WEDNESDAY 19 APRIL 2000 _________ Members present: Mr Bruce George, in the Chair Mr Julian Brazier Mr Harry Cohen Mr Mike Gapes Mr Mike Hancock Mr Stephen Hepburn Mr Jimmy Hood Dr Julian Lewis Mr Peter Viggers _________ MEMORANDUM SUBMITTED BY THE MINISTRY OF DEFENCE EXAMINATION OF WITNESSES RT HON GEOFFREY HOON, a Member of the House, Secretary of State, AIR COMMODORE GLEN TORPY, Director, Air Operations, MR SIMON WEBB, Director General, Operational Policy, Ministry of Defence, examined. Chairman 1. Welcome, Secretary of State, and your colleagues. Welcome to this evidence session on the no fly zones over Iraq. If I might make some introductory remarks, and then you might wish to, Secretary of State, our evidence session today will examine the UK contribution to operations to patrol the no fly zones over Iraq. The no fly zones have been in existence since the early 1990s. They cover substantial areas of northern and southern Iraq with the stated aim of protecting minority peoples in those regions. Patrolling the zones is undertaken by a coalition force, now principally involving the US and the UK, but with support from the host Gulf states. Iraqi violations of the zones are a regular occurrence and coalition aircraft frequently come under attack from Iraqi artillery. Although this is a low key operation in terms of the media coverage it receives, it involves about 1,000 UK personnel and the cost of operations in the Gulf region as a whole for the last financial year is estimated at œ30 million. Today's evidence session follows on from the visit made by the Committee to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait. It was an extremely worthwhile and interesting visit. We were able to meet the British forces, mainly RAF personnel, deployed in all three countries and were fully briefed by them on the particular challenges of the mission. We should never forget that our Forces personnel are risking their lives in the Gulf and we would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the professionalism and commitment they demonstrate. We were able during our visit to discuss the wider regional security issues with ministers and chiefs of staff of the three Gulf states we visited and we are grateful to the host countries for the welcome extended to us. We are also grateful to the MoD officials and the Foreign Office posts who helped to organise the visit in a way which enabled us to cover so much ground in the six days available to us and for the very helpful written material they provided in advance. In principle, we would be interested to know why you invited the Defence Minister to watch Derby County, Secretary of State, when you had an opportunity to take them to far more illustrious teams - not, I might say, Walsall, which is quite close. Is this part of the punishment inflicted? Our intention during this evidence session is to explore the purpose and execution of the operation in more detail and to discuss with you some of the concerns which were raised with us during our visit. Perhaps, Secretary of State, you would begin by introducing your team? (Mr Hoon) Well, Mr Chairman, before I do I was about to thank you for your generous invitation to be with you and share your hospitality this afternoon, but after your unfortunate remarks about Derby County I am not entirely sure that I am feeling quite so generous. As you know, no greater invitation could be bestowed on a fellow human being than to watch Derby County. Since Mr Gapes is here, and he was probably happy with the result on Saturday afternoon, I had probably better not dwell on it further. Chairman: I did tell him to bring a player with him. Mr Gapes 2. I have got Paulo Wanchope waiting outside! (Mr Hoon) More seriously, can I thank you for your kind words about the armed forces deployed there and, indeed, about the help that you were given by MoD officials. I was in Saudi Arabia last week and, as you mentioned, I met the Kuwait Defence Minister on Saturday, and everyone spoke warmly of your visit and they were very pleased to see you there. I am delighted that you were able to take advantage of the opportunities that were available. I am joined today by Simon Webb, the Director General of Operational Policy, and Air Commodore Glen Torpy who is the Director of Air Operations. I can, I think, dispense with the need for an opening statement, and I would be delighted to try and answer any questions that you have. Chairman 3. Thank you so much. In terms of clarifying the issues, could you explain to us, Secretary of State, what activities are covered by the umbrella title of Operation Bolton? (Mr Hoon) What we are seeking to do with the no fly zones is to support United Nations Security Council Resolution 688 which demanded an end to Saddam Hussein's repression of the Kurds in the north and the Shi'a in the south for clear humanitarian reasons. So the purpose of our operations is to ensure that we afford protection to those on the ground by monitoring the way in which the Iraqis comply with UNSCR 688. Such action is entirely justified within international law in response to a situation of overwhelming humanitarian necessity. 4. Geographically, what is the scope of Bolton? (Mr Hoon) We operate within two no fly zones that have been established since, respectively, April 1991 for the north and August 1992 for the south. They ensure that Iraqi aircraft are unable to fly north of the 36th parallel and south of the 33rd. Essentially, we patrol those zones together with our allies as a means of containing the regime in Iraq. 5. We are a little confused about whether it includes the northern no fly zone within the generic term. (Mr Webb) Technically speaking, we give the northern no fly zone, sometimes, a different sub-name - Warden - but in policy terms we look at them as a piece and we monitor them day-by-day as a piece. Technically speaking, it is Bolton in the south and Warden in the north. 6. If anything needs to be clarified further, perhaps you could inform us, Mr Webb, because when we looked at the briefing papers we received and from speaking to people there we were not exactly certain as to the scope, but you are saying, in essence, it covers the northern as well as the southern. Secretary of State, you mentioned the humanitarian missions of the no fly zones. Would you like to add, perhaps, anything that is gained by our activities other than the humanitarian mission? What other useful purpose does it serve? (Mr Hoon) There is no doubt - and I am sure the Committee found this during its visits in the region - that our presence does give a degree of confidence and security to Iraq's immediate neighbours in the region. Undoubtedly, they are still concerned about the threat that Saddam Hussein's regime poses to them. So our presence there is reassuring to them, particularly, of course, as, historically, it follows on from the fact that we stood by Kuwait following the invasion of Kuwait. That, again, is a very strong indication of the determination of the allies to stand by our friends in that region. 7. Is there any empirical evidence that we are actually achieving our objectives in protecting the minority groups in the north and the south? (Mr Hoon) The empirical evidence is, of course, concerned with what happened immediately before the establishment of the no fly zones: the fact that Saddam Hussein used his ability to dominate the air to cause appalling attacks to be perpetrated on people on the ground. That was a justification for us agreeing the no fly zones in the first place. I cannot categorically give you empirical evidence as to what has occurred since then, save to say that we have been very successful in patrolling those no fly zones in ensuring that he is not able to use his ability to dominate the air to cause further problems. What we can say, of course, is that on the ground there have been difficulties. The no fly zones, in our view, have certainly prevented Saddam Hussein from carrying out the kinds of overwhelming attacks that he perpetrated before 1992 and 1991 respectively. 8. If there is such evidence available but you cannot recall it, produced by the Foreign Office or minority rights groups, perhaps you could alert us to it. If we do have a major commitment and the purpose is ostensibly humanitarian, it would be quite helpful to have what intelligence is available. That what we are doing is benefiting the people in the region. (Mr Hoon) You are essentially asking me to prove a negative. We have been successful in ensuring that Saddam Hussein is not able to fly over the no fly zones. That is one piece of empirical evidence. He has not been able to use the sky to attack people on the ground in the zones. He did so before the zones were established. He has not been able to do so since. There can not be any evidence other than the fact that he has from time to time, on the ground, perpetrated atrocities on the ground underneath the no fly zones. All I can say to you is that we judge that but for the no fly zones, he would be able to do what he did before 1992 and 1991 on the ground. I do not think there can be any more empirical evidence than the judgment I make and I hope you share, that we are doing an extremely good job there in making sure that he cannot carry out the kinds of attacks before the no fly zones were established. 9. As far as I am concerned, I totally endorse what we are doing and how we are doing it, but on a committee sometimes we have to argue the case that people outside would like us to argue, and I have heard and read. (Mr Hoon) I do not know whether the Air Commodore would like to add any more or, for that matter, Simon. (Air Commodore Torpy) I have nothing else to add. (Mr Webb) I think one can pick out some incidents that did occur before. The ones which strike me were the use of chemical weapons in the late 1980s at Halabjah against the Kurdish population, which caused 10,000 deaths, something of that order. The operation which stimulated the no fly zone in the south was against the Shi'a Arabs in the Delta there, which led to the displacement of (figures which come to me) of 100,000 to 150,000 people, who were displaced by those operations, which included aircraft and helicopter gun ships. Some of these people are still in Iran to this day. Those are overwhelming humanitarian incidents which prompted this reaction. What we can say is that since then, yes, there has been trouble. They have been across border into the Kurdish areas, but you do not get very far shelling. There have been deportations of minorities. Perhaps Kurds, Turkomans and Assyrians might even get up to 10,000 or 15,000. In the south you have seen operations against villages and so on, which we could describe in more detail. It is a difference of scale, that is the point. Before, you had these overwhelming tragedies. Now you have signs of repression going on -and I fear it is repeated signs - but it is not on anything like the same scale. I think that is the achievement: to stop the very large scale of oppression that we saw before. 10. How would you rebut those people who argue that the concept that we are operating under, and the way the no fly zones are being enforced, is actually doing more harm to the Iraqi people than assisting? (Mr Hoon) All I would say is that it simply is not true. We have made it consistently clear that we have no quarrel with the Iraqi people. We are there, and our pilots and aircrew are risking their lives in order to protect people on the ground. Equally, we have made it quite clear that we will respond in self-defence if aircraft are attacked. They come under fire and they respond in kind, but we are very careful to ensure that in selecting targets we do so in a proportionate manner and, indeed, in a manner that avoids, if at all possible, the prospect of civilian casualties. The suggestions that are made from time to time, that there are widespread civilian casualties, I am afraid generally emanate from Baghdad and are inherently unreliable. 