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Volume 747: debated on Wednesday 17 July 2013


Asked by

My Lords, as part of the United Kingdom’s commitment to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy, the UK will initially contribute around 90 of the 120 mentors. This will diminish over time as the Afghans increasingly work independently. In addition, we will retain sufficient force numbers to ensure that we properly protect our adviser footprint after 2014. Until NATO planning has matured, it is premature to speculate what other residual military presence the UK will have after 2014.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. Although I fully support the withdrawal of combat troops after 2014, I can understand the Government’s reluctance to be absolutely precise about the numbers remaining thereafter. However, does he accept that the new, large Afghan army will still be short of a number of military facilities, such as close air support, fuel and food delivery, and medevac? If we are to ensure that the sacrifices of our soldiers are not in vain, will the Government ensure that we help the new Afghan army in those areas in which it is short?

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his support for our moves post-2014. We are fully aware of the issue of enabling support to the ANSF. Last year, this priority switched from growing the forces to professionalising and developing their ability to support themselves post-2014 as ISAF draws down. In addition to taking the coalition lead in supporting the officer academy, the UK will maintain its current development assistance of £178 million a year until 2017, and we will also contribute £70 million a year until at least 2017 towards sustaining the ANSF.

In terms of medical support, following on from the noble Lord’s question, are there any plans to leave any specialist medical equipment in theatre in Afghanistan, and are there any plans for our medical personnel—those with particular specialisms—to stay there to work alongside the Afghan medics?

My Lords, leaving medical equipment in Afghanistan is being discussed at the moment and no decision has been taken on that. By the end of 2013, the ANSF are due to have developed sufficient medical capabilities to take over responsibility for dealing with their own casualties with non-life-threatening injuries, known as category B casualties. By the end of 2014 they will take over responsibility for all their casualties, including the most serious types of injuries. ISAF continues to monitor ANSF progress towards an independent medical capability, and the UK is supporting it to deliver surgical capability in Helmand through the provision of medical advisors to Afghan medical personnel.

My Lords, will the Minister update the House on what plans there are for the locally employed interpreters, who are likely to be in greater danger following the withdrawal of British troops, particularly the interpreters who are based in Kabul and elsewhere who I understand are not currently eligible to apply for the resettlement package that is being offered by Her Majesty’s Government?

My Lords, we want to support those local staff who will be made redundant so that they can go on contributing to a brighter future for them and their country. This support is based on a generous in-country package of training and financial support, available for all staff, or a financial severance payment. For those who are eligible—patrol interpreter Foreign Office equivalent staff—there is the opportunity to apply for relocation to the UK.

This is a redundancy scheme and is not to be confused with our existing provisions for staff safety and protection. Any staff member who is threatened and at genuine risk due to their employment with us will be supported. In extreme cases, via our intimidation policy, it may be appropriate to consider relocation to the United Kingdom.

My Lords, will the Minister say whether military equipment, including vehicles and containers that are needed in Europe, are being satisfactorily withdrawn and that the plans are proceeding as intended?

My Lords, as I understand it, the redeployment is progressing well. As of 30 June, we have redeployed 797 vehicles and pieces of major equipment, and 1,234 20-foot containers’ worth of materiel from Afghanistan.

My Lords, I declare an interest: a close member of my family will be in Afghanistan until the withdrawal in 2014. Will the Minister give an assurance that the protection equipment that is available to protect our troops will be absolutely up to standard and adequate to protect them during what may be a difficult change period?

My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness on that point. While we remain part of the ISAF combat mission in Afghanistan, UK forces will continue to maintain the military means and legal authority to defend themselves in the event of an attack. We will retain sufficient force numbers to ensure that we can properly protect our adviser footprint up until 2014 and afterwards. We will also ensure that we have sufficient access to enable this, such as medical facilities and support helicopters. I assure the noble Baroness that the answer is yes.

My Lords, anyone who has had the privilege of visiting our troops in Helmand will have realised the great appreciation shown by the Afghan army for the British troops and the way that they are being trained. Currently, a Select Committee in this House is examining soft power, and soft power includes the military influence in training and spreading the British influence into other countries. I know that we are talking about the officers’ training academy, but are there intentions to carry on lower-level training, which does so much to increase our influence in Afghanistan after we have left?

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right about how much the ANSF appreciate the work we are doing to mentor them. I saw that for myself when I was last in Afghanistan and talked to a number of Afghans who are hugely appreciative of what we are doing. As the Prime Minister has said, the UK has played a very big part in the ISAF military campaign but we have also paid a very high price. It is therefore right to focus on the officer academy, which is the one thing we have been asked to do by the Afghans, rather than looking for ways to go beyond that.