Afghanistan

– in the House of Lords at 3:39 pm on 20th June 2002.

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Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement) 3:39 pm, 20th June 2002

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. The Statement is as follows:

"I should like to make a Statement about the contribution that British forces have made to operations in Afghanistan and the future disposition of our forces in that country.

"Two groups of British forces have been deployed in Afghanistan with separate but closely complementary aims—security assistance to the Afghan Interim Administration and offensive operations against Al'Qaeda and the Taliban. The United Kingdom has contributed to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which we have led since its inception; and, through Task Force Jacana, we have contributed to Operation Enduring Freedom, aimed at Al'Qaeda.

"I shall address ISAF first. The House will recall that, from the outset, we planned to reduce our contribution to ISAF once we had transferred its leadership to one of our partners. This has taken longer then we originally anticipated. But we had to get this right—ISAF's success has been crucial to the stability of Kabul and, more widely, to Afghanistan, a strategic aim that is profoundly important to the United Kingdom.

"I told the House on 16th May that we were working towards achieving the handover of the command of the ISAF by the end of June. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that commend of the ISAF was formally transferred from General McColl to General Zorlu of the Turkish Army a few hours ago, in a ceremony attended by my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence and the Chief of the General Staff.

"I should like to take this opportunity to record our thanks for the considerable work that Turkey has done to make the handover a success. The United States has also made a significant contribution to this process—not least by providing strategic airlift to move Turkish troops to Kabul. For our part, we have agreed to leave computer and communications equipment and a fire engine in Afghanistan for use by the new ISAF headquarters. Some British troops will remain with the ISAF as well—I will say more about this later.

"No one who has been involved—and the British and Turkish staffs have been working closely together now for some time—can doubt the great importance that Turkey attaches to a successful tenure in command. We have every confidence in General Zorlu and his troops as they build on and take forward the excellent work that ISAF has already achieved.

"ISAF under Major General McColl has been a great success. It is no exaggeration to say that the force, while limited geographically to the area of Kabul, has had an impact right across Afghanistan. The Emergency Loya Jirgah and its local and regional groups would have been impossible without the reassurance, stability and sense of normality that ISAF helped the Afghan Interim Authority bring to Kabul. And without a secure place where representatives of all Afghanistan's people could meet to discuss how they want to govern their country, the gains of the past nine months could have been lost. Those members of our Armed Forces who have been involved with the ISAF should rightly feel proud of what they have achieved. They have the thanks of this House and of the British people.

"The Emergency Loya Jirgah, which concluded this morning, offered the Afghan people their first opportunity in decades to play a decisive role in choosing their government. It demonstrates the great progress that has been made since the collapse of the Taliban. Less then a year ago, the lives of the Afghan people were blighted by that cruel regime. It is a remarkable tribute to the decisive coalition action against the Taliban, to the Afghan people, and to the Interim Administration under Hamid Karzai, that within only six months, this large and peaceful assembly, representing all the Afghan people, has taken place in Kabul.

"The Loya Jirgah has given the Afghan people the chance to build a future based on mutual respect, human rights and democracy. It is a significant step towards the goal of representative, democratic elections, which are due to be held in 2004.

"As for the Emergency Loya Jirgah itself, I warmly welcome its decision to elect Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan's head of state. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has written on behalf of the Government to congratulate him personally. Hamid Karzai risked his life to play a crucial role in the early stages of rebuilding Afghanistan. He deserves our full support.

"Through a combination of tact, diplomacy, understanding and firm authority, the ISAF has made a real difference on the ground. In the six months it has been in Kabul it has mounted 2,185 joint patrols with the Afghan police, increasing security on the streets of Kabul; destroyed or disposed of nearly 3 million munitions, including guided weapons, fuses, rockets, submunitions, bombs, shells, small arms ammunition, mortar bombs, grenades and both anti-tank and anti-personnel landmines—indeed, nearly 80 per cent of all the munitions destroyed were anti-personnel landmines, on its own a massive contribution towards the safety of the Afghan people; operated an ambulance service across Kabul throughout the night-time curfew; begun the process of reforming Afghanistan's security sector through the training of the lst Battalion of the Afghan National Guard; completed some 200 aid projects in co-operation with the local civil authorities and other agencies—repairing roads, utilities, health, education, and administrative services.

