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Mr. Jenkin: If the hon. Gentleman had been in the Chamber throughout the debate, he would have heard the exchanges that took place earlier. I shall deal with those matters later, but it is wrong for him to look for divisions when they do not necessarily exist.

We acknowledge the role played by the United Kingdom Government, which has been vital in ensuring that the campaign led by the Americans has been a genuinely international campaign. There are some in the House and many elsewhere, including many of our allies, who were faint-hearted or even opposed to the Afghan campaign. Like the Foreign Secretary, I hope that they will reflect on the jubilant scenes of liberation in Kabul last month, as well as on the successful destruction of the terrorists and their bases in Afghanistan.

We must also pay tribute to the role played by American and British armed forces. Our thoughts are particularly with those who have been injured or killed and their families, those who may still be involved in operations, and those who have been kept waiting on stand-by.

We continue to support the Government's wider campaign objectives for defeating international terrorism. Britain must continue its vital strategic role, binding American policy into a wider international framework and leading other nations in support of internationally agreed objectives. We applaud the Prime Minister, who assured Colin Powell yesterday that

in Afghanistan. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) reiterated that point. The Foreign Secretary was a little shy of the point, but we know that he has given reassurances to the Americans.

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I share the caution of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife, but deterrence works only if one continues to show one's resolve to act and advertises it vigorously. Neither he nor the right hon. Member for Swansea, East ruled out the possible need for military action against Iraq or any other regime. That is the position of the Government and, in answer to the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale), of the Opposition. It ill serves the debate to present the US as some kind of Rambo itching to go on the rampage. We had all that blank-cheque talk at the beginning of the Afghan campaign and it was shown to be totally irrelevant.

The question facing the Government is how best to pursue their objectives. After much confused reporting and the inevitable diplomatic to and fro, I hope that the Secretary of State will clarify exactly how the Government intend to conduct British policy in the weeks ahead. On Afghanistan, the Prime Minister announced yesterday—not to the House of Commons, as Mr. Speaker indicated that he might have done—that the Government have

We recognise that the Government may feel the need to back that statement with the deployment of a British peacekeeping force, but I am bound to reiterate that we have grave misgivings about a major deployment. After all, on Monday the Chief of the Defence Staff questioned

Underlined in his text are the words,

There is a host of questions about a possible British troop deployment that I doubt whether the Government will be able to answer today. They include the role that the US will play in that deployment; whether the US will guarantee unlimited air cover, even if it has none of its troops on the ground; who will provide the strategic heavy lift for initial deployment and extraction in an emergency, if necessary; and how it will be possible to deploy armoured vehicles or helicopters to provide mobility, or artillery to provide necessary protection.

With such vast distances involved, only one airhead run by the US at Bagram and poor land communications, how could such a deployment be sustained and supplied, particularly if it becomes engaged in fighting? I do not invite the Secretary of State to respond to those points now, but merely raise them as questions. Some of them are very difficult, but they need to be addressed before he can make a decision.

I urge the Secretary of State to answer now the questions asked by my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary. In substance, they are as follows: what are the conditions that must be met before we can agree to deploy a peacekeeping force; what is the end state we expect we can achieve that will enable us to withdraw; and how long will it take to achieve that end state? The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife asked further questions that need to be addressed about the UN mandate, the role of the force in enforcing human rights and the rules of engagement.

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I urge the Secretary of State to clarify three further substantive points, all of which were raised by the Chief of the Defence Staff in his speech on Monday. I am bound to say that it was a very substantial, if delphic, speech. Indeed, when I compare it with the Secretary of State's recent speech, I wonder which of them might be the real Secretary of State. First, the Chief of the Defence Staff warned of "loss of consent" during a peacekeeping deployment. How can we presume anything but the most fragile consent for the presence of British forces? We should certainly congratulate all the parties that contributed to the success of the Bonn conference, which has resulted in an agreement on the establishment of a provisional Government in Afghanistan. If the task of the force is to stabilise that Government, how difficult will that task prove to be? Has not General Mohammed Fahim, the Defence Minister, already made it clear that he will welcome only a force of fewer than 1,000 personnel whose purpose is to guard Government buildings? He said:

We have already seen the flurry created by the initial deployment of the Royal Marines at Bagram. We could so easily become the intruder instead of the invited guest. Will the Secretary of State address the question of consent for a British deployment?