11. Lastly, in terms of the legal basis for the operation, do you believe that UNSCR 688 provides that sufficient legal basis for our operations and the American operations? (Mr Hoon) I put it very carefully earlier that the justification is essentially based on the overwhelming humanitarian necessity of protecting people on the ground, combined with the need to monitor the effect of 688; so it is the two taken in combination that provides the legal justification. 12. You are perfectly happy with that? (Mr Hoon) Yes. Mr Hancock 13. On the justification about protection for people on the ground, when the story goes out from today's evidence, a lot of British people and other people will be surprised to hear that whilst we can hold the line in the air, there are atrocities and people are still being killed by what Saddam is doing on the ground. I would have thought that most people would have thought that the no fly zone was there to protect people both from air attack and from continued atrocity on the ground. Why is it not possible for you to give that humanitarian protection? Why is it not possible that two air forces, operating in both ends of a country, cannot prevent that criminal act against innocent people happening on the ground? (Mr Hoon) Because then we would be engaged in ground operations on what is clearly the sovereign territory of Iraq. The legal justification in those circumstances would clearly have to change. What we are doing is monitoring compliance with a United National Security Council Resolution. There would have to be a different United Nations Security Council Resolution in order to justify in law what you are describing. 14. Is not your airspace sovereign space as well? Do we not treat airspace over the United Kingdom as part of the sovereign state and defendable? (Mr Hoon) Yes, it is, but our legal advice would be that it would require a different legal basis in order to justify what would be ground operations. Chairman: This is perhaps worthy of a note, Secretary of State, from your legal adviser. It would be quite helpful. Dr Lewis 15. Chair, before we move on. Following up on what Mr Hancock has just said, in December 1998 we did launch attacks on ground installations from the air. Did that require a different legal basis? (Mr Hoon) No, it did not, but again it was designed to deal with the threats to existing UN Security Council Resolutions, particularly in the light of weapons of mass destruction. Those attacks were concerned with enforcing the Security Council concerns about the efforts that Iraq were making to develop weapons of mass destruction. In those circumstances, again - and it is consistent with the answer I just gave - our response was justified in international law on the basis of the Resolution. There would need to be a different legal basis in order to justify today attacks on the ground. Chairman: Perhaps that following question from Dr Lewis might be incorporated in your note to us, please, Secretary of State. Mr Hancock 16. But how can it be right to attack a threat which has not actually materialised? - and I would not condemn that. I think it was a perfectly legitimate thing to do - but you cannot attack the real thing when people are being killed on the ground by rocket shying and what have you, when you have the capability of taking those rocket carrying vehicles out and to knock out gun replacements? (Mr Hoon) Because specifically in relation to Desert Fox, what we were seeking to do was to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing weapons of mass destruction, having had information that that was what he was doing. Security Council Resolutions justify making intervention for that reason. We are able to attack assets on the ground like radar, anti-aircraft installations, potential missile installations, in order to prevent attacks on our aircraft in self-defence. Okay, they are on the ground. But there are certainly circumstances - and we relied on this as a matter of international law in Kosovo - where once again we would be able to take action on the ground in response to a situation of overwhelming humanitarian necessity. That is a question of scale. I accept that it is extremely difficult to make judgments as to what is the appropriate scale precisely to justify intervention. All I am saying, for the moment, is that we do not judge that there is sufficient repression today, for us to make the judgment that it would be appropriate for us to intervene, using ground forces, to deal with the kinds of incidents that we are aware of in the two zones. I accept that is a judgment that you might not share. Mr Viggers 17. This is a big operation, is it not, patrolling the no fly zone? I was impressed by the scale of it. The number of aircraft required. Perhaps the Air Commodore could tell us how many aircraft and what types are involved in a typical patrol, including the surveillance, refuelling and so on. Am I right in thinking that the work of the patrolling is really to back up photographic work by aircraft? (Air Commodore Torpy) Correct. The actual patrolling of the no fly zone is conducted in packages of aircraft. The primary role is to provide tactical reconnaissance, which is only one constituent part of building up the overall intelligence picture, which is provided by unmanned vehicles, by imaging and satellite as well. A typical package is about 50 aeroplanes but it does vary, depending on the number of targets which are actually going to be looked at by the reconnaissance aircraft. It involves Hawk aircraft, which are tanker aircraft, AWAX aircraft co-ordination, the actual packages which go into the no fly zones, fighter sweep aircraft, suppression of enemy defence aircraft, which is both American jamming aircraft and aircraft which can fly anti-radiation missiles, should aircraft be threatened by a sound threat. Then we have clearly aircraft which do the reconnaissance, and also the defence operations, should they be required in self-defence. 18. So the whole of this large operation is really to enable photographic reconnaissance to take place, which means that if that is the prime purpose, what evidence do we have from that photographic reconnaissance of continued operation by Saddam Hussein against the local population? (Mr Webb) We pick up, as I was illustrating earlier, these sporadic incidents. If I can come back to Mr Hancock's point. We have managed successfully to prevent the major atrocities that have been seen in the past. What is very difficult to deal with, of course, is something that happens on a day-to-day scale, a small incident. We all know from the Balkans. If there is a small group of people which are being rounded up, something like that, unless you were going to occupy the whole country there is a limit to what you can do. However, we do manage to keep the lid on it. That, I think, is the important point here. What the aerial reconnaissance shows is that for the most part we are succeeding in keeping the lid on the major atrocities, but we do say - and you asked me so I told you - we do see sporadic incidents, which do show that repression is still a risk; and that is important when one is looking for the basis for the operation. But just because you cannot do everything, is not a good reason for doing most of it. Chairman 19. We have had briefings on photographic reconnaissance. (Mr Hoon) One practical thing that we can learn from the air is that from time to time there have been houses that have been bulldozed and villages that have been flattened. Whether that indicates attacks on the people themselves, the photography does not necessarily reveal, but certainly we can see from the air, from time to time, that he continues - particularly in the south - to use his ability to dominate the ground; to perpetrate these kinds of attacks on civilian populations. Mr Cohen 20. Secretary of State, you mentioned UN Resolution 688 as a legal justification. I have that in front of me, that 1991 Resolution. Whilst it is condemnatory of the Iraqi regime, it does not mention military operations or give any authority for it whatsoever. It just says that it appeals to all Member States and all humanitarian organisations to contribute to these humanitarian relief efforts. Is it not the case that the Russians have said that these are not backed by specific UN resolutions; and France have actually withdrawn from the operations because they say there is no humanitarian content? Just on the issue of the land, which you said is the issue of sovereign territory, how much land do the zones cover? I understand in the south it is a third of Iraq alone. So is there not a bit of an inconsistency about who is protected and who is not from humanitarian problems? Is it not really an occupation with an arbitrary line drawn? (Mr Hoon) Let me deal with the legal justification. I did not say that it was simply saying UN Resolution 688. What I said was that it was the Resolution, in conjunction with our judgment: that it was necessary, in order to protect people on the ground, in what we see to be circumstances of humanitarian necessity. 21. Where is the legal justification? (Mr Hoon) The legal justification is the combination of the two, which is what I said earlier. There is a clear justification in international law for the international community to respond; to protect people where they are threatened by an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. That is precisely the same legal justification which was used in relation to Kosovo. It is that, in combination with the indication in 688, that we should take steps to prevent the attacks on people, on minority peoples in Iraq. Inevitably, those people are not precisely located in particular parts of the country. Indeed, there are Kurds south of the line and I am sure there are Shi'as north of it. I accept you are right to this extent that it is arbitrary, but those lines were selected as providing protection to as large a number of people as we reasonably could. Mr Hancock 22. 10,000 people have been kicked out of the country, which Saddam has done since the war stopped, and that is more than were pushed out of Kosovo before we started bombing Kosovo. Does that not reflect that the legal justification for taking action against what is happening on the ground is far greater for doing something in Iraq than, it could be argued, it was in Kosovo? If you are talking about sheer numbers of people who have been pushed about, the reality is that Iraq were kicking out more people over a longer period of time than the Serbs were doing in Kosovo. Your friend on the right is nodding in agreement. (Mr Hoon) I do not think he is! (Mr Webb) I think the situation is very different because we are talking about the accumulating figures over a period of many years. What was happening in Kosovo was --- 23. --- over a few months, I understand. (Mr Webb) Yes, months, and building up very quickly. So it is different in time and scale. Chairman: All will be explained in your memorandum. Question number 2. Mike Gapes, please, who has been very patient. Mr Gapes 24. Nobody who has met the Kurds who have been tortured, or who has met people from the south of Iraq, can doubt the brutality of the regime. My first question. The no fly zones operate within a certain range: the 36th parallel in the north and the 33rd parallel in the south. Clearly there can be all kinds of atrocities and terrible things going on within the area of the central belt of Iraq, which none of us can see, but just from my confirmation that we have no surveillance or information about what is going on there, how certain can we be that Saddam is not carrying out his threat to rebuild his capabilities? (Mr Hoon) We cannot be certain, and that is why in the course of the negotiations leading to the passing of Security Council Resolution 1284 we emphasised the importance of fulfilling the regimes previous responsibilities in relation to inspection and, also, allowing us the opportunity of ensuring that he has not rebuilt his capabilities to develop weapons of mass destruction. I have to say that given his absolute determination to exclude us then we must reach certain suspicious conclusions but we cannot absolutely guarantee what is taking place in that central belt. Really, to return to the point I made earlier, the zones are established to protect minorities who clearly have been under threat. In answer to the Chairman's earlier questions, they were established in response to particular specific events. Those events have not been able to occur on the same scale simply because of the no fly zones, in our judgment. I accept that is capable of other interpretation. 