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Afghanistan: National Army

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 9 October 2008

My Lords, we welcome the recent decision taken by the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board to increase the size of the Afghan national army from 80,000 to 122,000. Building Afghanistan’s capacity to provide security for its people remains key to success. The UK therefore supports ANA expansion both of its combat capabilities and in key supporting elements such as engineering, intelligence and logistics.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. The ANA is absolutely vital to the future of Afghanistan; there will never be a successful Afghan Government without a successful army. However, the Taliban are luring huge numbers of defectors from the ANA by doubling their very low pay. In the light of all the money pouring into Afghanistan, what assistance are Her Majesty’s Government giving to the Afghan Government to ensure that ANA soldiers are fully and regularly paid?

My Lords, there has been no problem recruiting people to the Afghan army. The difficulty is making sure that we have a spread across the country of people with different backgrounds speaking different languages. The US directly takes on responsibility for payment of the army but we put in quite a significant sum both in the assistance we give and in direct help for security sector reform. We have spent some £37 million on that in the past five or six years. That has gone to specific targets both at the national level, to ensure that the structures there are correct, with a national security adviser, and at the more localised level.

My Lords, if it is accepted that we cannot win this conflict through straightforward military means alone, what are the Government doing to enhance the position of the Afghan police force, which is largely locally recruited and apparently has major problems with corruption? Could not the successful army models be applied there?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that winning the situation in Iraq is not only a military issue, it is also about development, good governance and the rule of law; and assisting in the building of a successful police force is very important indeed. At present, 80,000 people in the Afghan national police force have been trained by external advisors. There is a problem with capabilities and there have been problems of corruption, but we are helping as are many other countries. This is one of the areas where burden sharing could contribute more to helping the situation.

My Lords, the thrust of my noble friend’s question went not to the recruiting of the Afghan army but to its retention, making the point that the Taliban are luring large numbers of Afghan soldiers away. What are we doing to counter that?

My Lords, what we are doing on training, mentoring and helping on the ground to create the right structures is extremely important. There is not in Afghanistan a tradition of a successful police force as we would recognise it, so an awful lot of work has had to be undertaken. As I say, 80,000 people have been trained, but they are not all functioning at the level that we would expect. There is a lot to be done on the police force and on the army. We have made more headway with the army so that the defectors are not as numerous as they were. Recruitment is not a problem, as I said, so it will be possible to reach the target figures on expansion from 80,000 to 122,000. It is not expected to happen overnight but to be rolled out over the next six years or so.

My Lords, aside from building up the Afghan national army, do Her Majesty’s Government support the views of the American commanding general, General McKiernan, that this whole situation will need a considerable increase in troop commitments by NATO, by the Americans and by all others, and that it will take many, many years to deliver the kind of success on the military side alone that will allow some political success as well?

My Lords, I think that the discussions we had on Monday showed very clearly that this is not simply a military operation, and it is not one that will be achieved very quickly. As I mentioned earlier, we must have good governance and the rule of law, something which is not yet established throughout Afghanistan. So we have to contribute to the situation on many fronts, including economic development. We cannot do that alone, so we are doing it with a wide range of nations; I think that 40 nations are involved in the effort in Afghanistan. We are contributing significantly both in policy terms and on the military side. It will not happen overnight, but the structures that we are putting in place—in the current discussions in Budapest, for example—will help to consolidate our position.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the ANA has taken over responsibility for Kabul? It is still a very safe city to live in, but why is the airport becoming more vulnerable to air attack? Whose responsibility is that?

My Lords, the Afghan national security forces took over responsibility for Kabul on 28 August. That was a significant step forward and shows the improvements that they have made in the past few years. As a result, some of the insurgents have attempted to test just how good they are and how resilient they can be. That is why we have had an increase in attempts in the surrounding area to try to destabilise this step forward. We are still offering mentoring and training as part of the ISAF force in that area. It is important that we continue to do so throughout Afghanistan because the Afghan national army will not be able to take over all responsibilities within a very short timescale.