My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, let me begin this Statement on Afghanistan by once more paying tribute to our Armed Forces.
Since 2001, our forces have been fighting in Afghanistan one of the longest military campaigns of recent times—longer, indeed, than the world wars of the last century—as part of our century’s fight against global terrorism. At all times, our Armed Forces have shown the highest professionalism, dedication and courage, which make them the most admired and best in the world. They have endured heavy and tragic casualties and deserve our utmost gratitude. Let me acknowledge the presence as visitors to the House today of members of 19 Brigade who have served with distinction in Afghanistan.
Decisions to continue military action are as critical as those that commence military action. There are two prior questions that people ask of our mission with our American and coalition allies in Afghanistan: one about the present, one about the future. Rightly, both questions have to be answered. The first is why, today, our Armed Forces are in Afghanistan. The second is how and when Afghanistan can take responsibility for its own security so that our troops can come home.
The origins of our intervention in Afghanistan and the scale of the terrorist threat are known to us all. Around the world, thousands of men and women of all religions, including thousands of the Muslim faith, have been murdered in al-Qaeda outrages. The London 7 July bombings cost 52 lives and injured over 750 people. Most recently, we have seen the 2006 Heathrow liquid bombs plot, the 2007 London and Glasgow bombings and this year an al-Qaeda-inspired conspiracy to target shopping centres. There are now over 120 convicted terrorists serving sentences in British prisons. The security services report to me weekly on the hundreds of would-be terrorists who seek to operate within and to target our country.
Now, to counter this ever present threat we have, since 2001, trebled the resources available to our intelligence services. We have more than doubled the number of operatives and today nearly twice as many regular police officers are engaged in full-time work to counter the terrorist threat. Suspect travellers are now checked at the border in real time against watch lists and an increasing number are excluded on national security grounds from Britain. Because this is a fight for hearts and minds against violent extremism and those ideologies that would pervert the true Islamic faith, we have stepped up our work with our allies to expose the damage that murderous and violent ideologies do and to support those working across all faiths to uphold the common ground of dignity, tolerance and respect for all.
Our security in the UK and our effort to counter terrorists and their propaganda have been and continue to be strengthened at all levels. Faced with the terrorist threat, some have argued that the most effective strategy is simply to defend Britain within our own borders—a fortress Britain. Some have asked why British troops are in Afghanistan at all if al-Qaeda can organise in Britain, in Somalia, in Yemen, in other places and even in internet chatrooms in every part of the world. But as long as the Afghan-Pakistan border areas are the location of choice for al-Qaeda and the epicentre of global terrorism, it is the Government’s judgment that we must address the terrorist threat at its source. Indeed, as long as three-quarters of the most serious terrorist plots against Britain have links to these Pakistan-Afghan border areas, we should be failing in our duty if we did not work with our allies to deal with the problem where it starts. A more stable and secure Afghanistan and Pakistan will help to ensure a safer Britain.
Since 2001, progress has been made in driving al-Qaeda into the mountains of Waziristan. Today, for the first time since 2001, tens of thousands of Pakistan troops are now in Waziristan and, with President Obama, I have been urging Pakistan’s leadership, most recently in a conversation with President Zardari on Saturday, to step up its efforts not just against the Pakistan Taliban in this region but also against al-Qaeda.
As an international community, we must intensify our support for the action of the Pakistan authorities, improve co-operation with Pakistan in the months ahead and press ahead with our development programme amounting to two-thirds of a billion pounds over four years, focused increasingly on the border areas and on encouraging the development of schools to counter the propaganda of madrassahs. It is essential that progress in driving al-Qaeda from Afghanistan is matched by actions not simply to isolate but to defeat al-Qaeda within Pakistan.
Success in driving al-Qaeda into Waziristan has led some to propose that it is now sufficient simply to target al-Qaeda there. To explain why this is an inadequate response we must understand the al-Qaeda network, its long-standing links with the Afghan Taliban and the extent to which al-Qaeda continues to seek, as in the past, a Taliban-controlled permissive Afghanistan, which would allow it unfettered opportunities to plan and launch with impunity its attacks on Britain and other countries. Our task is to prevent the Taliban from giving al-Qaeda that safe haven.