"All this has made a real improvement to the lives of the people of Kabul. There is still more to do, but Kabul is again a bustling city. The vast majority of the people recognise, value and support ISAF's work. The warm welcome its patrols receive in the streets is proof enough of that, as I have seen for myself.

"This is not, of course, simply a British achievement. The ISAF is a truly multinational force. Nineteen other countries answered the call to provide forces. The United States has given invaluable assistance and support. Without the efforts of all these nations, the ISAF would not have been the success it has been.

"But we should certainly take pride in the particular British contribution to the force. General McColl and the British contingent have made a lasting and favourable impression on the Afghan people. Thanks to the efforts of British servicemen and women, we now have many friends in Afghanistan, from children on the streets of Kabul to the most senior members of the Afghan administration.

"The House will be pleased to know that the lst Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, will come home once it has completed transferring its responsibilities to the Turkish battlegroup that is replacing it. Together with many of the British forces committed to ISAF, they will have returned to the United Kingdom by the middle of next month.

"But that is not the end of our involvement with ISAF. It remains vital to the maintenance of security in Kabul and a stable future for Afghanistan. The United Kingdom will remain a major contributing nation. In total, our contribution will reduce from about 1,300 to some 400 troops. These will primarily be engineers and logistics support troops—high-value specialists who can bring important expertise that will be of specific use to ISAF.

"There is now a degree of optimism in Afghanistan that was unthinkable just a few months ago and ISAF has played a major role in creating a more secure environment. But, while Kabul is a safer place and Afghanistan as a whole is more secure, there is still a terrorist threat. The mountainous and inaccessible regions remain an ideal hiding-place for the Al'Qaeda and Taliban forces that are working to destroy that new-found sense of security. That was why we deployed Task Force Jacana—a 1,700-strong battlegroup formed around 45 Commando Royal Marines—at the request of the United States.

"There is no doubt that Al'Qaeda has been dealt a shattering blow by the coalition military action. But elements of that network remain. Recent arrests in Morocco and the United States have demonstrated that Al'Qaeda retains both the ambition and the capacity to threaten, and take, many lives. It is striving every day to find ways to use that capacity—including in Afghanistan.

"The future of Afghanistan now looks brighter than it has for some time. A significant milestone has been passed successfully with the conclusion of the Loya Jirgah, but Al'Qaeda have not gone away. We know they have been determined to undermine and derail the rebuilding process. The presence of Royal Marines and others on the ground in eastern Afghanistan has helped prevent them from achieving this. Our forces have denied ground to Al'Qaeda remnants and destroyed terrorist infrastructure. They have been crucial in providing a secure environment for the Emergency Loya Jirgah.

"The four operations conducted by Task Force Jacana—Ptarmigan, Snipe, Condor and, most recently, Buzzard—have involved destroying 28 bunkers and caves; flying over 1,000 helicopter sorties in the Chinooks of 27 Squadron, in an environment so demanding that it required us to operate at the edge of the aircraft's capabilities; finding and destroying 45,000 rounds of munitions, from machine-gun rounds to 155mm artillery shells. British troops also recovered two mortar systems and 440 107mm rocket systems. Every round destroyed helps to contain the terrorist threat and safeguard Afghanistan's future.

"The force also conducted significant humanitarian assistance work in its area of operations, so winning the hearts and minds of Afghan people in areas previously dominated by the Taliban and Al'Qaeda. For example, more than nine tonnes of wheat and 1,100 blankets have been distributed to those who need them.

"I want to make it absolutely clear to the House that Task Force Jacana has been led in an exemplary fashion from the start. Brigadier Roger Lane has done an outstanding job in leading his troops in four demanding operations through rugged, high-altitude terrain, which has been as tough as any that British units have had to tackle in recent memory.

"We should bear in mind that these operations carried, and still carry, real risks and we should be grateful that we have achieved such success without loss of life. Those who carp about the lack of action do so from a position of ignorance about the nature of warfare. That is one thing. It is quite another to wish that our troops had come under fire, which appears to have been the hope of some armchair commentators in recent weeks.

"It would have been quite wrong had I come before this House just over three months ago and not warned of the risks that our forces could face. British troops were and are keen to engage the enemy. They want to demonstrate the courage and professionalism that are the hallmarks of Britain's Armed Forces. However, the enemy is no fool. He has learned from the harsh defeat that he suffered during Operation Anaconda and has avoided further direct contact with our forces.