25. What evidence do we have and what information do we have about the way in which Iraq has been trying to rebuild its armed forces since 1991? (Mr Hoon) I can in time give you some information about that because there is no doubt that Iraq remains an extremely powerful country militarily, although we judge that their technological capabilities have deteriorated as a result of UN sanctions which we judge to have been successful in that respect. Nevertheless, Iraq still maintains very significant armed forces. We believe that Iraq has active armed forces in the order of 429,000 people, it has reserves of 650,000, some 2,200 tanks, 1,800 artillery pieces and probably 300 combat aircraft. That is a formidable arsenal and a formidable capacity for offensive action. If you compare it with Kuwait's total of around 49,000 active armed forces and reserves, even Saudi Arabia at 162,000 is far short of what Iraq has. Now, again, it is a matter of judgment, you might judge that Iraq has got those forces for purely defensive purposes, I do not reach that conclusion. I cannot see that a country that claims such difficulty for its people and claims poverty internationally should be maintaining such a large armed force but for reasons of threatening its neighbours and that is what we judge Iraq is doing. 26. You said that sanctions have been successful, you are talking there specifically about the sanctions against military material and militarily usable, capable equipment. As I understand it, the vast majority of things where people apply for licences are approved but, nevertheless, there are some areas which are not. Could you give us some more information about how sanctions work? How effective they are? What capabilities Saddam is trying to get which he is not getting as a result of sanctions? (Mr Hoon) We are able to use the sanctions to ensure that Saddam is not capable of building up his military capability, particularly as far as technology is concerned but, also, clearly we look very carefully at chemicals, at any kind of equipment which might be used to develop weapons of mass destruction. The sanctions are targeted and are very specific. They are designed to inhibit Iraq's ability to rearm itself. 27. There are no sanctions against food? There are no sanctions against medicine? (Mr Hoon) There are no sanctions against food. There are no sanctions against medicine. There are no sanctions against educational materials. There are a range of things which, from time to time, we are accused of preventing from being exported to Iraq but, generally speaking, they are simply not true. 28. Can I take you back to the point about Kuwait. You mentioned Kuwait's armed forces, those of us who were there, looking at the terrain, could see that Kuwait would be pretty indefensible in terms of a mass land invasion from the north. What do you assess the intentions of Iraq are towards Kuwait? Have they changed their attitude since the defeat in 1991? (Mr Hoon) In formal terms, no, because they still maintain a territorial claim on Kuwait. Certainly in the past they have called upon the people of Kuwait to rise up and overthrow their present government. Certainly they have no particular respect for governments in the region. It is a matter why many of those governments feel so alienated from the regime in Iraq. Really our judgment must rest on the fact that they maintain this territorial claim to Kuwait and nothing in the recent history seems to have altered that. 29. If there were no British and American forces in the region and there was no no fly zone in the South, do you think Iraqis would be far more aggressive in their attitudes to the Kuwaitis? (Mr Hoon) There must certainly be a risk of that. The military capability that I described, the disparity between the level of their armed forces and those of their immediate neighbours and, frankly, recent history must make - and I have heard this from a number of different countries in the region - them concerned about Iraq's intentions. 30. In a sense I get the impression that we have got Saddam in a box and he is not able to get out of it but we are in a kind of stand-off situation. He is not in a position where militarily he is prepared to launch an attack but, nevertheless, his capabilities are still there and we are not doing anything to remove those capabilities. (Mr Hoon) I think that is not an unreasonable description except that I would not necessarily draw the same conclusion. We spent many, many months agreeing a new Security Council Resolution which we believe offers the Iraqi regime a way out and a very sensible way out both as far as the Iraqi people are concerned and equally as far as the region is concerned but, ultimately, as far as the rest of the world is concerned in the sense that the inspection regime would allow us to be sure he is not developing weapons of mass destruction that could threaten countries well beyond his immediate region. Whilst, as I say, I share your description, I do not accept that we are content to remain where we are now. The fact that we put such a lot of effort into securing that new Resolution does indicate that we want to see movement, we want to help the Iraqi people. We do not want Iraq impoverished or broken up, we would like to see Iraq restored to the international community but that does depend, crucially, on the present regime accepting Security Council Resolution 1284. 31. I accept that. Can I ask you then about the Iraqi chemical, biological and nuclear programmes. What is your assessment of the capability in that area and is there a possible danger for any of our forces? We saw our forces very close up to the Iraqi border, our ground forces, the UN military observers and we saw, also, our people in Bahrain and in Saudi. Is there a threat to any of those forces as a result of these Iraqi capabilities? (Mr Hoon) Clearly, as I said earlier, since the expulsion of UNSCOM in December 1998 we have a much less complete picture than we had previously as to what precisely the regime is up to. We judge that certainly there are still undeclared stocks of chemical weapons, agents weapons and precursors. We know as well that Iraq has the capability to start the production of significant stocks of mustard gas and the production of nerve agents probably quite quickly if they choose to do so. They have admitted in the past the production of weaponisation of anthrax spores. Again, we make assessments about their ability to produce these in significant quantities and we judge that they could do so, if they chose, quite quickly, in a matter of weeks. Obviously without an effective inspection system we are making judgements about their capability rather than having specific evidence, and clearly, as I said earlier, without an effective inspection regime we must be suspicious, in the light of what they have done in the past, as to what they might intend to do in the future. 32. Is that, in a sense, why the Iraqis are rejecting the new Security Council Resolution 1284? I have just been reading the book by Bhatia and McGrory on the development of their nuclear programme over many years and the lengths to which they went to keep secrecy and to build that up. Is there a fear that in fact the reason they do not want the inspectors in is that the inspectors started last time to get close and therefore even with a new Resolution, which is a considerable move from where they were before, nevertheless they dare not allow inspectors in again, because the inspectors might reveal what they are up to? (Mr Hoon) That is certainly one judgement that could be made. I think, without being evasive, that if I am of a particularly suspicious frame of mind myself, that is certainly where I place the first emphasis in terms of the various reasons they might have as to why they do not accept 1284. However, it does seem to me that 1284 is a very sensible, pragmatic view by the international community of a way out for Saddam Hussein. Clearly, inspection is a key aspect of that exit strategy, and it may well be that the reason Saddam Hussein is reluctant to allow it is the precise reason that you describe. 33. Can I finally ask you about the no fly zones. The operation of them has changed over a period of time. Has the number of flights been stepped up since Desert Fox? (Mr Hoon) The short answer is no. I was slightly puzzled when you said that they had changed. 34. There was an expansion of the zone from the 32nd to the 33rd parallel. (Mr Hoon) The basic justification remains the same, but there has been some fluctuation in the number of missions and the number of responses. Essentially, though, since Desert Fox there has been an overall decline in the operations both in the southern and the northern no fly zones. With the permission of the Chairman, I think we can probably give you some statistical information to assist you. This is information which is already in the public domain. I do not know if we have copies for everybody. Chairman: Send us the document. Thank you very much. Mr Gapes 35. Thank you. Finally, related to that, the French were participating but now are no longer participating. Can you explain why the French are no longer involved in the no fly zones, what role they currently have and why, if they are not participating, they have still got forces deployed in the region? (Mr Hoon) All of those questions are strictly a matter for the French Government. 36. You must have a view on it? (Mr Hoon) I have a view on it, but I am not sure that your questions invite my view; they invite me to explain why the French are not there. 37. I shall put it another way around. Would you like to explain what the role of the no fly zones is now without the French, compared with what it was before, and whether the French withdrawal has had any effect on the effectiveness and the number of missions? (Mr Hoon) The French maintain aircraft, as you will have seen, in Saudi Arabia. 38. We saw stationary ones, yes. (Mr Hoon) They still train and they still exercise. We would certainly welcome their return to participating in the monitoring of the no fly zones. For the moment they choose not to participate. 39. Does that mean that they have no role within this operation Desert Fox or the subsequent operation since then? (Mr Hoon) The French aircraft withdrew from the northern no fly zone in December 1996, and in the south in 1998. They must make their own judgement as to why it is that they chose to do that. We would certainly welcome them back if they wished to rejoin us. The fact that their aircraft are there and are available must mean that that would be relatively straightforward. Chairman: It might be quite confusing, as most of the Iraqi aircraft are French anyway. I would not like to see any friendly fire on our French allies, Secretary of State, so keep them where they are. Dr Lewis. Dr Lewis 40. I have one or two questions about the role of airpower in relation to preventing Iraq acquiring weapons of mass destruction. In December 1998 we were told that the bombardment was to inhibit this. However, earlier in the year, in February, the Foreign Secretary told the House that because of the dangers the one thing that we would be careful not to bomb would be stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons. Can you explain to me whether the bombing in December 1998 did anything to inhibit the Iraqi potential for acquisition or use of chemical and biological weapons, and if so, what? (Mr Webb) The operation in December 1998 certainly did substantially erode the Iraqi capability in this area, but I think one will notice that it also managed to do so without causing very substantial collateral damage problems at the same time, so it was very well engineered. I think I would probably, Chairman, rather not get into lots more detail beyond that point in open session, because targeting matters can get rather sensitive. The proof is that it did succeed in its objective. (Mr Hoon) I apologise to members of the Committee, Chairman, that I am not wholly familiar with the details of Desert Fox, because I came prepared to deal with no fly zones, but I shall certainly, in any way that assists the Committee, supply appropriate information in due course. 