While stabilising Afghanistan will not solve all our challenges in Pakistan and elsewhere, instability in Afghanistan can only increase the risk of conflagration where the rest of the world can least afford it. This is why the safety of people on the streets of Britain requires us to deny al-Qaeda the space to operate across Pakistan and the option of returning to operate in Afghanistan. This is the considered view of the 43-nation coalition, which is a unique force of NATO and non-NATO members led by the United States of America and supported by clear United Nations resolutions. Today, our shared purpose is the same as in 2001—that is, to deny al-Qaeda space to operate. But our approach to achieving this has now to be different.
In December 2007, our Government became one of the first to suggest that Afghanistan must be prepared to take far greater control of its own security. Since then we have consistently argued that to weaken the Taliban we have to strengthen the Afghan Government at national level and at local level. The approach is built on our knowledge that the Taliban has only minority support among the Afghan people and our judgment that the long-term security of Afghanistan is best secured by training the Afghan army and police, by building up civilian government at national and local level and through economic development giving Afghans a stake in their future. This has to be supported by stronger international civilian leadership to work alongside General McChrystal to deliver the civilian aspects of this strategy.
It is an outline programme for the transfer of lead security responsibility to the Afghans, district by district and province by province, with the first districts and provinces potentially being handed over during next year. Let us be clear that this process will depend on the Afghans being ready to take responsibility and control: first, through more Afghan troops; secondly, through better policing; thirdly, through more effective local and national government; and, fourthly, by giving Afghans, as I said, a stronger stake in their economic future.
I can also say that over time our objective is to work for and to encourage a new set of relationships between Afghanistan and its neighbours, based on their guarantee of non-interference in Afghanistan’s affairs and on a commitment to fostering not only its long-term economic and cultural links with other powers in the region but immediate confidence-building security measures from which we can all benefit.
So I want the London conference on Afghanistan, to be held on 28 January, which President Karzai and the Secretary-General of the United Nations have confirmed that they will attend, to unite the international community behind a programme now and for the longer term to help the Afghans to secure and govern their own country. Against this background, our coalition military strategy is essentially to create the space for an effective political strategy to work, weakening the Taliban by strengthening Afghanistan itself—a military surge, yes, but complemented by a political surge that is, most of all, an Afghan surge.
Today, I want to set out the benchmarks for this approach and in that context to give details of the numbers and deployment of our Armed Forces. First, over the coming year the coalition seeks a major expansion of the Afghan army from 90,000 to 134,000. We expect this surge in recruitment to allow an extra 10,000 troops to be deployed in Helmand, of which 5,000 will be trained and partnered by British forces. We can start now and 600 Afghan soldiers will arrive in Helmand this month—an extra company for each Afghan battalion there. A further 10 Afghan companies —1,000 more troops—will soon reinforce the Afghan army’s 205 Corps across southern Afghanistan. Increasingly, therefore, it will be Afghan forces who clear and hold ground as they prepare for the time when they can assume responsibility for their own security.
Secondly, within the next six months the international community will agree with President Karzai’s Government a police reform plan. We have agreed that, in Helmand, Afghan police numbers will increase immediately to 4,100, with further increases to follow. By mid-2010, the capacity of the Helmand police training centre that we have established in Lashkar Gah will be doubled and we will double the numbers of police trainers provided by the Royal Military Police from 100 this year to 200 next year.
Thirdly, on an effective and accountable local administration, over the next nine months President Karzai will be expected to implement, with our support and that of our international partners, far-reaching reforms to ensure that from now on all 400 provinces and districts have a governor who is appointed on merit, is free from corruption and has clearly defined roles, skills and resources. District community shuras have been formed in Nad Ali, Garmsir, Gereshk and Nawa, with more to come. Nationwide, the number of community development councils will increase within two years from 22,000 to over 30,000.
The fourth benchmark is a clean, effective and inclusive national Government in Kabul—one that reaches out to political leaders and citizens from all strands of Afghan society. While President Karzai has agreed with us on the priority of tackling corruption with a new anti-corruption task force and, last week, the arrest of 12 leading officials, we recognise that the test is not initiatives but delivery on the ground and we will monitor carefully what President Karzai does on the ground. We support President Karzai’s call for a Loya Jirga and for reconciliation. It is the task of military forces—international and Afghan—to weaken and pressurise the insurgency, but it is right and essential that this work is combined with the offer of a way forward for those prepared to renounce violence and to choose to join the political process. Reintegration can be led, and must be led, only by Afghans themselves at both national and local levels.