"I have previously told the House that the Jacana deployment would last in the order of three months. On the completion of Operation Buzzard, Task Force Jacana will be withdrawn from Afghanistan. The phased drawdown of the force will begin on 4th July and, subject as always to operational demands, should be complete by late next month. The drawdown will enable us to rest and reconstitute our forces for future contingencies. After consultation with the United States and our other coalition partners about the challenges and likely tasks ahead, I have concluded that there is no need to replace 45 Commando immediately. However, we will retain stores in Afghanistan to enable an even more rapid deployment than the initial one should that be required.

"Taken together, the handover of the ISAF command, the return home of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment, and the drawdown of Task Force Jacana means that the number of British forces in the operational theatre in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region supporting these operations should reduce from more than 4,000 today to some 2,000 by late summer. However, we will still maintain a Tomahawk-armed submarine presence, ships, aircraft and elements of other forces in Afghanistan and the region. These include forces on the ground—elements of 40 Commando will remain at Bagram, where they have played a vital role in helping to secure and protect the airfield. We shall also have logistics support personnel at Bagram as part of our capacity rapidly to deploy additional forces if the operational situation demands it.

"This reduction in numbers does not mean a reduction in our commitment either to Afghanistan or to the campaign against international terrorism. In fact, it is proof of our willingness to keep up military action for as long as it takes. This is not a conventional campaign. It will vary in tempo and location. The United Kingdom has forces with capabilities that few can match. That is why we must use them where they can do the most good.

"Crucial to the long-term future of Afghanistan as a stable and secure state will be the reform of its entire security sector—the army, the police and the structures that guide and control them. This is crucial if Afghanistan is to enjoy the stability that will permit economic and social recovery from decades of conflict. It is essential to ensure that Afghanistan does not slip back to being a failed state that provides a safe haven to terrorists. Together with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence is making a significant contribution to the international effort to achieve security sector reform.

"The United Kingdom is therefore co-ordinating international counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan. The new Afghan authorities have taken a tough line on drugs, issuing a decree banning the cultivation, processing and trafficking in heroin. We should applaud their resolve in tackling this problem, against the background of the poppy crop's economic significance to the people of parts of Afghanistan. Financial assistance has been offered to farmers who voluntarily eradicate their crops. This has had some success. We estimate that around a third of this year's crop has been destroyed. Afghan farmers who currently depend on opium production must have an alternative and legal livelihood. The international community needs to provide carefully targeted assistance to this. This is obviously a long-term problem and not one that can be solved in a single season.

"Our forces have been engaged in invaluable work in Afghanistan. They have carried out their duties with outstanding professionalism. There is more to do in the rebuilding of that country. We are determined to play our full part in this. That means ensuring that we maintain a sustainable commitment of forces and preserve a balance between contributing to military operations, training and maintaining skills and, importantly, giving our forces the opportunity to rest and spend time with their families. The changes in our contributions to operations in Afghanistan do that. I am sure that the House will give them its support".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Vivian Lord Vivian Conservative 3:56 pm, 20th June 2002

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that detailed Statement. We on these Benches congratulate Her Majesty's Armed Forces on carrying out yet again another two exemplary operations, this time in Afghanistan. I am sure the whole House thanks all our service men and women who took part in these operations. They should be justly proud of what they have done. The families of those who have been deployed should also not be forgotten, as they have had to put up with yet another period of separation.

The Statement was divided into two parts—ISAF and Task Force Jacana. I shall raise a few points under those two headings. The commander of ISAF, Major General McColl, is also to be congratulated on achieving such success with ISAF. I am not going to repeat all its achievements, as they have been listed in the Statement. He has undertaken a most difficult operation with great success. To bring together a multi-national force of 5,000 troops who have never trained together or even seen each other before is a significant achievement. To command such a fighting force in and around a war-torn city containing many gangsters and feuding warlords and to return that city to some normality, with peace and order on the streets and schools and hospitals reopened—and to do so without reliable intelligence—is a remarkable feat.

We on these Benches very much welcome the withdrawal of many of our troops from ISAF and at the same time wish every success to General Zorlu and the Turkish Army now in command of ISAF. I have noticed that there is no mention of the command arrangements for the British troops who will not be withdrawn. Will the Minister clarify under whose direct command our troops will be? Which logistic troops and supporting troops will be in the force of 400 left behind? Will he go into more detail about the tasks that they will be employed to do? We very much welcome the return of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment.

