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Armed Forces: Afghanistan and Libya

Volume 732: debated on Wednesday 9 November 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government which countries are actively involved alongside United Kingdom forces in action in both Afghanistan and Libya.

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Private Matthew Haseldin, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment; Rifleman Vijay Rai, 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles; Marine David Fairbrother, Kilo Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines; Lance Corporal Jonathan James McKinlay, 1st Battalion The Rifles; Sergeant Barry John Weston, Kilo Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines; Lieutenant Daniel John Clack, 1st Battalion The Rifles; Marine James Robert Wright, 42 Commando Royal Marines; Corporal Mark Anthony Palin, 1st Battalion The Rifles; and Lance Corporal Paul Watkins, 9th/12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales’s).

My thoughts are also with the wounded, and I pay tribute to the courage and fortitude in which they face their rehabilitation.

On my noble friend’s Question, as of October 2011, ISAF consists of 49 nations working alongside Afghan national security forces. Denmark and Estonia are the UK’s main operational partners, and Tonga provides support. UK forces also work in close co-ordination with US allies.

In Libya, at the height of Operation Unified Protector, 17 nations—13 NATO and four partners—contributed. These were the US, France, the UK, Italy, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, Turkey, Greece, Sweden, Romania, Norway, Qatar, the UAE and Jordan.

First of all, I join these Benches in the earlier condolences.

On Monday, our ambassador in Rome hosted a lunch for the Italian air force to thank them for their support in the Libyan operation, which yesterday, at an RAF briefing, the commander of our expeditionary air wing described as absolutely outstanding. Over the years, Parliament has received a number of our service units returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan; last week we had 3 Commando back here. Can we not consider hosting a major reception here and perhaps at No. 10 for representative service personnel from all our allies in the Libyan campaign and, in due course, similarly for Afghanistan, to emphasise the partnership in these campaigns, to acknowledge the sacrifices made and to say thank you?

My Lords, my noble friend raises a very good point. The UK is rightly grateful to its coalition allies for the contributions that they have made. But in these times of austerity, this may be difficult. Furthermore, it should be remembered that the UK is only one country within the broad NATO-led coalition of allies that has been operating both in Afghanistan and Libya, so we would more likely look to NATO to conduct such an event.

My Lords, the Minister has had the sad duty of reading out the names of nine members of our Armed Forces who have recently lost their lives in the service of our country. On this side, we, too, extend our sincere condolences to their loved ones and friends at this particularly difficult time for them. No words can adequately express the debt that we owe to all who have given their lives on active service.

Will the Minister accept that the Libya campaign illustrated both the strengths and weaknesses of NATO? The strength was NATO’s continuing relevance in a mission that was quick and successful; the weakness was that less than a half of NATO members contributed to the mission. On top of that, there are still issues over the significant number of European nations not meeting NATO expenditure targets on defence. Will the Government use the success of the Libya mission in particular to pursue again this issue of NATO members making an appropriate contribution?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord’s last point. Some allies shared significantly more of the burden in Libya than others and this imbalance needs to be addressed in the future. In practice, we saw a two-tier alliance in terms of operation. Only half of the allies took part militarily, exasperating the limited availability of NATO’s capability.

My Lords, the Minister has reminded us once again of the tragic cost of our ongoing operations and the whole House echoed his sentiments. Does he agree that our most important partner in Afghanistan is Afghanistan itself? And can he say what progress the Afghan national army and police are making towards taking lead responsibility for security throughout their country, at which stage our combat operations can cease?

My Lords, I can assure the noble and gallant Lord that support for Afghanistan will certainly not end in 2014. It is President Karzai’s aim that by the end of 2014 the Afghans will take lead responsibility for security costs right across the country, and we are on track to meet this aim. The Prime Minister has been clear that we will not have troops in a combat role or in numbers anywhere like current levels by 2015.

Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, bearing in mind the huge contribution of Britain’s Reserve Forces to both campaigns, particularly to that in Afghanistan, to what extent have those foreign countries my noble friend mentioned also been using their reserve forces? Can any lessons learnt from their deployments be used and developed in the international fora which exist for discussion on international reserve issues?

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very important point about the reserves of our allied countries. I am afraid I do not have an answer to hand but I will certainly write to him on this and give him a detailed answer.

My Lords, a number of us were dismayed that a relatively simple campaign like the one in Libya could not have been conducted by the European members of NATO but needed American enablers. Will the Prime Minister, when he visits and has his dialogue with France very soon, be raising the issue that there needs to be a slight increase in defence as a percentage of GDP among all the European NATO nations, including ourselves?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very important point. Having said that, co-operation between the United Kingdom and France, both militarily and at the political level, has been exemplary and contributed significantly in Libya towards developing the level of co-operation and interoperability envisaged in the UK/France defence co-operation treaty that was signed in November 2010.

My Lords, I echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Lee, and I hope that the Government will reconsider having a represented reception. We must also remember those who did not return from Afghanistan and Libya. The Minister was very fulsome in telling us all the various nations which have contributed to these conflicts. Will he enumerate the deaths in those two conflicts—those who did not return—and indicate how those unfortunate deaths were split between the various nations which took part?

My Lords, I have a list here of all the deaths of members of our allied countries. Rather than reading the list out, I will write to my noble friend and I will make sure that a copy of my letter is placed in the Library.