For Afghanistan to enjoy stability in the future, farmers and working people in towns and villages must have a greater stake in the economic future: a major Afghan-led programme backed by significant funding to identify the likely growth areas in the Afghan economy and to provide Afghans with credible economic alternatives to poppy and the insurgency. With 20 per cent more land growing wheat, this year’s wheat harvest is expected to be the highest in 30 years. Programmes funded by our development department will this year create 20,000 jobs and by 2013 will raise the incomes of 200,000 people.
I turn now to the details of our force levels and deployments. In my Statement to the House on 14 October, I said that to support our strategy of Afghanisation, and in particular to train more Afghan soldiers and police while at the same time maintaining the security of our forces, the Government had agreed in principle a new force level of 9,500 to be implemented once three conditions were met. I can report on each of these conditions.
First, I made it clear that we would increase the number of British personnel in Afghanistan only if we were assured that it would continue to be the case that every soldier and unit deployed is fully equipped for the operations that they are asked to undertake. At this morning’s meeting of the Afghanistan and Pakistan national security committee, the Chief of the Defence Staff gave the assurance that this condition has been met both for the existing force and for the additional 500 troops. The chief reported on the continuing delivery of new equipment. Newly arrived Merlin helicopters have today been given the ‘green light’ for operations in Afghanistan, one month ahead of schedule. Compared with three years ago, we have doubled helicopter flying hours, and this will increase by a further 20 per cent in the coming months.
By the end of the year, the number of heavily armoured, mine-resistant Mastiff vehicles will have almost doubled compared with August. The number of Ridgeback vehicles, a smaller and more agile version of the Mastiff, will have increased by over 75 per cent. By the spring of next year, they will be joined by more Mastiffs adapted for explosive disposal work, along with new Warthog tracked vehicles—showing the results of our investment over the last three years of more than £1 billion from the Treasury reserve in vehicles for Afghanistan. By the end of this year also, the build-up of a 200-strong counter-IED task force, along with dedicated necessary equipment, will be complete. In addition, aerial surveillance hours available to commanders have increased by over 40 per cent. A further 200 specialist troops will be deployed against IEDs by spring 2010.
Three years ago, equipment and support for our forces deployed to Afghanistan, funded from the Treasury reserve, was estimated at around £190,000 for each individual there. This year it is more than double that—around £400,000 and still rising. The best possible support and equipment is what we owe those who are fighting for our country in Afghanistan.
Secondly, I said that our contribution of 9,500 troops must be part of an agreed approach across the international coalition, with all countries bearing their share—a coalition whose principal member, and largest troop contributor, is of course the United States of America. We continue regular discussions with the President and his team about the coalition’s evolving strategy. America, as everyone knows, will make an announcement tomorrow. The Secretary-General of NATO, to whose work I pay tribute, reports that, in addition to the US and the UK, eight countries have already made offers of additional troops and other countries are likely to follow.
It is often said that America and Britain are fighting alone. This is wrong. Excluding America and Britain, the number of international coalition troops will have risen from 16,000 in January 2007 to around 30,000 soon. I believe that over the coming months even more countries will respond and that our effort in Helmand will benefit. Last year, total international force levels in the province were around 7,000. Now they will be above 20,000, three times what they were.
Our third condition for deploying additional British troops was that the military effort of the international coalition must be matched by Afghan effort. President Karzai and his Defence Minister have assured us not only that 5,000 members of the new Afghan national army corps will be deployed to Helmand, to be partnered by British troops during 2010, but that additional recruits will arrive for training in the next few weeks.
With the three conditions now met, I can confirm that we will move to a new force level of 9,500. The extra troops will deploy in early December to thicken the UK troop presence in central Helmand and, from late January, they will make the transition to the partnering role that we envisage for them. For understandable reasons of operational security, we shall continue to withhold information about their deployment and the nature of activities of our Special Forces. But at this time of increasing international effort, it is right to give a more comprehensive account of our total military commitment to the Afghanistan campaign. I believe that the British people have a right to know and deserve the assurance that our highly professional, widely respected and extraordinarily brave Special Forces are playing their full role not only in force protection but also in taking the fight directly to the Taliban, working in theatre alongside our Regular Forces. I want the whole country to pay tribute to them. Taking into account these Special Forces, their supporting troops and the increases announced today, our total military effort in Afghanistan will be in excess of 10,000 troops.
