my noble friend of what I said earlier: more countries are giving more aid now than happened a few years ago, and we have also been able to get more countries to assist with some of the equipment that is needed. While there have been problems, and we would still like our allies to do more, there has been some improvement, which is important.
In respect of poppies and opium production, my noble friend is right to say that this is a significant part of the Afghan GNP—I think about 30 per cent—and it is linked to criminality and the control that the Taliban has in certain areas. It is destabilising for many; it prevents them getting an alternative existence because of the way in which those factors work together. Yet, when I was in Afghanistan a couple of months ago, real efforts were being made to get people to grow other crops. Wheat was mentioned at that time because the conditions are favourable, and given the world price of wheat, there has to be some potential there.
My noble friend mentioned a global shortage of medical opiates. I have heard that argument before and looked into it. The International Narcotic Control Board says that there is not a problem with the availability of licit opiates, but there have been some production problems with diamorphine. They have been limited, but it is not due to a lack of raw material. According to the Department of Health the situation improved in 2007, which is expected to continue in 2008. Our real efforts should be directed towards bearing down on proper production per se.
My Lords, is it not crucial to the consolidation of our military successes, which we all so greatly admire, that our parallel civilian effort should be planned and delivered by a clear chain of command with a single, identified decision taker at its head? Do the Government accept that? For how long, if at all, has it been in place?
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is quite right to say that we need to plan for the future, and should do so in conjunction with the Afghans. We need to have co-ordination. He will know that Kai Eide has been appointed as the civilian co-ordinator on these matters and that people in the Foreign Office, the MoD and indeed, DfID work closely together. All have representatives in Afghanistan to ensure that there is as much co-ordination as possible.
My Lords, I recently had the great privilege to visit our forces in Afghanistan. As a former soldier, the one word that I come back with is “pride”—immense pride in all that they are doing and how they are doing it. However, as a former adjutant general and the one responsible for personnel, I came back with some concerns that were not reflected in the Statement.
I refer to the sustainment and long-term ability of the Armed Forces to maintain the numbers, standard of training and professional performance over time. The Armed Forces can ill afford to lose people of the calibre of Brigadier Butler who happened to be in my regiment and who was mentioned, and others. It is not just them. I was worried by the haemorrhaging of pilots and skilled crews in the Apache regiment, which is a crucial part of our operation, people in the logistics organisation, the middle piece of regiments—the sort of sergeants’ mess of potential young officers leaving after six years. I did not get the feeling from talking to them that the arrangements needed to maintain sustainment of their regiments into the future were sufficiently well supported. Will the Minister say how happy she is with that position?
My Lords, the noble Lord brings far more experience to this topic than I do and I am glad that he reported back from his visit to Afghanistan saying that pride was the first word that came to his mind. We all have concerns about how we make sure that we do the very best by those who go on operations and risk their lives. We have lost people from the Armed Forces—that has probably always been the case—but the word “haemorrhaging” is not the impression that I have got from talking to people who are directly responsible for our Armed Forces today. We have to make sure that our standards are maintained, that our training is good and that our equipment is the best that we can provide. There is a great deal of confidence that the overall effort is extremely purposeful. Many people feel that they are fulfilling the role they have always wanted to fulfil in making a difference in a vital situation. That satisfaction is what leads to much of the pride and many of those serving in Afghanistan get a lot of job satisfaction, despite all those pressures. We should look after them but the fact that most of them come back feeling that they have done a job that was worth doing is something that we should be reassured by.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on a Statement which bore a close resemblance to the transcript distributed to us in advance, which itself is an index of greater stability and confidence. To revert to what the Statement calls “the civil effect”, what planned complement of personnel do the British NGOs working in the country have and what proportion is being delivered on the ground?
