Afghanistan (Force Protection)
Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government
Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge, Conservative)
I know that the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the bravery of those who have been killed in action over the past few days in Afghanistan: Lance Corporal Duane Groom of 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, who was killed in action on
The security of our deployed forces in Afghanistan, or anywhere in the world, remains a defence priority. The safety of our service personnel is an issue that all in the Government and the military chain of command take extremely seriously. In recent days, we have again been reminded of the difficult and challenging environment in which our armed forces operate.
Our servicemen and women are doing vital work protecting the UK from the threat of international terrorism. Our strategy is clear. We are mentoring and training the Afghan army and police to deliver security to their own people. This will allow our forces first to withdraw into a support role and then to come home. The Taliban hate this strategy and seek to wreck it through insider attacks. They aim to disrupt the collaboration with Afghan forces, which is at the heart of our strategy. We cannot and will not allow the process to be derailed.
Our partnering with the Afghan national security forces involves risk, but it is essential to success. At 15.45 local time on
I was in Afghanistan last week, and the insider threat was at the top of my agenda in meetings with Afghan leaders and with UK and international security assistance force commanders. I recognise that we cannot eliminate
the risk entirely, but I was reassured that President Karzai and the rest of the Afghan Government and military hierarchy clearly recognise that confronting and defeating this threat is pivotal to the future success of the campaign. The Afghan Government, ISAF and the UK national contingent commander have taken significant steps to tackle the threat. We are all united in the view that we cannot let these few terrible incidents derail the steady progress in preparing the Afghans to take responsibility for their own security and thus secure our long-term objectives.
The weekend also saw a significant and well co-ordinated attack on Camp Bastion. The base is one of ISAF’s main sites in southern Afghanistan and acts as the main UK operating base in Helmand. It is a base the size of Reading with a perimeter fence nearly 40 km long. It is difficult to defend a site of this size—a challenge made all the harder when faced with a suicidal enemy. The attack began just after 10 pm local time on Friday night, when approximately 15 insurgents penetrated the camp at one point of the perimeter fence to the eastern side of the main runway. They were dressed in US army uniforms and armed with automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and suicide vests. They attacked coalition fixed and rotary-wing aircraft parked on the flight line, aircraft hangars and other buildings. Six US Marine Corps Harrier jets were destroyed and two were significantly damaged. However, at no stage did the attackers get near to the accommodation areas where the vast majority of the international forces reside.
UK and US forces responded to the incident. The UK Force Protection Wing quick reaction force, which is made up from 51 Squadron the RAF regiment, deployed immediately and engaged the insurgents, killing 14 and wounding one, who has been taken into custody. Two US Marine Corps service members were killed and 13 coalition personnel—12 military and one civilian—were wounded in the attack. None of the injuries is considered life-threatening. There is no denying that this is a significant incident. Immediate measures have been taken to enhance protection of the base and a full investigation is under way, led by the deputy commander of ISAF, UK General Adrian Bradshaw, to ensure that lessons are learned and that such a perimeter breach does not happen again.
Our force protection posture, including the protection of our bases, is routinely assessed and kept under constant review by military commanders to reflect the situation on the ground. I am sure the House will understand that for operational reasons I am unable to discuss force protection measures in fine detail.