This force level enables us to deliver our military strategy of bringing security to the population. It will support our political strategy of strengthening the Afghan Government at national and local level as they in return take steps to govern in a clearer, more effective and more inclusive way. It will accelerate the development of the Afghan army and police, so that in time they can take over responsibility for security and thus ensure that our troops can come home.
We are ensuring as best we can the safety of our forces. We are today setting benchmarks for Afghanistan to meet. In the last few months, we have worked hard to achieve a stronger military presence across the coalition, with a more equal sharing of the burden. In all we do, we will never forget the fundamental truth of this military campaign: that keeping the streets of our country free from terrorism is our utmost responsibility and that, for a safe Britain, we need a stable Afghanistan. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. It follows the recent meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government, which in itself used to merit a Statement. On that point, does the noble Baroness share my dismay at a contribution made as part of a submission to a Royal Commonwealth Society study saying that the Commonwealth is fading away as, I quote,
“a survivor of the old British empire”?
Is not the point of the Commonwealth that it long ago transformed those relics into a forward-looking, international force for good? Is not the truth of it that while other 20th century global institutions are failing, the Commonwealth is clearly a network for the future and a strong global platform for both small and large, rich and poor states? Credit should go to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for their focus on climate change and its significance to the world’s poorest nations, thus putting the Commonwealth at the heart of the debate.
There is a Commonwealth dimension to almost every international issue, and that includes Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some 235 British service and Ministry of Defence personnel have lost their lives in Afghanistan, while many more have been injured. Our forces are doing an extraordinary job. They have the support of the people of this country who are well able to separate doubts about the clarity of past political strategies from support for our service men and women in action.
The rationale for our presence in Afghanistan is to enable Afghans to look after their own security without their territory being a base for terrorist danger to the rest of the world. That is what I take the Prime Minister to mean when he says that the safety of British streets starts on the old North West Frontier. We need clarity of mission, and in so far as we now have it, we welcome it. But when the 500 additional British troops announced today were first announced by the Prime Minister on 14 October, he set three conditions on their deployment, the first of which was more burden-sharing among NATO allies. The Statement repeats that eight countries stand ready to help. Which countries have pledged more troops, how many, when will they be deployed and how many of them will go to Helmand?
The second condition was that our forces had the necessary equipment. I welcome the further news about helicopters. It would be hard, though I fear justified, to say that this is desperately belated. Can the noble Baroness say how, as a result of this announcement, our airlift and support capacity will compare with that of US forces?
The third condition was that additional Afghan forces would deploy to Helmand. We hear talk of 5,000 being ready in 12 months, and we heard in the Statement of others arriving for training. Are these part of the 5,000 or are they part of the striking 50 per cent increase in the Afghan army promised in one year? Exactly how many of them will deploy to the front line in Helmand, and when?
We welcome, of course, the Prime Minister’s tough talk about the responsibilities of the Karzai Government. We need clean government, but that is never easy to believe in after an election disfigured by massive vote-rigging. Why is it only now, some three and a half years after our forces arrived in Helmand, that we are setting out such conditions? Can the noble Baroness clarify the position on provincial governors? The Prime Minister said that some of them must be replaced, but how many, and how exactly is that going to be done?
How will the proposed London conference ensure that the international community pursues a more united strategy? Will a senior figure be appointed to drive forward the political strategy, as happened with the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, in the Balkans? After all, we hear that the First Secretary of State is pressing for an international role. Will the Prime Minister take up our suggestion to create a permanent contact group of Afghanistan’s neighbours?
What role will Pakistan play in the London conference? In October, the Prime Minister praised Pakistan, saying that it was,
“planning how to deal with not only the Pakistan Taliban but the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda itself”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/11/09; col. 305.]
Now the Prime Minister has gone out of his way, across the media of the world, to criticise Pakistan for failing to deal with al-Qaeda. What exactly is the Government’s appraisal of Pakistan’s role? Can the noble Baroness clarify current thinking on contact with the Taliban? At some point, is not a reconciliation programme with fighters who can be brought in from the hills a key need? What do the Government believe should happen to the insurgency leaders?