On Operation Jacana, 45 Commando is to be congratulated on its successes. However, as the Statement warned, the return of Al'Qaeda is easy and may happen at any time. We also welcome the return of 45 Royal Marine Commando, less the elements of 40 Commando remaining to secure the Bagram airbase—a vital airfield for the support and sustainability of the remaining force and for any reinforcement, should it be required. Will the Minister clarify whether reinforcement would be required from the United Kingdom, and if so, under what conditions? Which elements of the Army, Navy and Air Force will remain in theatre?

I entirely support the comments about those who carp about the lack of action. Those, including the press, who make such statements should be very ashamed. They clearly have no idea about military operations. They should remain silent and not criticise an extremely dangerous and difficult operation. Great bravery and determination have been proved in some of the most difficult terrain in which troops have operated.

As I mentioned only yesterday, the Army is over-committed. Over-commitment degrades training because the gap between tours of duty and operations becomes insufficient. That is what is happening now. Will the noble Lord give an undertaking that no more exercises will be cancelled, there will be no more shortages of spare parts, and there will be no more shortages of ammunition, fuel and equipment, so that our Armed Forces can train properly? Over-commitment also degrades retention, and the Army in particular is severely under-strength. Will the noble Lord say whether there is any intention to cut the Army establishment?

It is essential that we sustain Armed Forces that can be properly trained to carry out operations, develop and hone their skills, and yet have time to spend with their families, as has been said. The withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is very welcome and is a start to being able to achieve this. However, this withdrawal on its own will not reduce the operational figure to the 19 per cent which will achieve it overall.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat 4:01 pm, 20th June 2002

My Lords, we on these Benches also welcome the Statement. We echo the sentiments expressed by the Minister that it is a matter for celebration that, considering the very hostile nature of the operation, there were no fatalities. The fact is that 45 Commando has done an excellent job in Afghanistan. The fact that it has not had to undertake extensive firefights inevitably leads one to believe that Al'Qaeda and Taliban forces have seen the Marines' professionalism and strength. I believe that, as in Sierra Leone, it was those factors that discouraged extensive fighting. Those factors have also enabled the peaceful situation which has made it possible to conduct a successful Loya Jirgah. Extensive military operations probably would have made that much more difficult to achieve.

We have long expected that Turkey would take over the lead role in ISAF under the command of General Zorlu. However, if one of our other allies is not prepared to take over that role from Turkey, will British forces return to it? Although that would be unfortunate, it might be necessary to maintain the integrity of the ISAF mission.

The Minister mentioned the importance of rebuilding Afghanistan. There is some concern that, whereas there was full backing for the military commitment, similar support is not forthcoming for the rebuilding programme. The money that has been pledged does not seem to have materialised. Surely Afghanistan's security will be threatened if that country is not rebuilt, with direct consequences for Britain. Although action has been taken to counter heroin production in Afghanistan, production would be easier in an unsecured Afghanistan. Part of that crop would almost inevitably appear on British streets.

The real benefit of withdrawal from Afghanistan is partial easing of the perennial overstretch problem. I very much hope that the troops and the many support staff helping them will be allowed to rest and recuperate, rather than being immediately put on standby for future and as yet unannounced commitments. I have two questions on overstretch. First, has a date been agreed for the next reduction in troop numbers in the Balkans? Secondly, do the Government have any idea of the projected commitment of British forces to Macedonia?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement) 4:05 pm, 20th June 2002

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords very much for their comments, especially for their support for the Statement and for their kind and impressive words about our Armed Forces. I am sure that their words, as well as the Statement, will be welcomed by those members of the Armed Forces.

Various questions have been asked, some of which I can answer now. The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, wanted to know what ISAF and our troops remaining in Afghanistan will do. As the Statement says, the troops who will remain as ISAF members are primarily engineers and logistics support troops. They are high-value specialists and, after discussions, it was decided that they could most usefully serve now as ISAF members. ISAF will continue to fulfil the UN mandate. The detailed tasks will of course depend on the nature of the continuing situation, which we hope and expect will improve.

British leadership of ISAF in its first few months, and the fact that a substantial number—400—British troops are remaining, are undeniable factors in ISAF's success. Our troops' performance in such situations easily bears comparison with that of any other country in the world, as the past few months have shown.

As the Statement says, approximately 2,000 troops will remain in and around Afghanistan, comprised of members of all the Armed Forces. I shall not go into detail as to what they may or may not do. However, a considerable British presence will remain in and around Afghanistan.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked what will happen when Turkey's leadership ends. It is too early to say. As he will know, however, discussions on that issue are under way. That is really all that I can say about that.