My Lords, the noble Lord hits on a very significant point. We have had to work out how those NGOs that are willing to go to Afghanistan and be deployed there are able to work throughout the country rather than only in certain areas. This is one of the difficulties that we have had because some areas have been extremely dangerous and the overall picture has been somewhat patchy. As I said earlier, 90 per cent of the violence is now in just 10 per cent of the country, so we can make a difference throughout a wider area. In terms of engineering and the development of water and hospitals, we have had a good deal of co-operation from a large number of NGOs that are making a difference to the lives of ordinary people in Afghanistan.
My Lords, it seems a long time now since the then Foreign Secretary, when sending our troops into Afghanistan, said that he hoped they would not be there for long and could leave without firing a shot. Do the Government have any estimates of how long British troops are likely to remain in Afghanistan, of the number of killed and injured which will be tolerated, and of the total cost of the operation over the estimated time? Finally, I do not think that the Minister answered the question put to her by the noble Lord, Lord Lee, about the threat of President Karzai to commit troops across the border in Afghanistan.
My Lords, on the last point I said that the problems of the border could not be solved simply by patrolling that border. Discussions and negotiations were needed between the two countries, which face similar problems on either side of that border.
We are not giving a target for how long we will remain in Afghanistan. We have said that this is going to take a long time. Nor have we given a target for the total cost. We should not underestimate the nature of the task. Afghanistan has been very unstable for a long time. It is, as I said earlier, the fourth poorest country in the world, so it will take a great effort on the part of a large number of Governments—not just Britain by any means—to turn that country round. The noble Lord suggests that we should think of the total cost. However, we also have to consider what the cost would be of not being in Afghanistan, in terms not just of the drug issues, since it would allow even more opium to be produced, but of harbouring terrorists, because we have seen in the past what happens if organisations such as al-Qaeda have a free haven. The costs of not being involved in Afghanistan would be very great indeed.
My Lords, the Statement says:
“We will continue to train the Afghan National Police”.
Can the Minister clear up whether this means throughout the whole of Afghanistan or only within the British military areas of responsibility? I understood that Germany was taking the lead on police training. Does that continue? Could the noble Baroness say whether Britain is securing a fair share of the $2 billion per year police training budget? Has police training at least started in Helmand and Kandahar provinces?
My Lords, we are involved in police training, just as we are involved in training the Afghan National Army. Different countries are willing to take a lead on different issues, and as the noble Lord points out, Germany has said that this is one of the areas that it feels comfortable taking on. I cannot give him the apportionment of the costs off the top of my head but I will write to him. Police training is taking place in the south as well as in other areas.
My Lords, in answer to a question about the sustainability of the operations, and particularly the retention of our troops, the noble Baroness said: “We”—I take it she meant Her Majesty’s Government—
“will do all we can to ensure that”.
Would that include paying our soldiers a proper rate of pay?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will know that last year’s pay increase for the Armed Forces was considerably above that for the rest of the public sector. We should be proud of that, and we have this year accepted the recommendation of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. We have done many other things to help those on operations and I am not ashamed of and do not apologise for the priority that we have given to supporting our Armed Forces.
My Lords, given that this is a NATO operation, mandated and underwritten in international law by a Security Council resolution, it is absolutely right that, as we have the finest forces in the world, we should contribute to it, provided that the Government are satisfied that we have sufficient personnel and equipment to fulfil the role properly. But is there any reason why we should be paying the cost of our military contribution? Would it not be much fairer if all the members of NATO, including the countries which make a military contribution, paid into a fund in proportion to their GDP to finance the entire NATO military operation, and that those countries which make a contribution should be fully refunded from that fund?
My Lords, that is an interesting suggestion and one that I have not heard. I reiterate that 40 nations now contribute to the operations in Afghanistan. That is a significant improvement on the early days and we look to build on that. More people are going some way to pull their weight.
My Lords, when I was in Afghanistan a couple of months ago, I visited our field hospital. I was surprised by the facilities there, how modern, up to date and advanced they were, and I heard no complaints whatever from any of our Armed Forces that there was any shortage. Our Armed Forces are well looked after on operations and some of our developments have made them the leading armed forces in the world when it comes to making sure that proper attention is given to those deployed.