At the Trinidad summit, the Prime Minister spoke about timetables. He said that he wants the London conference to decide the conditions for transferring provinces and districts to Afghan control. He said that he sees potential for some districts and provinces being transferred to Afghan security lead by the end of 2010. He had previously said that this would be possible for one or two districts in Helmand. What are the prospects of the criteria being met? We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, as soon as their job is done, but does the noble Baroness agree that it is vital that we do not send signals to our enemies that the outcome will be decided not by hard-headed appraisal of progress on the ground but by the ticking of an artificial timetable set thousands of miles away? If the Government’s objectives and motivations are muddled they will not easily be forgiven by the British people.
My Lords, this is a long and detailed Statement, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has asked specific questions of the Minister. The Liberal Democrat policy on Afghanistan has always been that we should do it properly or not at all. It is of interest that we should get such a detailed Statement eight years into a war. We have had probably more Statements from the Prime Minister in the past three months than in the past three years. Perhaps that is because of a belated realisation that public support for the war can be sustained only if there is clarity of purpose and an assurance that, at long last, our troops are getting the equipment and logistical support to do the work that is asked of them. It is very easy to pay tribute to our troops because they have indeed done a magnificent job. I do not know why the figure of 500 extra troops has been plucked out. Was it as a result of a request from the military on the ground, a political decision or a bit of both?
It is worth while to say that there now appears to be a clear strategy of Afghanisation of military, civilian, policing and development activities, but with no absolute timescale. I share the belief of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that you cannot put a calendar timescale on this, but it seems to be going in the right direction. Another key factor in improving public opinion would be if the new troop commitments from our allies deliver through into reality. There is no doubt that public support for this war was waning on the idea that only we and the Americans were serious about it. The figure of 43 nations is bandied around as a kind of comfort blanket but, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, it would be interesting to know which eight nations are referred to and what troops they are committing.
At the Commonwealth conference, the Prime Minister said some rather harsh things about the Pakistan effort. What assurances do we have that there is a united front between the Pakistan Government, army and intelligence services in facing the threat to their country? We accept that a threat to Pakistan is now on the agenda as well as the threat to our own country.
The Statement seems to indicate an acceptance that there is a moderate element to the Taliban. It will be interesting to see how links and offers of involvement with that moderate element will be furthered.
Will the conference of 28 January involve only existing coalition partners or will an attempt be made to involve any of the other regional powers? As the Prime Minister emphasised, part of the solution will involve the other regional powers and perhaps their involvement in the 28 January conference, if only at the margins, will provide a way forward.
As I said, it is easy to pay tribute to our troops because they have done a magnificent job. If this is the start of trying to do it properly, then we welcome the Statement as such. However, to coin a phrase, the test will be in delivery, delivery, delivery.
My Lords, I am grateful for the broad support of both noble Lords opposite. I note the points made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about doing it properly or not at all; that we are all in this together and we should all support it. However, the noble Lord was then rather critical about what the Government have done to try to engage the wider population in support for the war in Afghanistan and for what our troops are doing. I understand why the noble Lord said that, but it is not only a matter for the Government. Although, of course, we lead on this, it is incumbent on all parties who support the war in Afghanistan to make more of an effort to get out and explain to the public why it is crucial. This is something on which not only the Government but all parties fall down, and the more we can work together on it the better.
I note the dismay of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the report which suggested that the Commonwealth is fading away. I do not agree with the sentiments expressed in that report. Indeed, the successful Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago would argue against a feeling of dismay. Indeed, the Commonwealth is growing in numbers and in stature.
I am glad that the clarity of mission is now shared. Noble Lords have asked how many Afghan troops will be going to Helmand to train and how many will fight alongside our troops. As the Prime Minister said, 600 additional Afghan troops are arriving in Helmand at the moment, and a further 1,000 will soon arrive across the whole of the south. All these troops will operate alongside ISAF against the insurgency and will be trained and mentored by it, increasing their capability to operate without direct ISAF support.
Transfer of districts in Helmand is a gradual process and the pace will vary from area to area. It is clear that it depends on conditions on the ground and will be done only when all the necessary conditions are met. We hope that there will be a push-ahead next year following development of the process at the London conference.
We will continue to work with the Afghan Government to improve sub-national governance, supporting the independent directorate of local governance to help extend the reach of line ministries into the provinces and districts. We will continue to channel funds—currently, more than 50 per cent—through the Afghan Government to help build their capacity to deliver. However, when governance will be improved is to some extent dependent on the Afghans themselves and Afghanisation.
