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Afghanistan: Military Equipment

Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 11 February 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps are being taken to prevent the destruction of vehicles and equipment for NATO and the British Armed Forces in transit to Afghanistan; and whether the cost of replacing destroyed vehicles and equipment destined for the British Armed Forces will in future be met from the contingency reserve.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I draw attention to my non-pecuniary interest listed in the register of interests.

My Lords, all sensitive or high-value military equipment and vehicles are transported from the UK to bases in Afghanistan by air in order to prevent their theft or destruction en route. The transportation of some lower-value and non-sensitive vehicles and equipment to theatre is contracted out to commercial suppliers which are responsible for providing security en route. The cost of replacing any MoD vehicle or equipment lost in transit to a theatre of operation would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that a shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan, and some transport aircraft, has greatly increased our reliance on transportation of supplies to our forces? Is it the case that a helicopter that is shot down will be replaced with extra funding by the Government but that a helicopter that is worn out by wear and tear will not be replaced with any additional funding?

My Lords, I do not accept that there is increased reliance on surface operation because of any limitation on helicopters. Commanders on the ground have sufficient assets to do key tasks. The replacement of a helicopter that is lost in combat would undoubtedly be covered from the reserve. The overall net cost of operations, as I understand it, is met from the reserve. If that is in any detail incorrect, I will write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, at last weekend’s annual security conference in Munich, the United States special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, said, on Afghanistan:

“I have never seen anything like the mess we have inherited”.

General Petraeus said that the war in Afghanistan had,

“deteriorated markedly in the past two years”,

and warned of a downward spiral of security. Do Her Majesty’s Government agree with these assessments?

My Lords, the noble Lord puts on my shoulders the heavy burden of starting a verbal war between ourselves and our greatest ally. We believe that what we are doing in Afghanistan is right and that it is important to be there. Our strategy is to support the Afghan Government to deliver security and political, social and economic developments for Afghanistan. We lead the civil military mission in Helmand and we believe in working with the Afghan Government to deliver post-conflict reconstruction.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Pakistan is a frontline state in the war on terror and does he agree that the Pakistani army needs to be well equipped? The Taliban has better equipment and better trained people than even the Pakistani army. Recent reports said that the Pakistani army is fighting a war in sandals and shalwar kameez because it cannot afford shoes and proper rifles. I understand that the Government of Pakistan have asked for armoured vehicles. Will Her Majesty’s Government provide those armoured vehicles and equipment to the Government of Pakistan?

My Lords, I am afraid that I have no knowledge of any request that the Pakistani Government may have made. I know that we consider our relationship with Pakistan, and the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, to be crucial, and I believe that those relations go well. If we have received any requests that can be put in the public domain, I will write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, when equipment is in the care of a civil contractor and is lost, who is responsible for that financial loss? Is it the contractor or is the stuff insured? Where does the responsibility lie?

My Lords, the general answer is that the responsibility lies with the contractor, but there is very little equipment of any value—only large vehicles which have been de-weaponed and desensitised. The expensive stuff travels by air. As I say, my general understanding is that the responsibility is in the hands of the contractor. If there is any detailed difference from that, I will write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, could the Minister possibly answer the question put by my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas about whether it is the case that money is found to replace a helicopter that has been destroyed in combat but that that is not the case where a helicopter is worn out? If that is so, why?

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord feels that I did not answer the question, but I responded as far as I could. If a helicopter is shot down, the situation is clear. My understanding is that, generally speaking, the net cost of the war is met from the reserves.

I am told that that is not an answer, but it seems to me that a worn-out helicopter would be a net cost of the war, and therefore the war is financed as it goes along from the reserve. The question sounds simple, but the mechanisms here are complex. I must respond to such a complex question very carefully, and I can only do that in writing.