Unsurprisingly, both noble Lords used the word "overstretch". As noble Lords will know, that is not a word that I employ. I am not sure that it describes the position. We do not believe that our Armed Forces are overstretched. What we do say is that they are clearly very busy. Today's Statement on Afghanistan demonstrates our commitment to withdraw service personnel from operations at the earliest possible opportunity—the crucial phrase—in order to ease the demands placed on them.

As for figures, the review of the Army's future manpower requirement has been concluded and the figure of 106,978 was recently published as the revised manning target. As of May 2002, whole Army strength stood at 101,320. Recent performance has been encouraging, with whole Army strength increasing by about 1,300 in the past 12 months. It is predicted that the whole Army strength will increase to between 103,000 and 104,000 by the year 2005. Of course, that is not to say that there are no difficulties; it would be foolish to pretend that that is the case. However, recruitment has certainly gone up during the course of the past 12 months. There are other problems. Noble Lords will be quick to say that retention is one of them. Of course, that is correct.

As I say, we continue to withdraw personnel from operations at the earliest possible opportunity but I remind the House that the percentage of the Army committed to operations has reduced from 44 per cent in June 1999, during the height of the Kosovo campaign, to around 27 per cent. That includes those preparing for, deployed on and recovering from operations in April 2002. Those actually on operations at the present time, before we start to withdraw the troops we are discussing, amount to a figure of about 20 per cent.

The average interval between unit tours has also improved. The Army's latest average figure—I emphasise the word "average"—is around 24 months, which is consistent with the SDR target. However, we recognise that some individuals do not fall the right side of that particular average.

I hope that I have answered most of the questions asked by the two noble Lords. As regards the Balkans, no date has yet been set by the United Nations for any reduction in troops there.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 4:11 pm, 20th June 2002

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that for those of us who have had the privilege of serving in the Armed Forces, and have had ministerial responsibility in this area, there is no doubt whatsoever that one of our finest assets in the United Kingdom is the quality and professionalism of the services, not least the Royal Marines? Does my noble friend agree therefore that it is proper for the whole House to record its immense appreciation for what the services have done in these difficult circumstances in Afghanistan and for the patience and long suffering of their families who must have been very anxious for much of the time?

Does not my noble friend agree that one of the highest priorities must be to encourage the new administration in Afghanistan to take responsibility for security and that, therefore, reform of the security sector—the building up of the Afghan military services and, indeed, the building up of the civil police—is a crucial priority?

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said, security in Afghanistan will never be won on that score alone. The economic and social redevelopment and reconstruction of Afghanistan is absolutely crucial, not least if the game being played by the warlords is to be undermined. In that context, can my noble friend reassure the House that there is some acceleration and strengthening of commitment, not only on our part but also on that of our allies, to ensure the success of the economic and social reconstruction programme in that country?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comments and for his remarks on the British Armed Forces, in particular the Marines. I agree with the other points that he raised. Although the Statement is concerned primarily with defence, defence activities should not be considered on their own. The noble Lord is absolutely right to stress the need for economic and social development. That is just as important, if not more so, in the long term as our defence activities at the present time.

Right from the beginning the British Government have been committed to ensure that various departments of state are involved in Afghanistan. The noble Lord will remember that the Statement referred to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, DfID and the Ministry of Defence as being linked together. We work together on this matter. Our Armed Forces in ISAF and the Marines have carried out humanitarian work that probably would not have been done if they had not been there. I promise to pass on the noble Lord's comment about the need to accelerate that side of our activity in the months to come. I think that he will find that that will happen.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

My Lords, I add my personal and warmest tribute to the achievement of the British forces which comes as no surprise to any Member of this House. The British forces bring to this kind of task not only significant military capability and courage but also that quality of humour and good nature on the streets which can win hearts and minds in an absolutely vital and crucial way.