Both noble Lords asked which countries will send more troops. As indicated in the Statement, the number of international coalition troops, excluding those from America and Britain, will soon have risen to around 30,000 from 16,000 in 2007. That is something to celebrate. Which countries will send more troops is a matter for them, but we have always made it clear that all ISAF partners should bear their fair share of the operational burden in Afghanistan, and we shall continue to call on European allies to do so. We have worked closely with our NATO and non-NATO allies in helping them to determine how they can best increase their contribution.
On whether the Karzai Government were elected by fraud, the elections, while not perfect, were credible. The Afghan Independent Election Commission worked with the Electoral Complaints Commission to investigate and remove fraudulent votes. We are confident that the results reflect the will of the Afghan people.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked where the figure of 500 troops came from and whether it was a military or political decision. The decision was taken by the Prime Minister, but it was based, as it should be, on senior military advice. The additional 500 troops are required by the military to thicken the UK presence in Helmand, improving security there, and to train in partnership with Afghan forces, improving their capacity.
The noble Lord returned, perhaps understandably in the light of all the media interest, to whether our troops have the necessary support in terms of equipment. Just last week, I met 20 or so wives and partners of infantrymen from the 4th Battalion The Rifles. As with every person from a military family whom I meet, I said, “Tell me the truth. I read the newspapers; I hear what the Prime Minister is saying. Tell me the truth”. All of them to a woman—there were no men—said, “Our menfolk out there are better equipped now than they ever have been”. I said, “But I hear and read stories about troops buying their own equipment”. They said, “Well, yes, sometimes, our men buy their own boots, but it is not because the boots they have are inadequate; it is just that, from time to time, they find boots which for them, personally, are more comfortable. But it is nothing to do with the inadequacy of the equipment that is provided”. It is very important to emphasise that point.
They also said that their menfolk had recently received new, much lighter body armour which is as good as any armour that the Americans have in their usual kit. I am therefore very confident that our troops are properly looked after in terms of having all the equipment that they need. The assurance that the Prime Minister was given today by the Chief of the Defence Staff that the troops have the requisite equipment to fulfil their duties in Afghanistan, and the fact that the three conditions have been met, are important steps forward.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement. Along with other Members of this House and Members of another place, I visited Afghanistan in February of this year. I think that all of us were enormously impressed by the professionalism, to say nothing of the courage, of our troops there. They have undoubtedly suffered deaths and, perhaps more worrying, sometimes horrific injuries for the benefit of all of us.
The Statement makes it clear that the strategy is to deny al-Qaeda a permissive base from which to conduct and launch terrorist operations and for training, and that, for that to happen, there has to be a space for a stable Afghanistan to work. Perhaps I may ask my noble friend about two issues. The first relates to governance, because it is clear that it is key to the strategy. There are worrying aspects to it: the flawed presidential election; the endemic corruption, not only at the higher level but also, worryingly, within the Afghan police; and concern about some of the laws that have been proposed. How is progress on governance to be measured? Will my noble friend give a commitment to a regular review and report-back by the Government to Parliament on how governance is being strengthened and what progress is being made?
Secondly, does she agree that, if successful, the benefits of the strategy to the Afghan people are obvious in terms of economic progress and greater freedom? These are issues which I believe the British people would endorse. Does my noble friend agree also that our strategy should be not just to deny terrorism but also to improve life for the Afghan people?
My Lords, I was glad to learn of my noble friend’s visit to Afghanistan. Governance is a key issue for the success of the whole endeavour, but it is key also to the proper functioning of Afghan society and to its becoming the kind of society which will enable the country to flourish. My noble friend asked how progress will be measured on the ground. I am sure that progress will be measured and monitored by both the military and the many civilians who now work in Afghanistan on governance issues. I am sure that they will regularly report to government. When I can, I shall certainly report back to the House on these issues. I am also confident that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will maintain very close contact with President Karzai to try to ensure that all his good words during the past few days are turned into deeds and deliverables. Denying terrorism is the most important aspect of the war in which we are engaged, but I agree that the results must also improve the lot of the Afghan people.
Perhaps I may answer a question to which I did not respond earlier, relating to the London conference and Pakistan. Afghanistan’s neighbours will be invited to the London conference. Pakistan is a key neighbour, particularly given the Prime Minister’s focus on the regional dimension, and will of course be invited to participate.