41. I shall press this one more time, because this is relevant to today's inquiry. Surely one of the purposes of the continuing air patrols is to enable us to continue to restrict or inhibit the acquisition of mass destruction weapons by Saddam Hussein? If I am not correct in that, perhaps you will tell me, but in any event I do not think it is adequate to use the shield of your security to avoid the very straightforward point that if you are going to avoid hitting stockpiles of these weapons, and if those stockpiles already exist, it is hard to see how hitting anything can limit or restrict that capability to use those weapons if they already exist. (Mr Hoon) I am not confident, but I do not think that any part of our justification legally for the no fly zones is to do with inhibiting the programme of Saddam Hussein to develop weapons of mass destruction. There is not that connection. (Mr Webb) No. Obviously the no fly zones only apply to certain parts of the country, so they could not be effective in that respect in other parts of the country. That is one reason why the UN has been striving so hard to get inspection on the ground back in there. 42. So as far as we are concerned, then, whatever it was that we magically did in December 1998 to damage that potential to acquire weapons of mass destruction, we are no longer doing now, and therefore presumably Saddam Hussein is now able to do whatever it is we were purporting to stop him doing in respect of chemical and biological weapons in December 1998? (Mr Hoon) We certainly damaged his capabilities comprehensively in Desert Fox. The question is, to what extent he has been able to repair those facilities in the interim. As I said earlier, we judge that sanctions have been successful in limiting the regime's ability to develop the equipment and the weapons that we are concerned about. Equally, as I conceded and have conceded on a number of occasions, the reality is that without an effective inspection system we cannot be wholly sure, and therefore that is why 1284 does create a new inspection system that we believe Saddam Hussein should accept as a means of ultimately restoring Iraq to the international community. Mr Hancock 43. I want to ask some questions, if I may, about the cost involved. If we go back to the height of the campaign there, or just afterwards, we were spending œ« billion a year and it has now gone down to around œ30 million. That is a big de-escalation. Do you consider that what you are getting for that œ30 million is good value for money, or were there other alternatives that you considered to keep Saddam and his regime under control? (Mr Hoon) To the extent that it has been a remarkably successful operation - or operations, depending on how you choose to describe them - then I have no doubt that it has provided extremely good value for the money that has been spent. As I say, I am confident that in terms of inhibiting Saddam Hussein's ability to threaten his own people, inhibiting his ability in the region as well as restricting his ability to threaten internationally, I think it has been a remarkably useful exercise and money very well spent. There clearly are other ways in which you could conceivably monitor the no fly zones, and certainly from time to time it is necessary to look at those, but we have ----- 44. What are they? (Mr Hoon) We have judged that they are not as successful in being able to contain Saddam Hussein and, moreover, in terms of giving us the confidence that he is not able to avoid the kinds of detection that might otherwise be available to us. 45. What were the other alternatives that you considered but ruled out? (Mr Hoon) Clearly it is possible to monitor what is going on on the ground from satellites, but they do not give us the kind of close supervision that we believe is necessary. 46. I would like to go back to this point because I went to the library and I re-read with interest not only the press cuttings but some of the press releases that emanated from the Ministry of Defence during the war about how successful we were in killing off the majority of the key good assets of the Iraqi military - aircraft, missiles, tanks, etcetera - and a considerable amount of personnel. There were legions of pictures of the tattered remains of the cream of the Iraqi military. I was very interested in your reply earlier about what you perceived to be the threat there, and the way in which you built up the Iraqi military as being a fairly formidable force. If you consider that in the ten years since the war, presumably they have not been out in the world buying and re-equipping with any great deal of success, otherwise you would know about it, how can you therefore justify a statement in 1991/92 that "the cream of the Iraqi military now lies in ruins on the deserts of Kuwait and Southern Iraq", yet today you sit here and tell us they have this formidable array of technology and military hardware which is a powerful threat? (Mr Hoon) I do not, with respect, think that I actually said that. I emphasised the numbers. I emphasised the size of the Iraqi forces. I also said that we judge that the technological capability of Iraq has been degraded as a result of the sanctions. That is what I actually said, so I was not presenting to you a formidable picture. 47. We have to be careful, do we not, because people outside will read your first answer? If I had not got you then to clarify that first answer, the picture you painted of 300 combat Iraqi aircraft, 2,000 tanks and however many artillery pieces was a pretty formidable array of military might. That, I was led to believe, is the perceived threat we are actually patrolling to stop becoming operational, is it not? How real is that threat of outdated equipment, and who is the threat to? Is it an internal threat to the Iraqi people, or is it a threat to Iran? Is it a threat to Saudi Arabia, to Kuwait, knowing that he has got pretty degraded military resources, or do you know that he has actually been able to re-stock and re-equip? (Mr Hoon) What you are asking me to do is to get inside the mind of Saddam Hussein and determine what it is for which he intends to use this army and the equipment that he has. 48. That is a pretty good question, because that is what you are telling us you are doing. (Mr Hoon) We are making judgements. I cannot precisely tell you what it is that he intends to do with this army. Clearly there is little doubt that he uses the army for internal oppression and internal intimidation. I do not think there is any argument about that. 49. No, I think that is clear. (Mr Hoon) The concern must be - and you will have heard this in the region as well - that the army that he has is available and could be available for regional threats in certain circumstances, if he were in a position to do that. Again, he has past form, and therefore we must be suspicious about his current intentions. It might assist to some extent to say that whilst I have emphasised the forces, they are not as formidable as they were before the Gulf war. Before the Gulf war Iraq could put some 72 divisions into the field, and we judge that he may currently be capable of only providing 23 divisions, but that is still absolutely formidable compared to the armed forces in the region from other countries. 50. Despite the fact that the other armed forces are equipped with technology and hardware which far outweighs his? Warfare now is not just about numbers, is it, it is about your ability to hit with the hardest hit or punch, is it not? (Mr Hoon) I think that is a very, very fair point, and I think that is something that clearly would have to be put in the balance in terms of any assessment of Saddam Hussein's intentions as far as his regional neighbours are concerned. Undoubtedly a number of those countries have invested significant amounts of money in some very smart defence equipment. Mr Hancock: So when do we get to the stage of saying, "You've got enough going for you now as a region to protect yourself from this threat"? Chairman: Like 2,500. We can tell Mr Hancock afterwards based on what we heard; far better telling him privately than your saying it publicly. Mr Cohen 51. I would like to take up targeting policy. When we visited we were told that the list of targets in Iraq has to be approved by US Centcom in Florida. What is your role in the targeting approval process? Is there a danger of UK forces being involved in offensive action against Iraq without your knowledge? (Mr Hoon) Let us make it clear, when you talk about "offensive action", our aircraft respond to threats to them. If they were left peacefully to supervise and monitor the no fly zones, we would not need to bomb or attack anyone. So when you talk about "offensive operations", these are operations that are conducted in self-defence to deal with specific threats to those aircraft. 52. So you do not have a target list? (Mr Hoon) If you will allow me to develop this, we would identify targets threatening those aircraft, whether those targets are, for example, radar that are capable of locking onto the aircraft and guiding missiles or anti-aircraft systems onto those aircraft, or whether they are themselves anti-aircraft batteries or potentially missile batteries. So those are the targets that we would identify, and certainly we would want to respond quickly but proportionately to any threat that we perceived to those aircraft. It is necessary to bear in mind that many of those, if not most of those, targets are highly mobile, and the fact that we identify a target does not usually mean that that identification remains valid for very long. 53. So you are saying really that you do not get involved in the targeting, you leave it to those on the ground to go after the mobile targets? (Mr Hoon) No. 54. Do you set a criterion? (Mr Hoon) My responsibility is to establish overall that the rules of engagement under which our forces operate are consistent with international law and provide proper protection for the people for whom I am responsible. 55. It is a bit vague. (Mr Webb) No, it is not. 56. How does your criterion differ from that of the United States, for example? (Mr Webb) I think the point to understand is that there are very specific directives issued about the specific types of targets that are authorised by Ministers to be engaged. From having identified those types, yes, the local commanders then decide whether what it is they see on the ground is of that type which is within the authorised limits. (Air Commodore Torpy) The only other thing I would add is that the Secretary of State having defined the categories of targets that we are permitted to attack, on the legal basis that we are conducting the operation, delegates authority to the Commander of British Forces Op Bolton for certain collateral damage limitations. If he is asked, or believes that a target needs to be attacked, in consultation with the US Commander, but that falls outside his delegation, then clearly he has to refer to the MoD to get that authority. 57. That is an interesting reply, and I understand your point about delegation. Then it was mentioned, though, that the Secretary of State gives a list of specific targets in Iran. (Mr Webb) Types. (Mr Hoon) Yes, types. 