I have two or three questions for the Minister. First, did I hear him say that Turkey would lead ISAF for any particular length of time? Is there a fixed period? Is a further leadership envisaged? Secondly, Afghanistan is hardly a country. If it is to be a country, some unifying security force is critical. There is a reference to the training of 1 Battalion. What are the plans for training any further battalions? Who will be responsible for that? Is it an ISAF responsibility? Does it now become a Turkish responsibility to start training further battalions? Thirdly, the Minister referred to problems of retention and recruitment. I believe that he referred to a target strength of 106,000. Subject to the difficulties of retention and recruitment being effectively tackled, can I take it that the funding is in place to enable that figure of 106,000 troops, if it can be achieved, to be paid for?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comments. He has held high office in the defence field. His comments therefore are of particular value. He did not mishear: I did not mention a time-scale for Turkey's period of leadership as I am not in a position to do so. However, I believe that one can anticipate that it will be of roughly the same length as our leadership. I am afraid that I cannot help the noble Lord further on that matter.

As regards numbers, we would not have mentioned the figure of 106,000-plus if resources were not available to meet that. The noble Lord asked another question, which I—

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

My Lords, I asked about training.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me of that. As I understand the position, the Americans have played an important role in training the new Afghan security force. I do not know whether that involves just the armed forces or whether it includes the police or other elements that make up that crucial security capacity. I do not know who will now be responsible for training the new Afghan army but I shall write to the noble Lord on that matter.

Photo of Lord Desai Lord Desai Labour

My Lords, I too welcome the Statement. I join noble Lords in congratulating our Armed Forces. I pay tribute to them and to their families in regard to the sacrifices they have made.

I have one major and one minor question for the Minister. The first question relates to the destruction of the opium crop. I can see that the opium crop may need to be destroyed, but are farmers compensated for that? If you destroy crops and do not compensate people, you make them hostile. Will the international development agencies seek a way to capture the opium crop and make it non-marketable and, while encouraging farmers not to replant opium, at the same time ensure that they do not lose money as a consequence of our drugs policy? If we do not have an effective drugs policy, it is not their fault.

Secondly, as regards the creation of an Afghan nation, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord King, that is a matter for the Loya Jirgah and politics. Surely there are enough trained people in Afghanistan who can fire a gun and various other arms; the question is to win them over to the government's side. What may be required is a political means of incorporating the warring people into a national army.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's comments about our Armed Forces. I shall do my best to answer his questions. Financial assistance has already been offered to farmers who voluntarily eradicate their opium crop. No doubt that form of assistance will be improved over time. The noble Lord is right to say that if farmers have for years lived off the proceeds of growing opium but suddenly find that they are no longer able to do so, they will be tempted to continue unless they are properly compensated.

The noble Lord's second comment, about the new Afghan army—and, indeed, any new Afghan security force—was absolutely right. That involves as much a political question as a question of training. Great care has been taken to ensure that all the elements that make up Afghanistan are included in the 1st Battalion of the new Afghan National Guard, to which I referred. That can be difficult but it has been taken on board. Nothing would be worse than if the security forces in Afghanistan were committed for various reasons to one part of that nation rather than another.

Photo of Baroness Strange Baroness Strange Crossbench

My Lords, I join in the congratulations expressed by noble Lords throughout the House on the excellence of, and superb services provided by, all our Armed Forces. I say how very proud we all are of them. Could the Minister give us some information about when all of 45 Royal Marine Commando will be able to return to Arbroath? Could he also give us—I know that this is more difficult—any idea of what future commitment there could be for our Armed Forces? I am aware that that means donning his fortune-telling hat.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that question. I know of her great interest and involvement in the part of Scotland in which Arbroath is found. As I understand it, all of 45 Royal Marine, which is currently in Afghanistan taking part in Operation Jacana, will return home in the time period that I mentioned; some will do so sooner rather than later. If I am wrong, I shall let the noble Baroness know at once.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I join in the general congratulations that have been extended to our Armed Forces. I pay tribute in particular to those engaged in the destruction of munitions, who may help to save civilian lives in Afghanistan. We should recognise that those doing that work face hardship and danger carrying out that important task.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, did we complete the training of the 1st Battalion of the Afghan National Guard? If not, could he say more about to whom we handed over the immediate task, irrespective of his promise to write to noble Lords about the long-term future of the training programme for Afghan security forces as a whole?

Secondly, pursuant to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, can the Minister give an undertaking that British troops who are now being withdrawn from Afghanistan will not be redeployed in active service—that might have been foreshadowed by the reference in the Statement to future contingencies—without a full Statement in your Lordships' House and the other place?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I can give that last guarantee to the noble Lord. If we are to send more soldiers or other members of our Armed Forces to Afghanistan in considerable numbers, so as to counter some of the effects of what I have announced today, both Houses of Parliament should be informed. Both Houses of Parliament were informed about Operation Jacana when the 45 Royal Marine first went to Afghanistan.