Secondly, why does the Secretary of State believe that UK forces are best suited to this role, given our long and unhappy history in Afghanistan and our current involvement in the war? I have no doubt of our forces' abilities and their keenness to get on with the job, but as other British forces continue to clear the caves of Taliban and al-Qaeda personnel, we are making enemies as well as friends in Afghanistan, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newark pointed out.

Thirdly, the Chief of the Defence Staff spoke about choices on Monday. He said:

That is the point that I would make to the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley). It seems strange that the Chief of the Defence Staff should ask such fundamental questions the day before the Prime Minister announced his intention in principle to deploy a peacekeeping operation. He was emphatic that

Will the Secretary of State explain what the Chief of the Defence Staff meant when he said:

Hugh Bayley: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin: I am not giving way.

What did the Chief of the Defence staff mean when he said:

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[Interruption.] Labour Members should stop muttering. It suggests that they are sensitive about some of the questions asked by the Chief of the Defence Staff.

I hope that the Secretary of State will clear up the confusion and make it clear that the Government have a clear strategy, and that he will be able to show that he can make the strategic choices to which the Chief of the Defence Staff referred. I hope also that he will make it clear that the United States and the United Kingdom continue to share the unity of purpose in the campaign against international terrorism that has served the whole world so effectively since 11 September.

6.44 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I thank the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) for his comments about the life of Field Marshal Lord Carver. I endorse them on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, which he served with such great distinction throughout his career.

It is now three months almost to the day since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon and since we were forced to recognise what has become perhaps the greatest single challenge that we face: the threat posed by international terrorism. The House has rightly devoted much of its attention to how the Government and the international coalition have responded to that challenge. I especially welcome the expressions of support for the work of our armed forces. I shall return to their outstanding contribution to the continuing operations in Afghanistan in due course.

I should like in particular to thank the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) and the hon. Members for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) for their comments. I also thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) for his recognition that he is capable of error. [Interruption.] Indeed, he is capable of errors, which is still more significant.

There have been some real achievements since the coalition began military action in Afghanistan on 7 October. We have seen the collapse of the sinister, barbarous and fanatical Taliban regime, which provided shelter and support to Osama bin Laden and developed a mutual dependence on his al-Qaeda terrorist network—an organisation that provides one of the most destructive threats to the world's stability, peace and prosperity.

The Taliban regime that for so long kept Afghanistan in its oppressive grip has fallen and the Taliban have even been driven from their historical base in Kandahar. Only isolated pockets of Taliban and al-Qaeda forces now remain around the country, which is a vindication of the coalition's broad strategy of action in the diplomatic, economic, legal, humanitarian and military spheres to ensure that Afghanistan no longer harbours and sustains international terrorism.

The fall of the Taliban is also a tribute to the United States leadership of the coalition. While the attacks on 11 September were an attack on the whole world, it was the United States that suffered most. It is right that it should take the lead in an act of self-defence under article 51 of the United Nations charter. It has led wisely and well.

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Although the United States has military capabilities that are unmatched by those of any other country, it also recognised that it could not act alone.

Other countries also suffered on 11 September—not least our own; 78 British citizens died in New York. We, too, had to respond for our own safety and security, as well as to support our closest ally—and support her we have. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have played vital parts in building and maintaining the global coalition against international terrorism, and our armed forces have operated alongside those of the United States from the start of military operations on 7 October.

Few can doubt that the coalition's military campaign was essential in bringing about the downfall of the Taliban. Military action enabled the Northern Alliance, which was initially shocked by the assassination of its leader only two days before the attacks on 11 September, to go on to the offensive. With coalition help, the Northern Alliance drove back the Taliban on the ground.

The military campaign helped to make the Bonn agreement and all that it promises possible. The agreement represents the foundation stone for the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the basis on which that country, which has been almost destroyed by 22 years of war and the isolation that came with the Taliban regime, can be rebuilt and redeveloped. Our long-term aim was always to reintegrate Afghanistan as a responsible member of the international community. We promised that we would not walk away from it and we are keeping that promise.

At the start of the coalition action in Afghanistan, we set out what we were trying to achieve. Our specific short-term campaign aims were to bring Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders to justice; to prevent Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network from posing a continuing terrorist threat; to ensure that Afghanistan ceased to harbour and sustain international terrorism and that it allowed us to verify that the camps where terrorists trained were destroyed; and, given that Mullah Omar would not comply with the American ultimatum, we required a sufficient change in the leadership to ensure that Afghanistan's links to international terrorism were broken.

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