Afghanistan

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 21st June 2004.

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Photo of David Cairns David Cairns PPS (Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions 2:30 pm, 21st June 2004

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of NATO's command of international security assistance force operations in Afghanistan.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

Since NATO assumed responsibility for the international security assistance force in August 2003, the alliance has continued successfully to assist the Afghan transitional authority in maintaining security in Afghanistan. NATO has also led the expansion of ISAF beyond Kabul and is working on expanding the force across Afghanistan.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns PPS (Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. If NATO is to assume a more global peacekeeping role in future, it is essential that its command of ISAF is a success, and is seen to be a success. Does he share my disappointment that other member countries of NATO are reluctant to give ISAF the number of troops that it needs to extend its mandate beyond Kabul? Some countries may have legitimate differences of opinion with us over Iraq, but they all supported the Afghan war. Now is the time not to walk away from that country, but to help to rebuild it.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in matters relating to Afghanistan. All of us want things to happen more quickly, but in the real world it takes time to plan a complicated military operation, especially in such a challenging environment as Afghanistan. It takes time to organise and deploy military forces, and for that deployment to have a full effect. My hon. Friend should look at what NATO has already achieved. It is moving fast—just two months after the UN authorised ISAF expansion, it established the first ISAF provincial reconstruction team. We are clearly moving into another phase of possible expansion, in which the United Kingdom is to the fore. I suggest that my hon. Friend wait for the outcome of the Istanbul summit, as some of the issues that he has raised will be raised there as well.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is no anxiety about NATO's command of ISAF, but its real difficulty is the timely generation of adequate forces to undertake the jobs required? Will he confirm that at the summit on 17 June in Brussels it was agreed that the EU would establish its own military operational planning centre independent of NATO? Would it not be better if, instead of discussing headquarters, some of those countries increased their defence spending on deployable capabilities to undertake those difficult missions?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

May I suggest that if the hon. Gentleman had been here for question 4 he could have asked his question then? However, I hope he heard me when I said that NATO is making progress, and more will be made as a result of the important summit at which NATO Ministers will deal with any possible expansion in Afghanistan. That is when the issue will be discussed, and that is when a structure will be put in place to develop our mission in that country.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris PPS (Rt Hon John Spellar, Minister of State), Northern Ireland Office

With elections in Afghanistan due by the end of the year, it is obviously important to make sure that there is a stable political environment in the country in the run-up to those elections. What role are NATO troops, particularly British troops within the NATO forces, playing to make sure that that environment is sustained between now and election day?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend raises an important issue about the emerging democracy and the forthcoming elections in Afghanistan. It falls to all coalition countries to do our best to ensure that registration takes place under the UN lead, and that there is a stable environment to encourage people to vote—all sections of the community, men and women alike, who are eligible to vote. It is encouraging that significant numbers of women have already registered to vote in the election. We and other coalition forces are playing a dual role—in ISAF in Kabul and in the provincial reconstruction teams, whose role and function there are proposals to expand. It is important to allow the Afghan forces and the transitional Government progressively to take on the ownership and control of their own country. Giving them the confidence to move forward and the security in which to do it is an important role that we are playing, through both ISAF and the PRTs.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

The right hon. Gentleman's answer to David Cairns was, when boiled down to its essentials, wait and see. How long must we wait and what will we see?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I gave a time scale to that. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had been listening, he would have heard me say that the summit in Istanbul next week would no doubt discuss the matter, and we may return to it in future questions if progress is not made.