|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): By drawing attention to the supposed inadequacies of the forces he describes, is the hon. Gentleman not giving them as much "support" as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott)?
Patrick Mercer: Absolutely not. We need to give our forces some breathing space. They need time to be ready. Let me add that any coalition war will encounter difficulties when one nation is leading and another is trying to follow. These men have our full support, but we need to understand what is going on.
I spent some time talking to a warrant officer in the Royal Marines, who told me, "I have been in the Royal Marines for 18 years, and I have two years left to serve. During those 18 years I have spent most of my time fighting terrorism. I have seen comrades killed in Northern Ireland, and I have protected Kurds in Iraq. I believe in this cause, and I know that my men will do whatever you ask us to. I ask just one thing: do not require us to go with one arm tied behind our backs. Let us go with our gloves off, ready to do the job, and we will do it for you."
We have the finest troops in the world, and I believe that a vote tonight must be a vote in support of that warrant officer and those men who are ready to put their lives on the line for this country and for freedom.
Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): I want to deal with some of the criticisms of the coalition's actions in Afghanistan. In doing so, I do not suggest that people do not have genuine and heartfelt concerns about what is going onthey have, and they deserve to be answered. I shall begin the task of answering them in the short time available to me.
Another fallacy propounded by the critics concerns the means. Even if, the argument runs in its simplest form, we must act against terrorism, we should not bomb Afghanistan. I have already said that the action against Afghanistan is both necessary and legal. Some critics of the bombing seem to be suggesting that the coalition is somehow trying to colonise Afghanistan; others that the bombing is targeting Afghan civilians; and others that it is creating a humanitarian crisis. None of those strands of criticism is valid. Given the history of the Afghan wars in the 19th century and the Russian invasion in the last century, to carry out the first charge would be extremely foolish. The aim is to remove the Taliban regime with a view to allowing all Afghans to retake control of their country.
The bombing is certainly not targeting civilians. As in the Kosovo campaign, the attacks have aimed, first, to destroy air cover and air defence; secondly, to interdict, as far as possible, the operation of command and control facilities; and, thirdly, to attack military camps, installations and forces. All that is perfectly proper; it is necessary and proportionate under the UN charter's right to act in self-defence. It is necessary to prevent a repetition of armed attack and is proportionate as a means of achieving that end. It is also in conformity with the humanitarian laws of war, most authoritatively set out in the Geneva conventions and protocols.
I wish to make two points. First, the number of strikes that have gone completely astrayas opposed to falling just outside the targetis small. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in opening the debate this afternoon, we cannot accept Taliban claims of numerous civilian casualties. I commend to the House the article in The Times this morning by the BBC correspondent, Simon Ingram. He visited a bombed building in Kandahar and wrote:
The Geneva protocol makes it clear that states such as Afghanistan must not put civilians in that sort of position. Civilians must not be used as shields. Moreover, article 58 provides that parties must remove civilians from the vicinity of military objectives and avoid locating military objects, such as the tanks that Mr. Ingram saw, in populated areas.
As for the bombing impeding humanitarian aid, the more immediate threat is the Taliban themselves. The United Nations has complained that humanitarian aid and property is being looted at gunpoint. I am sure that the Secretary of State for International Development will address that point when she replies.
If I had more time, I would address other fallacies advanced by the criticsfor example, that this is somehow a war with Islam or that the changes in domestic law proposed by the Secretary of State for the Home Department are unacceptable infringements of civil liberties. The bottom line is that what the coalition is doing is lawful, necessary and right.
Sue Doughty (Guildford): I have supported the Government's action, to a certain extent with reluctance. That is true of many of us who do not want to see bombing and the loss of life. On 11 September we knew that a response would be necessary. The statement made on 10 October by al-Qaeda spokesman Sulayman Abu Gaith, suggesting his group had no intention of respecting the principle of distinction between civilians and the military, showed a total disregard for international humanitarian law. The tragedy was perpetrated by terrorists, who should be brought to judgment.
The Prime Minister has now given more clarity to our aims: to close down al-Qaeda and bring bin Laden to justice. He has made it clear that our attacks on the Taliban are intended not simply to downgrade their capacity to stand between bin Laden and us but to remove the Taliban from Afghanistan. We have been given a clearer idea of what has been achieved in the first three weeks of bombing. The Prime Minister said: