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The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Will the hon. Gentleman give one example of a mission from which we should withdraw?

Mr. Jenkin: If I may say so, that is a tiresome and cheap point. I do not begin to assume that it is easy to withdraw from such operations. It might be fairer to ask which original deployments we would not have made. [Interruption.] No, that is right. We have made our views on that clear. I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that short deployments are justified from time to time, but all too often under him, and his predecessor, those have become open-ended commitments, putting further pressure on our already stretched armed forces. We should not devalue the gold standard of our armed forces in this way.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North) rose

Mr. Jenkin: I will press on because many people want to speak.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): May I ask a tiresome question? Does the Conservative party have any qualms about supporting what is both a military action and a peacekeeping role? Can one do the same thing in the same country at the same time?

Mr. Jenkin: That is a question that I have raised from the Dispatch Box before and I note that it has also been raised by the leader of one of the minority parties. I do not believe that the Government have ever given a satisfactory answer. [Hon. Members: "You answer the question."] Well, the answer is that if everything goes well and there are no unforeseen eventualities, there might not be any difficulties. However, as soon as something unexpected occurs, such difficulties might be created. It is unsound military doctrine to have two completely separate types of operation in the same theatre under split chains of command with split objectives. It invites another uncertainty into the picture, and we remain concerned about that.

What exactly is the goal that we are trying to achieve in Kabul, and when do we think that it will be achieved? How did we ever believe that it could be achieved under

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a United Nations mandate of just six months? Why did the Government give such fulsome assurances that we would get away with only three months' commitment from our troops? What has been the outcome of discussions about the future leadership of ISAF? The Government led us to believe that Turkey had made a firm offer to take over. The Secretary of State said:

On Monday, we expected that to be confirmed by the Turkish Prime Minister. An announcement has yet to be made.

I also asked on Monday about the financial contribution that Britain is being asked to make to support Turkey's leadership. I understand that Turkey is now demanding $300 million for a six-month operation, which is likely to be funded by the United States and the United Kingdom alone. The Turkish Defence Minister is in London today. Will the Secretary of State give us an update on the situation? What provision has been made, if any, for the eventuality that Turkey declines to take over ISAF? I dare say that the Turkish commanders are asking the same questions about the long-term prospects of ISAF.

I regret to inform the House that many of the fears that we expressed when the Government announced ISAF are becoming a reality. It looks as though our troop commitment will become longer; it will be impossible substantially to reduce the numbers that we have committed and no other nation is willing or able yet to make a commitment to take over ISAF's leadership. Now Mr. Brahimi of the United Nations has called for an extension of ISAF's mandate, which can only compound the difficulties facing the Government. Of course, there remains the underlying issue of two operations taking place in the same theatre, which the Father of the House raised a moment ago.

I want to keep my remarks as short as possible. This debate was vital for the House of Commons to be able to do its job of scrutinising the Government's decision, but it is also an opportunity for hon. Members on both sides of the House to send a message of support to all those in the British armed forces who have been called upon to fight for our security, our values and our beliefs. I regret that the Foreign Secretary—or indeed the Prime Minister—is not in his place, but I am sure that the House will join me in wishing our forces in the field the very best of luck and every success in the weeks and months ahead.

5.11 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The House already knows a great deal about the deployment of British troops to Afghanistan—I went through much of the detail during my statement on Monday. I do not intend to repeat that detail, but I am delighted to be able to take this opportunity to answer the various questions that have been asked and to clear up a number of misconceptions.

Let me begin by making three points to set the context for the rest of what I will say. It is essential that, in discussing the detail of the deployments, we do not lose sight of the bigger picture. First, we are right to act in Afghanistan. The terrorist attacks in the United States last September were only possible because Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda had been able to draw on the support and

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shelter offered by the Taliban regime. If we had not responded, there was no doubt that bin Laden and his accomplices would have carried out further attacks—perhaps, by now, even in the United Kingdom.

We were right, therefore, to act in self defence under article 51 of the UN charter. We were right to act to prevent Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda from posing a continuing terrorist threat, and we were right to act to break the links between Afghanistan and international terrorism and to try to reintegrate Afghanistan as a responsible member of the international community to ensure that those links could never be established again.

Secondly, the action that the international community has taken has been remarkably successful. As I said on Monday, Afghanistan is now a very different country. The decision to deploy considerable military force against the terrorists and their supporters has been vindicated. Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network have been dealt a heavy blow. The Taliban regime, whose support was so important for al-Qaeda, is no more. The decision to deploy the international security assistance force to Kabul to help the Afghan Interim Authority to maintain security in the capital has also been vindicated.

Afghanistan is beginning to return to something like normality. Given its recent history, perhaps that is hard to believe, but I saw that change for myself when I visited Kabul some weeks ago. There were market stalls full of food, people out on the street and normal life was slowly returning.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Notwithstanding what the Secretary of State has just said, surely the seriousness of the deployment shows that the conflict in Afghanistan is very far from over, despite what the Prime Minister said a number of weeks ago. Does that not underline the danger of the foolish talk of extending spheres of conflict to other countries before the situation in Afghanistan is fully stabilised? Is it correct, as press reports suggest, that the German and Russian Governments believe that any offensive military action on Iraq would require a new and specific UN Security Council resolution? What is the Government's attitude to that position?

Mr. Hoon: I had the privilege of meeting the Russian Foreign Minister this morning and the subject of Iraq was not raised or discussed. The hon. Gentleman and journalists seem to be raising the prospect of military action, although the Government have, in fact, repeatedly said that the question of Iraq has not even been decided and, certainly, that the prospect of any military action has not been resolved.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind all hon. Members that this Adjournment debate is about Afghanistan, not Iraq.

Mr. Hoon rose

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hoon: I will give way on the subject of Afghanistan.

Mr. Hogg: As one who supports the deployment of British troops to Afghanistan, but one who also wants to

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reinforce parliamentary authority, may I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be right for the Government to come to the House and ask for an express vote authorising that deployment? Will he be so good as to say why he is not seeking the express authority of the House?

Mr. Hoon: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has much longer experience of this House than I. He has supported Governments who have deployed forces and has never raised that question previously. He has sought to do so only when a Labour Government have taken responsibility for such decisions. He therefore needs to ask himself why he makes that point today when he never made it to a Government whom he supported over a long period. With his experience of the House, he knows that there is no automatic need for a vote. Why, then, should we take seriously such a question today?

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