Afghanistan (Royal Navy)

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 3rd November 2008.

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Photo of Linda Gilroy Linda Gilroy Labour, Plymouth, Sutton 2:30 pm, 3rd November 2008

How many Royal Navy personnel are deployed in Afghanistan.

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Photo of John Hutton John Hutton Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

The size of the force committed to Operation Herrick 9 is about 8,000. Since October, 3 Commando Brigade has formed the core of the Helmand taskforce. As a result, more than 2,000 of that force are currently drawn from the Royal Navy itself. The Royal Navy, and all our forces in Helmand, continue to perform a vital role in safeguarding essential UK interests. We can all be rightly proud of the work that they do.

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Photo of Linda Gilroy Linda Gilroy Labour, Plymouth, Sutton

This is a very significant land deployment of maritime forces. Does my right hon. Friend agree that its purpose is not some sort of discretionary war, as some would imply, but in our vital interests?

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Photo of John Hutton John Hutton Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. The operations in which we are involved in Afghanistan are vital to UK strategic security interests: that is why our campaign to tackle the Taliban and to deal with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan must succeed. I pay tribute not only to the forces currently deployed in Afghanistan, who are doing a brilliant job—as I have seen myself at first hand—but to all members of the armed forces who have served there since 2003. We can be rightly proud of the contribution that the men and women who wear the Queen's uniform have discharged in Afghanistan.

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Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

When these brave men and women come back from serving in their deployment in and off Afghanistan, when will they be told whether their frigate's base port will be Portsmouth or Plymouth? The Secretary of State has made that decision; when will he tell the rest of us?

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Photo of John Hutton John Hutton Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

We hope to make an announcement on that in the very near future. The important thing to come out of the review of the royal naval bases is that we are maintaining and operating three, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that.

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Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

Nobody could criticise the naval personnel for the job that they do in Afghanistan, where they are performing magnificently. Sadly, however, we have capital ships afloat that are sailing with crews that are somewhat undermanned in places. That is a real problem. Is it not possible to progress more rapidly the reduction of forces in Iraq, so that we can replace naval personnel in Afghanistan in order to release them for service afloat?

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Photo of John Hutton John Hutton Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

The speed at which we can draw down forces from Iraq will depend, first, on security conditions on the ground and, secondly, on the advice that we receive from our military commanders. As I said before the Select Committees on Foreign Affairs and on Defence last week, we remain optimistic that we will be able to make a very significant change in our mission in the early part of next year. I cannot be more specific than that, for obvious reasons—I do not want to say or do anything that would compromise the safety of our forces on the ground there. However, my hon. Friend, along with every Member of this House, can look forward to significant announcements in the near future.

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Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is very important that whenever Royal Navy personnel are deployed they are deployed in appropriately armoured vehicles? The Minister for the Armed Forces really should avoid suggesting that serious casualties have been caused by officers on the ground choosing wrong vehicles. That is inaccurate, untrue, deeply offensive to their commanders, and damaging to morale.

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Photo of John Hutton John Hutton Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, The Secretary of State for Defence

I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister made our position clear in relation to all these points. I simply re-emphasise the point that he made to Dr. Fox, which is very important. Because of the additional resources that we have made available to support our deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, some 1,200 new, better-protected armoured vehicles will be available to support our front-line operations. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would want to welcome that additional procurement.

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