My Lords, will the Leader of the House say a little more about the reference to the eight states within the coalition other than the UK and the United States that are sending extra resources? Will those resources be similar to ones from the past, which have referred to canteens and hospitals, rather than sharp combat? That is what is needed, rather than some of the other things. Secondly, the noble Baroness will know that for a long time it has been very clear that Pakistan has not been delivering the goods with regard to the border areas. The Prime Minister has at last come out and made this a public issue, but why did he not do it a long time ago?
My Lords, on the eight states in the coalition who will add to the numbers in the coalition in Afghanistan, I do not have any further details at the moment. I shall certainly write to the noble Lord and all noble Lords who are participating in this debate. The noble Lord is correct that more people engaged in sharp combat, as he puts it, are important. However, it is also important for other countries to be encouraged to provide the softer power, because we need both—although I wholly endorse his view that sharp combat troops are necessary.
The Prime Minister has been working very closely with Pakistan, trying to ensure that it takes the necessary action. We have been and continue to be close to the Government of Pakistan and try to influence them wherever possible. It has got to a situation now in which it is clear that action is needed but, over the past few months, there have been some successful advances in Pakistan with regard to fighting al-Qaeda.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I am interested in the Statement—but I am interested, too, in its timing. We are told that tomorrow we can expect the long-awaited statement from President Obama, and I should have thought that there would have been merit in a statement from our own Government coinciding with that and linking with it, discussing what we are doing in a united operation.
My question to the Minister is about sustainment. While, like other noble Lords, I welcome the assurance from the Chief of the Defence Staff that the equipment is there for the additional troops who are going to Afghanistan—as I welcome the Minister’s report about what people say about the quality of equipment—I am worried about sustainment. There are stories about the fact that equipment bought from the urgent operational requirement budget is asked back from the MoD, leading to extra strains on the budget. The other day there was a report of the withdrawal of money for training the Territorial Army. Can the Minister assure us that the additional money needed to provide this equipment will be provided in future to ensure that the extra equipment is sustained for the extra troops in Afghanistan in the years to come?
My Lords, if my right honourable friend the Prime Minister had waited until tomorrow to deliver a Statement, in some quarters he might have been accused of doing things on the coat-tails of the Americans, and it might have been said that we were failing to act independently. As the three conditions set down in October have been met, it is quite right and proper that he should inform the House.
On sustainment, I am confident that the Government would wish to ensure that the troops in theatre in Afghanistan have the equipment they need and that the situation should be retained throughout their tours of duty and throughout the time that we are active in Afghanistan. I have no doubt that we would not wish to see any of the equipment either brought back or to see any equipment of an inferior quality.
Will the Minister say a bit more about the selection of the figure of 500 troops? She told us that that was the Prime Minister’s decision, based on military advice, as it should have been. Are we talking about British commanders? If so, what was the total that they were asking for? Was it simply the 500, or was it rather more—and, if so, how much?
Secondly, on the reason for today’s Statement, were the 500 troops not agreed to be sent previously because of a shortage of equipment? This Statement ties it in with the provision of more numerous items of equipment. Was the Statement on the 500 delayed until the American decision was expected or until other countries in the alliance had stepped up to the plate, as the Prime Minister said would be a condition in his Statement on 14 October? It is important that the noble Baroness can provide an answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Jopling as to who those eight members are and how much each is producing.
My Lords, the decision taken by the Prime Minister was based on the advice of the British military commanders. I do not know how many troops were requested. I shall certainly come back to the noble Lord in writing.
On the 500 troops, the three conditions were laid down by my right honourable friend in October. Those conditions have now been met, in terms of support from other members of the alliance stepping up their troops, the number of Afghan troops and what is happening with the Afghan Government and the necessary equipment available to the extra troops who go out to Afghanistan. All those conditions have now been met.
My Lords, I wonder whether I can ask the noble Baroness to elaborate a little on the London conference. She says that Afghanistan’s neighbours will be present, but can she confirm whether Iran will be present, despite our relations and current difficulties with it? Has the US special envoy to the region, Mr Holbrooke, confirmed his attendance? Can she also tell us, leaving aside the security imperative in Afghanistan, whether the reconstruction and infrastructure imperatives will be met through the London conference? One of the problems in the current situation is that aid for reconstruction is not available, or not in the amount required. Will the Government make any attempt to reopen the Bonn agreement and look at the trust fund for Afghanistan and seek to get those nations not participating in the security framework to at least participate through economic assistance?