I thank the noble Lord for his comments on those who destroy munitions. Those outside this House do not always recognise the crucial role that the Armed Forces play as a force for good, as peacekeepers, in making civilisation more possible by getting rid of some of the dreadful landmines. Both of the forces to which I have referred today have been involved in that effort. It is of huge value in saving lives and making sure that people are not injured.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, first, what financial arrangements have been made for the reimbursement of Turkey for undertaking its role? What contribution is Britain making to that reimbursement, both as a proportion and as a sum of money? Secondly, what has been the total cost to us so far of our military involvement in Afghanistan? Which countries have contributed to that cost, and how much did they contribute?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot help the noble Lord with his second question, but I shall make sure that he is written to and given the latest figures that are available. So far as Turkey is concerned, the British Government have not paid any financial assistance to the Turks. As I said when I repeated the Statement, we have left some equipment for them, including the computers to which I referred. The United States, which has given its firm support to us—it will also do so to Turkey—has played a full part in the discussions concerning the handover and it gave Turkey 28 million dollars in financial assistance.

Photo of Lord Jopling Lord Jopling Conservative

My Lords, while the Minister may not like to use the word "overstretch", is he aware that almost everyone else uses it and that almost everyone else believes that the Army is currently seriously overstretched?

The Minister kindly gave noble Lords various figures about Army strength and recruitment. Has he heard reports—I heard one only this morning—stating that the Government's current intention is to cut the size of the Army to below 100,000 in future defence reviews? Bearing in mind the level of overstretch, the continuing terrorist threat, the demands of the new European ESDP and the need to catch up with training—my noble friend on the Front Bench referred to that—it would be absolute lunacy at the moment to reduce the size of the Army to below 100,000. Will he tell us that those reports are totally unfounded?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

Yes, my Lords, I can indeed. I am happy to tell the noble Lord and the House that those reports are totally unfounded. The figure that I gave—106,978—is the considered figure after reviewing the Army's future manpower requirement. I know that articles in the press have made the suggestion that the noble Lord kindly put to me. Those articles—not for the first time in the defence field—are wrong.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, we are rightly paying tribute to our Armed Forces for their remarkable role in achieving security, especially in Kabul. Does the Minister also recognise the contribution of British non-governmental organisations, which deploy considerable forces, not least in the field of security? I refer, for example, to the mine-clearance agencies.

The Minister mentioned engineers. Is it true that the ISAF forces are now moving outside Kabul into civil engineering? Have they a role in, for example, the reconstruction of roads from the Iranian border, with which the Government of Iran are involved?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I am more than happy to acknowledge the very important role that NGOs have played right from the start in Afghanistan. They went there when it was extremely dangerous to do so. I am grateful to the noble Earl for having raised that.

On ISAF, the United Nations resolution that set it up and which continues it relates to Kabul and the area immediately surrounding it. So far, that is precisely the area on which those working in ISAF have concentrated. Moving to a wider area in Afghanistan would be a big step, which has not yet been taken.

Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the importance that the Afghan Government attach to the elimination of the opium poppy is confirmed by the fact that the Minister of Defence, when an assassination attempt was made on him a few months ago, was engaged in precisely that role with other army officers? Did I correctly understand the Minister to say that some of the British troops who remain will continue to train the Afghan army, which at present consists of only two battalions? If so, that is an immensely important role, not least to this country because historically, as the Minister no doubt knows, 90 per cent of the heroin in this country has come from Afghanistan. Over the past year, the growth of the poppy in Afghanistan has increased dramatically following a ban imposed by the Taliban.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comments. There is no doubt that the administration in Afghanistan has taken a brave stance on opium and heroin. It is one with which we shall assist them as best we can for exactly the reason given by the noble Lord. Many people in this country are victims of that terrible trade, and it has gone on for many years.

Photo of Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Crossbench

My Lords, are our forces being brought back from Afghanistan and possibly from Kosovo with a view to their future deployment in assisting the United States in a possible engagement with Iraq?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, they are not being brought back for that reason. No decision has been taken to launch military action and such action is not imminent. As we have made clear on a number of occasions, we are proceeding patiently and prudently in consultation with our allies and we are giving Iraq every chance to comply with United Nations resolutions. Therefore, the answer to the noble Lady is: no.