58. Can they be made available to the Committee? Are they different? The other point is, are they different in quality or nature to those which the United States are using? (Mr Hoon) No, they are not. I do not want to make any mystery out of any differences. There are circumstances in which we take decisions in relation to collateral damage that might involve slightly different judgements, but we are very concerned about the potential for harming civilians. That is not to say that the Americans are not equally concerned, but there are times when we make slightly different judgements, as you might expect, about whether particular targets are or are not at risk of causing collateral damage. Essentially, though, we have an entirely common approach to identifying potential targets and responding appropriately and proportionately in order to protect the aircraft that are flying missions. I think the important point to emphasise is that these targets are very highly mobile, and we do not have a lot of time in which to make very complex judgements about precisely what is and is not something that we should attack, which is why it is absolutely right that specific decisions, subject to my overall responsibility for the rules of engagement and consistently with international law, should be taken on the ground. 59. All right, I will not pursue that further. You lead me on to my next point about them being highly mobile targets. There would be a likelihood, I would have thought, that in those circumstances mistakes might be made. Indeed, you rubbished earlier, as virtually saying it was propaganda from the other side, their saying that you had perhaps bombed farmers or villagers or whatever. We know from experience that in Kosovo mistakes were made, and yet the position you are taking in saying that this is just propaganda from the other side is really a denial that any mistakes have been made from our side - or it could be read that way. Have any mistakes been made from our side? (Mr Hoon) I know that on occasions we have hit targets that we thought were different from the ones that we were intending to attack. The point I made earlier was that it would not be wise to rely upon the assessment of damage and the number of civilian casualties that emanate from Baghdad. 60. I understand that. (Mr Hoon) I want to make this quite clear, because we do look very carefully at those claims, because we are very concerned about the fact that we might cause collateral damage, we might cause unnecessary civilian deaths, and we check them very carefully. For example, I can tell you that on at least 27 occasions when there have been claims by Baghdad of civilian casualties, we were either not flying that day or we did not drop any bombs. Now all I ask is that you therefore view with some great suspicion the claims that are made, simply because if on 27 occasions we either did not have aircraft in the sky or we did not drop any bombs, it is pretty difficult to see how we could have harmed anyone. 61. I accept that, and I do not want to belabour the point, but there may be lessons to be learned from mistakes, like there were in Kosovo, so I wonder whether perhaps at some point some dossiers could come to the Committee looking at the mistakes that we admit might well have taken place. Is that possible? (Mr Hoon) We clearly do learn lessons. One of the responsibilities that the RAF has, in fact, is to provide very sophisticated photographic evidence. We analyse that evidence very carefully, and it does allow us, in appropriate circumstances, to rebut the kinds of claims that are made by Baghdad. One of the claims that has been repeated is that we have damaged the Christian monastery where St Matthew is said to have been buried. We have been able to photograph that. Indeed, I thought you might be interested in a copy of the photograph. Mr Hancock 62. It is damaged, though, is it not? (Mr Hoon) I am sorry? 63. It is damaged? (Mr Hoon) No, it is not. 64. There are people who have been there who have seen it. (Mr Hoon) We have photographs which demonstrate that the monastery is intact. It is not the newest monastery in the world. It may have been damaged, but we are not claiming responsibility. Mr Hancock: But it is damaged. Mr Cohen 65. I have one last question on a different point, and that is the co-ordination between the north and the south and what is the command structure. Are you happy with the command structure that ensures proper co- ordination between north and south, in terms of targeting? (Air Commodore Torpy) Yes. Certainly, as the Committee is aware, the US Command divides the operation into two, so that we have a completely unified view of the whole operation. Operation Northern Watch in the north is controlled by Headquarters UCOM, and Operation Southern Watch is controlled by US CENTCOM based in Tampa, Florida. There is daily consultation between the two unified commands to ensure that they are approaching the whole region in exactly the same way, and there is also consultation by the two in- theatre commanders, both the US and the UK commanders, as well. Mr Cohen: Thank you. Mr Gapes 66. Can I ask you about the other countries in the region, and particularly the attitudes within the host countries? During our visit, we had a number of extensive discussions with government officials and members of the Shura Council in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and also with the Kuwaiti Parliament. It is quite clear that there is a general concern in the region about the plight of the Iraqi people. People raised this with us not in a sense of being opposed to the sanctions, but concerned at how long this has gone on and at the real suffering of the Iraqi people under Saddam. We are aware of the new Security Council Resolution, it has already been mentioned, but I would be interested in your assessment of the impact, if any, that this growing concern and sympathy amongst the people of the region for the Iraqis is going to have for the future operation of our policy, particularly in the no fly zones? (Mr Hoon) I think you put the case fairly, although the only slight qualification that I might make is that I wonder whether this concern and sympathy is growing. I think there has always been concern and sympathy for the Iraqi people. I do not think that that has changed much. I do not think any of the people in the areas surrounding Iraq have anything other than sympathy for the Iraqi people, but I think they felt that right the way through, I do not think it has necessarily changed. Frankly, it is a sympathy and concern that we share. We have never had a quarrel with the Iraqi people. We have a severe difference of opinion with the Iraqi regime. We have also - to go back to 1284 - set out in that Resolution a mechanism by which, if he chose to do so, Saddam Hussein could, I am tempted to say "immediately", but certainly very quickly, alleviate the plight of his own people. The fact that he is not prepared to accept 1284 must cast doubt on his willingness to do so. 67. I have no doubt about that, and I fully support the strategy set out in 1284. My concern is that if the Iraqi Government maintain their implacable opposition to any movement, people may well start saying, "Well, this suffering is still going on, and yet despite this Resolution, nothing's moved there." My question is, is there a plan B? Is there a way in which we could have, if you like, more smart targeted sanctions against the regime? Is there some mechanism which will continue to maintain the public support which is there, but nevertheless people are worried? (Mr Hoon) Like you, I have also had the opportunity of visiting the region, both in my present position and in my previous one. The one thing I have learned in talking particularly to the various leaders from the region is that we should not be too impatient. I think there is a difference in, maybe I should call it, cultural attitude between people in the Middle East and people in the West. They regard us as being rather impatient. They view us as wanting change to occur overnight, and they have consistently said to me that we should just give the Resolution some time. They point out, for example, that Saddam Hussein initially opposed the oil for food programme and yet eventually came to accept it. They believe - and I have had this confirmed to me on more than one occasion - that Saddam Hussein will accept Resolution 1284, and what is important is actually that we do not over-react to the delay. 68. So at this moment you could not be optimistic that we are likely to see the Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in Iraq in the near future, but nevertheless the conditions are all set out there for it to move quickly at such a point as the Iraqis accept it? (Mr Hoon) I could not be optimistic, but then neither am I pessimistic. I believe that this is a realistic process that the international community have set out, with, as you will be aware, very considerable support from the region, from countries who are neighbours to Saddam Hussein. We are pleased with the appointment of Dr Blix. We are impressed by the work that he has already set in hand. I do not think that he is actually quite ready to go in and start an inspection, but he is not far short of it. We think that when the time comes, this is something that Saddam Hussein will look at perhaps rather more seriously than some of his public utterances might indicate. (Mr Webb) I think things have been going well with the planning to get the Blix Commission up and running. As you say, Secretary of State, it is ready to move forward, I think, in good order when the Iraqis will accept it. 69. There is no question of its not going in except on the basis of being able to inspect anywhere it wants to go? (Mr Webb) That is so. 70. It is going to be able to do its job properly, as envisaged? (Mr Webb) Yes. (Mr Hoon) There are both outstanding matters as well as current concerns, but certainly we would want to be confident that they were able to move freely around to inspect what they wanted to inspect. (Mr Webb) I think they have learned from some of the previous difficulties. Mr Hancock 71. I have read with interest the report that our Members have put together so far of the visit they made but how important is it, do you think, to those host countries that we are there and their contribution towards us being there, how important is that to our continued presence there? (Mr Hoon) Certainly I have had nothing but appreciation for the efforts that we have made and in return I have been able to thank the host nations specifically for their assistance, their hospitality and their support for what we are doing. I think there is little doubt that our willingness to commit forces to the region, both in relatively recent history and currently, has enormously strengthened our reputation in an area where, in any event, we were well thought of for historic reasons. 72. There are three variations on the host country's hospitality: one does everything, one does slightly less and one does not do a great deal. What would happen if that was to significantly change so that the two who are contributing quite enthusiastically to their side of this, if they were to downgrade that considerably? What effect would that have on the MoD's ability to maintain the same level of service? (Mr Hoon) I do not recognise your description. In any event, you are inviting me to speculate from the rather insecure basis of your question. 73. Maybe on this occasion this is the chance for us to write to you with a letter. (Mr Hoon) I disagree with your premise, Mike. 74. Okay, Geoff. I have read with interest what our colleagues have written. What effect is the operation having on relations vis a vis the UK in particular with the host countries? What effect do their sensitivities to some of the issues which they are having to live with as neighbour to neighbour in your continuing role there have on their attitude to you and some of the operations you may want to be involved in? (Mr Hoon) We have a very constructive relationship, it is very positive. Bearing in mind that we are there by invitation, if there were the concerns which your question implies then clearly host nations would have an appropriate remedy available to them but they are pleased to have us present, we are pleased for their hospitality and it is a mutually supporting relationship. 