Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 19th December 2011.

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Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw 2:30 pm, 19th December 2011

When he expects UK troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House that UK force levels in Afghanistan will reduce from 9,500 to 9,000 by the end of 2012. By the end of 2014, the security transition will be complete and British troops will no longer be in a combat role. The UK and the international community are committed to Afghanistan for the long term, and a number of UK troops will remain after 2014, including in training roles at the UK-led Afghan national army officer academy.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Does the Minister pay more attention to the German Foreign Minister, who wants us in Afghanistan for another 15 years, or to the people of Bassetlaw, who say that now is the time to bring our lads back home?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

We have a clear plan for the completion of the mission in Afghanistan, which involves transitioning lead security responsibility to the ever more competent Afghan national security forces. That will be done over the next three years, resulting in the withdrawal of the overwhelming majority of our forces by the end of 2014 and the ending of our combat role. That is the position that most people in this country would want to see: a measured and properly controlled winding down of our involvement that protects the legacy that we have won with so much blood and treasure.

Photo of Jack Lopresti Jack Lopresti Conservative, Filton and Bradley Stoke

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that any reduction in UK force strength in Afghanistan will be based on the improving situation on the ground, not on any political expediency?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

The trajectory of the force draw-down to the end of 2014 will be determined by the evolution of events on the ground. No prior decision has been taken about the pattern of that draw-down other than that 500 troops will come out next year, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has announced.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth Labour, Coventry North East

It was widely reported in the press that the Secretary of State had proposed to the National Security Council a draw-down that was accelerated beyond that originally envisaged. Will he tell us what the time scale for decision making is in Afghanistan? I agree with him that this is a very complex theatre of operations, and we have an absolute duty to make things as right as we can as we exit from our combat mission in Afghanistan.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the National Security Council discussed strategy on Afghanistan last week and a number of different scenarios were considered. It is clear that we must have regard to the decisions that the United States has yet to make about the pattern of its force draw-down. We will want to look again at this issue once it is clear how and when the United States will draw down its forces, but we have made no fixed commitments, other than to reduce the force level by 500 next year and to be out of the combat role by the end of 2014.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

This time last year, 16 Air Assault Brigade was deployed to Helmand province. Many of those young soldiers were also there in 2008 and, based on the time line that the Secretary of State has given, I suspect that some of them be deployed yet again. However, none of those who joined the Army since February 2007 will be entitled to the Jubilee medal. Why not?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

The simple answer is that the conditions of service requirement attached to that medal is five years’ continuous service. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that some members of 16 Air Assault Brigade might be deployed for one more Herrick tour before our operations in Afghanistan are complete, but the jubilee service medal is a separate issue and the conditions set for it are very clear.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

In this week before Christmas, our thoughts are with our forces who are separated from their families and in particular those families who continue to feel the loss of a loved one in Afghanistan.

The Bonn conference on Afghanistan cannot be considered to have been a strategic success. I am not blaming the Government for that failure—it was an international responsibility—and the Opposition remain committed to the Afghanistan mission, but for the Government bipartisanship in Afghanistan cannot mean just getting agreement between the two parties in the coalition Government. It is also about persuading the public and Parliament. What else can the Secretary of State say about his early assessment of the levels of non-combat troop involvement from the UK that will be needed in 2015 in Afghanistan?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond The Secretary of State for Defence

I am pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman reiterate the Opposition’s support for the Afghanistan strategy, as it is vital that we go forward with a broad measure of consensus. On the post-2014 troop levels, no decisions have yet been made about the level of UK troops in a training, support and advisory role. We will want to take that decision nearer to the time, when we have seen what other international security assistance force nations propose to do and when the level of international funding for the Afghan national security force has been determined and committed to, so that the scale and competence level of ANSF forces can be seen clearly.