My Lords, on the participation in the London conference, I shall have to come back to the noble Baroness on who will be there. I agree that, notwithstanding the many difficulties that we have in Iran, it is very important in that region and should be doing its bit towards Afghanistan.
On whether the London conference will deal with aid, I was informed last week by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development that in Afghanistan an extraordinary amount of aid goes into the country. At the moment, the problem is with capacity. If there are still some gaps in relation to aid, I am sure that that will be addressed by the conference—and I shall certainly come back to the noble Baroness to verify that. However, as I understand it, the amount of aid is not the problem—it is the capacity to use the aid on the ground.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly welcome the repetition of the Prime Minister’s powerful restatement in the House of Commons of why we are in this vitally important war. From my own experience on the Intelligence and Security Committee, I can say that unless we defeat the Taliban and its support for al-Qaeda, further deaths will occur in this country. It is vital for the safety of our people that we win this war. Does she share my disappointment at half-hearted and reluctant support, particularly from the Front Bench opposite? What will our troops out there think when we get questions about the timing of the statement and what other countries are doing? When we are at war at a vitally important time, should all the Members of this House, particularly the Front Bench opposite and those who hope to form the Government of this country, not be supporting our troops 100 per cent?
My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s views. With his experience on the Intelligence and Security Committee, he has a special insight into the dangers that we all face and therefore the importance of, as he puts it, winning this war in Afghanistan.
I am confident that the whole of this House is fully behind our troops in Afghanistan and that that will continue to be the case. Sometimes I find it slightly difficult when noble Lords are critical of various aspects of the war. It is right that there is a space for people to question and be critical but, as my noble friend says, the important thing is that our troops, their families and those who are wounded should know that they have the full support of all parties represented in this House, and that they will retain that support until the war is won.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the things that have not been going so well in recent months is what you might call the communications strategy? All the participants in the NATO operations in Afghanistan, lamentably, are finding that support for the military action is on the whole swinging a bit in the wrong direction, although not very far.
First, is it not rather important that in the period ahead, perhaps with the London conference as a focus, the alliance manages to put together a more effective communications strategy than it has had in the past, one that gives an overall picture of what is going on in Afghanistan, not just of what is going on in the particular bit of Afghanistan that one country’s troops are engaged in? You might think from reading the British press that we were fighting a war in a country called Helmand, while if you read the German press you might think that they were fighting in a country called Kunduz. This is not the way to get across the wider picture of what is going on and to get an understanding of how things are gong.
Secondly, could the London conference not be the occasion when the regional dimension was firmed up a bit into a situation where Afghanistan’s neighbours were employed more systematically and in a more structured way in co-operating to deal with the insurgency in that country?
My Lords, I agree on both counts. There definitely needs to be a much better alliance communications strategy. In this country it is incumbent on us all to try to talk in the media, as the noble Lord says, not just about what is happening in Helmand or about troops, sadly, coming home killed or wounded but about our wins; many good things are happening on the ground that people never read about. Sometimes that is because we do not tell them about those, but sometimes it is because they do not think that we ought to tell them.
I agree about the importance of the regional dimension of the London conference.
My Lords, does the Leader of the House recollect that her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary—speaking, of course, from the Government Front Bench—told the House of Commons on 15 July that some 90,000 Afghan military people had been trained, but that only 4,000 of them were in Helmand and only 450 had been able to be deployed in Operation Panther’s Claw, in which we were deeply involved and which was intended to make Helmand and Kandahar safe for the elections? Has she heard anecdotally, as I have, that these small numbers of people are seen by our troops as of pretty doubtful quality? Indeed, in one case I was told of actual treachery by Afghan troops. Does she understand our great worry about the reality of the Afghan army being able to take over in the foreseeable future from the coalition forces?
My Lords, I understand the concern expressed by the noble Lord. There have indeed been some incidents on the ground relating to the Afghan army or police, but it is the Government’s view that we need to step up our efforts to train these people. Of course there are some rotten eggs out there, but there are also some excellent people doing a fine job alongside our troops. We need to buoy up those people and ensure that we train more people who can and will be excellent.