75. Have they raised anything with you in such a way that they are very sensitive to certain issues that have prevented some aspects of operational capability? (Mr Hoon) I think you need to be a little more specific. 76. Have they said to you "please do not do that" on any occasion? Do you have to consult with them before an operation can take place? (Mr Hoon) Again, I think you need to be more specific. Is there something that you are ---- 77. I want to know whether or not at any stage do the host nations have a power of veto over what you are trying to do operationally? Do you have to tell them in advance what you are going to do packing a punch from an airfield in their homeland? (Mr Hoon) Clearly in general terms we would indicate to the host nation what it was that we were doing based in their territory. There is full disclosure as to what our intentions are. This is rather the same point that I was being asked about earlier. It does not go as far as giving precise details. We have a general permission to operate from a host nation territory subject to an indication to those countries as to what it is that we are doing there. 78. Do they ever veto? (Mr Hoon) Over what? 79. Have they to date said no to something you have told them vis a vis an operation? (Mr Hoon) I think you need to be a bit more specific as to what you are driving at. 80. Okay, we can assume from your unwillingness to answer that on many occasions host nations have vetoed operations. (Mr Webb) No. Having looked at this over a long period, and I was involved in it ten years ago, I would say relations and co-operation are as good as they have ever been. We have a very close understanding and we work with our regional partners. Obviously there are sensitivities about their customs and domestic issues of that kind but in terms of operations I cannot think of any inhibitions that are preventing us undertaking operations as we want to do so. 81. What you are saying is that effectively they have not vetoed an operation? (Mr Hoon) I cannot think of an example where they have said "you cannot conduct this specific operation". 82. Maybe not in your time, Secretary of State, but, Mr Webb, you are talking with a decade's experience in this area. (Mr Webb) Actually I said I knew it ten years ago, I am just comparing it with that. Mr Hancock: We should not put too much weight on your answers then. Chairman: I think it is the kind of question where perhaps you could write to us because clearly Turkey imposes a certain number of conditions, the Saudis impose a certain number of conditions, activities can take place at certain times on certain days. I think what Mr Hancock is asking, and you can write to us in private, is the extent to which your operations - our operations, not your operations - can proceed in the way that we perceive to be in accordance with our requirements and our perception of what ought to be done. I think it might be wise perhaps to drop us a line privately. Mr Hancock 83. Can I ask one quick question. The Saudis have a specific policy that they do not want you to fly offensive missions from Saudi Arabia. Effectively has that meant that you have had difficulty in delivering a counter-strike to something that you felt was necessary? (Mr Hoon) That is helpful because now I know what you are driving at. The policy of Saudi Arabia at the time of Desert Fox was that we should not conduct bombing operations from the base there. That is part of the background against which we operate, therefore we would not make that specific request. Therefore, your rather vaguer questions earlier I was answering in a perfectly proper way. 84. You were being equally vague in your answers. I think we will have to write our report bearing that in mind. The final question from me is are we, as UK Limited, capitalising on our influence and all of this goodwill? Is that manifesting itself in jobs in the UK, in good business for UK Limited? (Mr Hoon) I do not accept that there is any connection between the two and I do not think you would want me to say somehow that we are conducting important humanitarian operations where our pilots are at risk as some sort of shop window for British defence sales. I would not accept that connection. What I would say is that clearly the goodwill that is generated by our willingness to participate in these operations and our support for the countries in the region undoubtedly does mean that a number of countries locally look sympathetically at the British Government and British defence interests when they are looking to secure equipment. The truth of the matter is, though, that this is an extraordinarily competitive market and we compete vigorously with a number of countries. In general terms clearly it assists that we are there but there is no necessary connection between the two. 85. I can imagine that they would be mightily impressed with the training capabilities and the expertise of our personnel, are they suitably impressed with the cream of our kit that we have got down there? Are they all rushing to duplicate what we have got? (Mr Hoon) I do not think there is any difficulty. If you have been to see our aircraft taking off, if you have seen details of the kinds of very dangerous operations that they conduct in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, and I have had the opportunity of seeing some film of those operations, I doubt that you would be at all concerned about the quality of the kit that they have. They are very well equipped to do a very difficult and demanding job. 86. Are the potential customers for that type of equipment in the area suitably impressed not with what CR personnel can do in the way of tricky operations but the sort of machinery they are flying, the equipment they have got on board? (Mr Webb) The Saudis, for example, are very substantial purchasers of the Tornado aircraft. (Mr Hoon) Very substantial. Chairman 87. When we were in Kuwait we met the British Military Mission and they were telling us that the Kuwaitis are very anxious that we assist them further in the establishment of a military college, what they need are young officers. I did volunteer Crispin Blunt but he declined my offer of a sabbatical. It appears to be a good opportunity. Perhaps you would have a look at this, Secretary of State, because I think they are desperate for more British personnel to go out and help them set up their staff college but as yet we have been unable to respond positively. Will you have a look at that to see whether we can do more? (Mr Hoon) I will have a look at it. We are looking at it. You began these proceedings indicating that I had met the Kuwaiti Defence Minister very recently, and it is not the first time I have met him in recent times, and certainly we have discussed these matters. I think there is every prospect that we can develop further training assistance for Kuwait and it is something that we are actively pursuing. Chairman: Thank you. Mr Cohen 88. A very brief question. I want to ask you about Turkey because in the past and in recent months there have been Turkish incursions into the north against the Kurds. We are supposed to be defending those Kurds in the no fly zone, what has been your reaction in relation to Turkey when those events take place? (Mr Hoon) It is not something that I need to react to in my present position. 89. You are defending them. (Mr Hoon) It is not something that the Government is specifically aware of as far as incursions by the Turkish Government is concerned. 90. It is pretty well documented. We are supposed to be defending those Kurds, that is the whole basis of it. Anyway, I have made my point. (Mr Hoon) No fly zones are established to defend the Kurds against the Iraqi regime. Mr Gapes 91. Can I ask you another question about the question of training support. One issue that was raised with us was the fact that in the Gulf Co- operation Council States generally the Americans and the French give training support without charging for it but we do charge. Although our training is regarded as much superior, and therefore people still have it to some extent, nevertheless we are weakening our influence because of this approach. Is this something you are prepared to look at and review? (Mr Hoon) It is certainly something that I am prepared to look at. It is something which certainly has been raised with me from time to time but I would not say regularly. Part of my response you have anticipated. Part of my response is to say - this is well recognised - the kind of training we provide is of the very best quality. That is very well recognised and people are willing to pay for it. I accept that there is competition both for equipment and for training and we will have to look carefully to ensure that we maintain the right kinds of relationships. Certainly the training experience that a number of people have had in the United Kingdom does mean that they remain lifelong friends of the United Kingdom very often and I would be very reluctant to see that benefit lost because, for example, we were not able to attract people because of the costs of training. I have to say for the moment that is not the case, we have no shortage of people coming for training. Whilst there is competition around on price I still remain absolutely confident that what people are getting from training in the United Kingdom cannot easily be duplicated anywhere else. I think you will find that most other people recognise that fact. 92. You have accepted in your answer that there is a spin-off in terms of potential defence sales in a sense. I will not use the words that were actually said to us, but our approach was described as not as professional as that of some other countries, particularly the United States and France, and that our equipment was often thought to be more expensive. Are you satisfied that we are doing as well as we could be with regard to our defence industry and its exports to the region? (Mr Hoon) I think I was being rather more subtle in terms of the impact and the benefit of training. I am not sure that it necessarily and directly leads us to be able to sell our equipment more easily. I think it creates a general atmosphere of goodwill to the United Kingdom. You will have met people, as I have, and the first thing they say is "I went to Sandhurst" or "I spent some time in the United Kingdom" and it is the kind of experience that does stay with people throughout their lives. I think it does create a very positive impression of the United Kingdom that that happens. As far as the sales of equipment are concerned, I said earlier it is an extraordinarily competitive market. The Government strongly supports British industry's efforts to sell equipment in the Gulf and beyond and we will continue to do so. I will never be satisfied that we are selling enough because clearly there is always more that we can do. We put a lot of effort into making sure that industry is supported. There are many occasions on which we work together to protect and develop British jobs. Certainly I would like us to be more successful because I recognise that the more we are able to sell British equipment abroad, the more that sustains employment in the United Kingdom. 