I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Heald on securing this important debate. It is a pleasure to follow Jeremy Corbyn. All I would say in response to his comments is that I do not think that anyone but a fool would think that this campaign, war, policy, insurgency—call it what we will, although the language is important—can be won by military means alone. I am sure that the Minister would agree with that.
I was brought up with tomes of counter-insurgency documents, such as Frank Kitson's books or Robert Thompson's books, based on the British and American experiences of counter-insurgency. I was surprised, therefore, after Baghdad fell, when I spent some time on the Iraq-Iran border at a relatively benign time, to be told by the locals, "Listen, get your reconstruction right, because if you don't, you're going to have a Shi'a uprising, you just are. Iran is going to be drawn into this conflict, as sure as eggs is eggs." That comment was clearly made to me. Thompson, Kitson and the higher command and staff course all teach that counter-insurgency is not fought by bombs and bullets alone.
I do not mean to patronise the Minister in any way, but I hope that he will allow me to reflect some of the comments of a certain infantry battalion—its name he can probably guess—which returned from Afghanistan recently with nine dead and more than 30 injured, and which is due to return in the near future. I shall set out what my former comrades are telling me of their deepest and most grave concerns for their return to Helmand next spring.
The first has been touched on by a number of different people. My former comrades are not clear in their minds what the relationship is with the Pakistani Government, what the position is of the Inter-Services Intelligence—the Pakistani intelligence service—or exactly what is being done to control the movement of foreign fighters to and from the border. They are happy, and I hope the Minister believes this, to kill those people, but by golly, every time that they knock one down, three more seem to spring up. They are not clear about that. That has a major impact on their morale, particularly for men who are now seasoned fighting soldiers.
The second point is an unlikely one to come from a military mouth, or at least I thought that it was. They are unclear about where the future lies for the process of security sector reform and reconciliation in particular. I was asked, for instance, what exactly was the position with Michael Semple and the United Nations official Mervyn Patterson? What were they trying to achieve? If they were doing what it is said they were trying to do, which was broadly praised by my former comrades, why were they arrested? Why were they ejected? What is the position on reconciliation? Going back to Thompson and Kitson, reconciliation means talking to the enemy, trying to turn the enemy into our friends, and heavens above, that was the secret to our supposed, or at least our partial, success in Northern Ireland. Where do we stand on reconciliation?
The next point, which I thought was absolutely crucial, was the question of why we are so poor at communicating our views with the world through the national and international media. They made the point that all that the Taliban have to do is to pick up a mobile phone and speak directly to al-Jazeera to allow their particular bit of poison to drip into the world's ear, yet if a military public information strategy is being thought up it is "staffed to death"—their phrase, not mine. Nothing is agile about how we put our views, or our propaganda, into the world arena. It is slow, cumbersome, risk averse and too often, it is politically correct. The enemy are defeating us with propaganda just as surely as they are damaging us with bombs and bullets.
The next two points fall under one generic heading, which concerns the key to local success. I am not of the school that believes we will ever see an established democracy with universal peace in Afghanistan, any more than we did in the 19th or 20th centuries—it is not that sort of country. None the less, the key to that peace lies in two places: the Afghan national police and the Afghan national army. I will not repeat the points that have been made much more eloquently by my some of my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Islington, North. If we wish to have a competent police force, and not, to quote a former colleague of mine, one that is
"seen by the Afghans as corrupt and narco-ridden" and if we are to have a reliable army, we must provide the right number of instructors, trainers and mentors, in a benign environment in which training can occur. If the trainers and the operational mentoring liaison teams keep getting killed and shot, and if that job is seen as the single most dangerous military job in Helmand province at the moment, we are simply not progressing.
On a point that is more wide-ranging, but which is really the same argument, if redevelopment and reconciliation occur and if security sector reform generally occurs and an area is pacified—although that is a relative term—and it becomes as benign as Kabul or Lashkagar have been, the rules of counter-insurgency dictate that there must be enough troops, police, or paramilitaries, whatever they are, to hold those areas and to keep them benign. We cannot have the sort of operations springing up behind our front lines that we have already seen.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister to address those specific points and to add his weight to the argument that if we are going to try to contain the situation, if not triumph in this area, there have to be enough troops properly equipped with enough transport, aircraft and resources.