93. I want to ask you some questions about the actual equipment we have got in the regions. We visited the Prince Sultan air base and we had some interesting discussions there with people about the performance of the Tornado F3. It is quite clear from the information that I have got and other people have seen that that aircraft was not designed ideally to fly at the heights which it does fly at and at the temperatures that it flies at in the Gulf. Are there any plans to replace or withdraw the Tornado F3? Are there any reasons at the moment, other than military and operational reasons, why they are being kept there? (Mr Hoon) You will be aware that all fast jets, unless they are specifically designed for flying in the kinds of temperatures that they operate in in the Gulf, have performance problems at very high temperatures. That is not a specific characteristic of the F3, it is a problem of all fast jets when they are designed to operate in temperate zones. Unless you specifically design an aircraft to perform in very hot temperatures, and clearly you could do that, you are going to face these kinds of performance difficulties. We are constantly looking at ways in which we can improve the performance of the F3, indeed of our other aircraft operating there, in order to make sure that they do not suffer adverse performance. For example, additional cooling equipment has been provided for all of the Bolton F3s and that is a way of minimising the impact of temperature on performance. 94. The F3 in no way compares with the United States' F15s which can fly at 40,000 feet without great difficulty. (Mr Hoon) If I have not made this point to the Committee before then I need to do so, and I need to go on repeating it. I saw the US Defence Secretary most recently in Washington and he had just agreed the level of his budget and it was in the order of $192 billion for this year. That does mean that the United States has an ability to procure more aircraft more quickly and more effectively than we do. 95. I accept that, and the Tornados are not new aircraft either, but nevertheless we now have a problem, at least there is a question of serviceability, the number of times that an aircraft cannot fly because of the temperature or because of some problem. Is there a danger that if we continue indefinitely with these no fly zones and we keep the contribution at the present level that we will not have sufficient aircraft which can be maintained at the necessary serviceability level so that we will be constantly having problems whereby aircraft have to be cannibalised for parts to keep the ones that we have got in operation going? That is not particularly good for the crew morale. I do not know if the Air Commodore wants to comment on that. It was put to us quite strongly by some of the people working there that this was not an ideal situation. (Air Commodore Torpy) I think I can reassure the Committee that we can sustain the force that we have, both the GR1 force and also the F3 force, for as long as the no fly zone operation is likely to continue. One thing I would point out is that clearly all of our operational attachments, and that is not just in the Gulf, receive priority for spares and also the manpower who are actually in theatre have no distractions whatsoever, unlike when they are operating back in their various main operating bases where there are other duties which take them away from servicing aeroplanes. There is good evidence that we can provide which shows that serviceability of aircraft in all of our operational attachments is more than adequate to meet the task that we have been set by the commander in the field. 96. This has gone on for many years now. If we look ahead another nine or ten years will the Eurofighter be able to do this job? Will it be the right aircraft designed for different terrains and different regions of the world? (Air Commodore Torpy) The Eurofighter will be an ideal aeroplane to do exactly what the F3 is doing and, in fact, is very much akin to the sort of performance, in fact better, of the F15s. 97. It will not have the temperature problems? (Air Commodore Torpy) No, it will not. Chairman 98. I hope that to sustain the Anglo-American special relationship, Secretary of State, you will not take Defence Secretary Cohen to watch Derby County. (Mr Hoon) I am getting seriously concerned about this. 99. Or Chelsea I might add. (Mr Hoon) I happen to know that the Defence Secretary is a very fine sportsman and I am sure he would appreciate the very fine sporting qualities on display at Derby County. Mr Hancock 100. Air Commodore, one question about the F3 capability. I read with some concern that a pilot flying an F3 has real difficulty in realising, because he has no technical assistance, whether he is being chased by a hostile aircraft and has to rely on visual sightings. Is that true of the F3? (Air Commodore Torpy) No, that is not true. He does have means in the aircraft of identifying --- 101. In the aircraft? (Air Commodore Torpy) The radar, which is possibly illuminating him, be it a ground based radar or an airborne radar, from there he can identify the type of aircraft. 102. Does he have on board a system which is capable of telling him that the aircraft that is coming after him or that is near him is a hostile aircraft or a friendly aircraft without sight identification? (Air Commodore Torpy) Yes, he does. Mr Hancock: That is an interesting answer. Mr Viggers 103. Identification friend or foe, is it? (Air Commodore Torpy) Yes. Mr Hancock 104. Can he identify the difference between friend and foe by electronic means or does he have to rely on eye contact? (Air Commodore Torpy) No. There are electronic means where he can identify from the radar the type of aircraft which is illuminating him. The secondary question is the identification friend or foe equipment. As you are aware, we are upgrading the whole of the Tornado F3 force with the capability sustainment package which will not only give it the ability to fire advanced missiles, the AMRAAM and the ASRAAM, but it also improves the identification friend or foe equipment and it also improves some of the navigation equipment and radar performance as well. 105. I do not want to pursue this in open session but I would like to get something in writing about that capability and what they are dealing with at the present time. (Air Commodore Torpy) Certainly. (Mr Hoon) We can do that. Chairman 106. Why was the decision taken to reduce the number of VC10 tankers in Bahrain from two to one? Has this had an adverse effect on our ability to participate in missions? (Mr Hoon) I have been concerned really since my appointment about the pressure on our people. We have talked about overstretch in this Committee before and clearly that has affected the more specialist areas of the armed forces more acutely. The withdrawal of the VC10 airframe was to allow us to both minimise the impact on the crews but equally to allow additional training and exercising opportunities. There have been real benefits in withdrawing one airframe in terms of ensuring the retention of the appropriate skill levels but also simply in terms of ensuring the people affected have more opportunities to be at home and not to be deployed. Sorry, I probably did not answer the second point. It has not affected us operationally to a significant extent. Since January, since the reduction to a single VC10, we have lost only four of the planned sorties either due to crew sickness or aircraft unserviceability. That represents a success rate of 93 per cent and we judge that to be acceptable. 107. If the one available was not available for a period of a month or two months, would you fly another one out very quickly or what alternative arrangements could be made? (Mr Hoon) In the short term Tornados are able to use US refuelling assets. Clearly if we thought the problem was going to continue for any length of time then we would certainly fly out another tanker to replace the one that was unserviceable. There is not a short term problem because we have access to American refuelling. If that problem was likely to continue for any time then we would take appropriate action. 108. We were told that there is some congruence between the Royal Air Force and the US Navy in terms of refuelling but not with the US Air Force and the US Navy, they operate entirely different systems. So we can match up with one of them but not two and they cannot match up with their own. That has caused confusion elsewhere. Are our aircraft equipped with missiles of the appropriate type for the missions they are flying? (Air Commodore Torpy) Both the F3 and the GR1s are equipped with air-to-air missiles. Obviously the F3 has the primary role and the GR1s have them for self-defence. As I mentioned earlier, the F3s, when we deploy the aircraft which have gone through the capability sustainment programme, will be able to carry AMRAAM and ASRAAM as well which will increase their overall capability. In terms of the weapons stocks, they are clearly monitored on a daily basis, not only missiles but the bombs which are used by the GR1s, and when stocks are depleted they are immediately restocked. 109. So the precision guided munitions are available at the right time? (Air Commodore Torpy) Yes. 110. If I recall, the GR1 does not have the problem that the GR4 has at the moment? (Air Commodore Torpy) You are referring to the TIALD designator? 111. Yes. (Air Commodore Torpy) That is correct, yes. Dr Lewis 112. Within the past few days it has been reported that the Iraqi Defence Minister has been in Moscow for talks with the Russian Defence Minister, having previously been in Belgrade. The suggestion is that Russia is brokering a deal which will upgrade the Iraqi defence systems against aircraft attack. Are you aware of this and, if so, are you content that our air forces will be able to meet an increased level of risk of this sort? (Mr Hoon) I am not specifically aware of any conversations that may or may not have taken place. I have to tell you that they did not take us into their confidence about any such meetings. Certainly I cannot speculate as to what effect that might or might not have on the ability of Iraq to attack our air crew. I assure you that I will not allow our air crew to go into a situation where they are not able to deal with the threat that they confront there. Dr Lewis: Would you not agree that it is very disturbing if, in fact, Russia, with whom our Prime Minister is trying to build such a prosperous and beautiful person type relationship on a one-to-one basis --- Chairman: I think this is outside the scope of this question. I should not give way to Dr Lewis, I will not do so again. Jimmy Hood. (Mr Hoon) Talking of beautiful people. Mr Hood 113. This is Prime Minister's Questions. Secretary of State, are you satisfied with the basing arrangements for our forces in the region? (Mr Hoon) You mean the physical conditions in which they live and operate? 114. Yes. (Mr Hoon) No, I do not think anyone who has been there, and I have visited, can be satisfied about the conditions. Welfare provision is very important as far as our people are concerned and we do want to ensure that they live in conditions that are at least acceptable. A great deal of effort has been made in recent times to look to ways in which we can improve the physical circumstances in which people are living. 115. How long can we expect the arrangement to use Muharraq airbase in Bahrain to continue? (Mr Hoon) We will stay there for as long as there is a requirement for us to be there, and for as long as our hosts in Bahrain allow it. As I understand it, there is no immediate prospect of there being any change. 116. What is your view at the moment on the decision of the Bahrainis to relocate their ambassador in Baghdad and whether that would have any impact on what is happening in the region? (Mr Hoon) Bahrain, as I understand it, has consistently maintained diplomatic relations with Iraq, so there is no particular change in their diplomatic arrangements with Iraq, and so it has not been a matter upon which the Government has felt it necessary to comment. Certainly Bahrain has continued to remain very supportive of the operations that we conduct in the region. 117. Have you detected any weakening in their support? (Mr Hoon) None at all. I still have to visit Bahrain, in fact, but I have had a number of meetings here, and Bahrain remains a strong supporter of the action that we are taking. 118. Do you have any plans to relocate from Kuwait to any other less exposed airbase than Ali Al Salem? (Mr Hoon) On the contrary. As you may well be aware, the accommodation difficulties perhaps are most acute at Ali Al Salem. I think you have been there. I have certainly been there. They are not conditions in which we would want people to have to live for very long. As a result of my visit there, I made representations to the Kuwaiti Government, and matters are in hand to improve things. Indeed, I think some work has been done already. There still needs to be a good deal more work to get the facilities to the standards that are acceptable, but certainly we are very grateful to the Kuwaiti Government for both the speed with which they have responded and indeed the efforts that they are making to improve the living accommodation. So the matter is in hand, but clearly we want to get it sorted out quickly. That was very much my reaction when I went there, and I had some fairly forthright comments about the plumbing, shall we say. 119. Do you have any contingency plans to use other airbases if it becomes necessary to reinforce the region with a significant number of additional RAF aircraft? (Mr Hoon) First of all, if reinforcement became necessary in the short term, there is significant capacity at the existing bases to allow us to provide reinforcement in quite a short timeframe. Equally, there are other bases in the immediate area that could be used should it become necessary. So obviously we give some thought to reinforcement, but essentially I think most reinforcement in the first place would be taken up with the capacity that exists. Again, you have been to them. These are enormous bases, in fact, compared to almost anything that we have in the United Kingdom. There is certainly plenty of capacity and plenty of opportunity to put more aircraft on the ground should it become necessary. 120. Do you have a sufficient number of appropriately trained aircrew to continue the operations indefinitely? (Mr Hoon) Perhaps you could give an update on that. (Air Commodore Torpy) We do. We keep the crewing ratio in the operational theatres to the absolute minimum commensurate with the task. As the Committee will undoubtedly be aware from their visit, there is a degree of skill fade, so we tend to cycle the crews through after about six weeks, and they come back to the United Kingdom to ensure that the skills that they have do not perish. 121. Some personnel are indeed in theatre for the second or third time. What implications does this have for morale and for their overall career structure? We were told, for example, that there is skill fade and that this is a problem which really concerns especially the pilots. (Air Commodore Torpy) In terms of skill fade, I would not relate it to their career progression. It clearly has an operational impact, and the sort of skills that they are clearly not able to practise in the Gulf are things like low flying; some of the weapon deliveries as well we cannot practice in the Gulf region. On the other hand, operating in the Gulf gives them very good experience of operating in very large packages with the US, and they do not get that opportunity on a day-to-day basis very often in the UK. 122. That was one of the things that surprised me. I thought the fact that they were in action would assist their skills. Indeed, that was an impression that we were given, that there was a strong expression of view that because it was repetitive and they were doing it often, they were not getting the value of the training when they were in the UK or other places. (Mr Hoon) I think the real problem - and this is not a new problem, as far as managing people is concerned - is that obviously they are doing a particular kind of deployment which involves particular kinds of skills, and what is very important for us is that we maintain a range of skills. I must emphasise to you that this is not a new phenomenon. We have had to deal with this kind of management problem over a very long period of time, and we are very much aware of the implications of skill fade if people are not given the rounder training that they require. Squadron commanders will look on an individual basis at the experience of particular pilots and crew, to ensure that after the deployment a priority will be given to ensuring that in their further period of training they are trained to deal with the kinds of operations that they have not been deployed to do in the Gulf. So it is clearly a management problem, and we are aware of the potential for difficulty, but equally we have systems in place to deal with it. Mr Gapes 123. Can I take you back to the question of the operation of the no fly zones. We had understood, or we were told, that despite this very large number of operational flights over Iraqi territory north and south, up to now there has not been a loss of a single plane or a single pilot. That is a considerable achievement, but it also raises the question that perhaps, given the law of averages, at some point there might be. Clearly, the Iraqis, with their air defence system, are determined to try to get the propaganda victory of downing one of the aircraft. Does this mean, particularly given the United States' obsession with no casualties, that we are actually flying at a height which makes the mission less effective than it would otherwise be? Is there not a danger that, in effect, the requirement for having no casualties is either an unrealistic expectation or, on the other hand, is actually making the mission less effective? (Mr Hoon) If you will forgive me, I think there are a number of ideas mixed up in that. 124. Yes, there may be. I am trying to deal quickly with a lot of points. (Mr Hoon) I shall try to disentangle them as best I can. In doing that, I do not want in any way to minimise the risk to our crew, the danger that they operate in and, indeed, having seen some of the film of what they do do, what they face. I think no one could underestimate the threat to them, and the remarkable skill that they display in avoiding anti-aircraft and aggressive actions from the ground in Iraq. When you talk about our mission, our mission is to supervise the no fly zones. Our mission is not - and I must emphasise this - to bomb assets on the ground. From time to time we need to do that in response to the threat to the aircraft, but I assure you that we do not take unnecessary risks in ensuring that we are capable of responding in self-defence. It is not as if we are there specifically - and this is where I thought it needed some disentangling - to bomb parts of Iraq. 125. No, I did not say that. (Mr Hoon) No. I need to make my position clear. 126. Okay. (Mr Hoon) Indeed, if our aircraft did not come under fire we would not need to conduct any kind of bombing of targets on the ground. The nature of the mission does mean that for most of the time at any rate we do not need to take unnecessary risks and I would not expect our air crew to do so. I would not ask them to do so. 127. You are reasonably optimistic that at the present level of operations it is quite likely that we will not be facing casualties? (Mr Hoon) That is why I do not want in any way to under-estimate the risk. You made the point that things could go wrong and I am not pretending that there could not be a problem in this kind of very hostile environment that could result in danger. I have sat and talked to a number of the pilots and they have taken me through the kinds of threats that they face, and they are considerable. I think it is a great tribute to their skill that we have not lost any air crew. I do want to emphasise how dangerous what they do is and how skilful they are, so far at any rate, at avoiding casualties. Chairman 128. A number of questions we were going to ask we shall have to write to you on. One is on the role of the HMS Illustrious Carrier Task Group. We actually visited the John Stennis, I noted named after a distinguished Defence Committee Chairman, not that I am in any way ---- (Mr Webb) What was the name? 129. John Stennis. (Mr Hoon) Chairman, we have a very considerable programme of construction of up to 30 warships. I am sure ---- Chairman: I think the HMS Bruce George has a better ring about it than the HMS Geoffrey Hoon actually. Mr Hood: I dare not mention the HMS Hood. Chairman 130. That was sunk without trace, I am afraid. We have some questions on command and control and on UK maritime forces, and a bunch of questions that we would like to ask, but we cannot, on telephones. Bloody telephones, wherever we go there is one problem or another. Either they do not work or it is too expensive. We clearly picked this up, as we did questions of R&R arrangements for personnel based at Ali Al Salem. (Mr Hoon) Chairman, could I just say about telephones that I also picked that up, if that is the right word. I could not have avoided it during the course of my visit. I want to make it quite clear to the Committee that it is something we are addressing. It is something that I regard as a matter of great importance as far as people on deployment there are concerned. The points were made to me very effectively and very skilfully and I will certainly be doing something about it. 131. That is very good news. Thank you. Just two final questions, Secretary of State. What is your view as to the likely duration of the mission? (Mr Hoon) I do not think we can have a specific timetable. We will be there for as long as is necessary and is supported by international law and the international community. Without keeping going back to 1284, it does seem to me that Resolution 1284 does offer to Saddam Hussein a way out of his very considerable difficulties and it is a very carefully considered view of the international community, it forms part of international law, and we are taking the necessary steps, as Simon Webb explained earlier, to prepare an appropriate inspection regime which will be quite different from the regime that operated previously in Iraq. We see no reason why Saddam Hussein should not accept that as a means both of protecting his own people and allowing them access to very considerably enhanced oil revenues, for example, as well as allowing Iraq the opportunity of being restored to the international community. With the exception of the utterances from Baghdad I am not aware of a single other country that would not like to see Resolution 1284 implemented. It does seem to me to be a sensible, practical basis on which we can take things forward. If we were able to take things forward in relation to 1284 and Saddam Hussein, or any subsequent leadership in Iraq, was in a position to accept the decisions of the international community then I assume that the threat to the people in Iraq would diminish and we would no longer have to supervise the no fly zone in the way that we do today. There is a process there and it is available to Saddam Hussein, if he were to accept it, by which he could remain in his present position in Iraq, if he chose to, but equally any subsequent leadership would be in a position to restore Iraq to the international community, which we would judge to be a wholly beneficial thing and in time would lead to an end to our necessity to patrol over no fly zones. 132. Thank you. Speaking personally, we have not written a report or considered one, but if one read some of the media and scepticism as to why we and the Americans were there, I think those Members of the Committee who went would find that what we are doing, what the United States are doing and what a handful of other allies who are concerned are doing is absolutely justified on any terms that you wish to justify. Certainly I would like, through you, Secretary of State, to thank our personnel who are there. It is not the finest of postings. It is challenging, it is demanding, in conditions that are not always as congenial as living in London. They are doing, as always, a very, very professional job, and we take a pride in what they are doing. (Mr Hoon) I would thank you for your comments, and I shall make sure that those views are passed on both to the people who are involved on the ground and also to the very large number of people who are engaged either on rotation or in terms of the planning and preparation for those missions, because it does involve a large effort and a large number of people. Chairman: Thank you very much.