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I shall not dwell at length on the outbreak of illness among personnel attached to 34 field hospital, but I entirely echo the sentiments expressed by the Secretary of State and his concern for those infected and for their families. We wish them a speedy recovery, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will do everything that can be done to assist them. There will inevitably be questions to answer about the cause of the outbreak. For example, is there any connection between this outbreak and the soldier who contracted something similar two weeks ago? Could a local person who was being treated in our hospital have brought in the infection?
Although the Army takes pride in lightly equipped deployments, as they extend from weeks to months are we cutting corners and adding to health risks by refusing to replace trench latrines and basic washing facilities with portakabins containing proper showers and flushing toilets? The contrast between our operations in Kabul and those of other nations brought that matter to light when I was there a month ago.
The statement has much greater import, too; I suspect that the Secretary of State felt the need to make it so as to respond to the chorus of media disenchantment with recent operations in Afghanistan. Many commentators share the palpable frustration of the Royal Marines, to which the Secretary of State referred, because they did not get the engagements with the enemy that we had been led to expect. However, I agree with the Secretary of State and the Government that that does not mean that Operations Ptarmigan and Snipe have been a waste of time.
What now? Where does the war on terrorism go from here? The Secretary of State referred to the continuing need to prosecute offensive operations. He said that we were not considering a classical military campaign and stressed the need for better intelligence. He mentioned the varying scale and intensity of operations, and said that there was sometimes no visible activity. He described the focus on terrorist infrastructure and the disruption of the terrorists' ability to operate. Is that not a description of what is becoming a classic counter-insurgency war? Is not better intelligence the key to successful operations?
What is the Secretary of State's assessment of the strength, capabilities and current activities of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and especially in Pakistan and elsewhere? It is obvious that its members are not simply hiding in Afghanistan; they have fled. What is his latest assessment of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden? As the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, his capture was the Government's stated objective at the outset. Where does all that leave our future commitment?
What relationship will the United Kingdom and ISAF have with the new permanent American headquarters, which is being set up with 500 staff at Bagram? That signals a long-term United States commitment to Operation Enduring Freedom. What is our commitment? What is its duration? What progress is being made on training an indigenous Afghan army? It has been said that Afghanistan needs an army of 60,000.
The Secretary of State referred to action on many frontspolitical, social and economic. What further military and other activities will the UK undertake to continue what the Government have startedthe stabilisation of the Government of Afghanistan? I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the frustration that the British military expressed when I was in Kabul last month. They said that it was often hard and complicated to use British aid money to fulfil projects such as getting the electricity back on or repairing the water supplies. Those are projects for the population among whom our soldiers have to live and work. We promised so much that any failure to deliver may make them a focus for frustration and ultimately a target for public disappointment and protests.
We welcome the fact that Turkey will take over the leadership of ISAF, but when will the Government make a clear statement about the way in which a military civil aid programme will be delivered? All we hear is that the Secretary of State for International Development is reluctant to co-operate with projects led by the militaryand that the problem is not that she cannot help, but that she will not help.
Is the Secretary of State aware that many of our soldiers feel a bit used because of the involvement in what might be called "eye-catching initiatives", while small sums are denied for less glamorous projects that could make a big practical difference to the people whom the British armed forces are there to help? Will he explain to the House how this frustration can be resolved?
The lessons of previous successful counter-insurgency operations in Kenya, Malaya, Borneo and Oman teach us the need to win over the hearts and minds of the indigenous population. If that is the road that the Government are choosing to go down, that is the task that we must put at the top of the agenda.
Mr. Hoon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful and considered comments on the medical outbreak at Bagram. I know that his good wishes will be well received by the people affected and by their families. I assure him that, as I said in my statement, a determined effort will be made to identify the cause of the outbreak. Obviously, we need to understand its cause to ensure that no similar outbreak can occur again.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the invaluable role played by the Territorial Army; that is a subject to which we are likely to return shortly. I want to emphasise the commitment that the Government give to reservists of all kinds, and how much we appreciate the efforts that they make.
The key to the general military operation is certainly intelligence. The extent of al-Qaeda and Taliban activity, particularly along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, continues to cause concern. Any future operation will be specifically directed towards dealing with the ability of terrorists to operate freely in that area. I can confirm that Osama bin Laden and the leadership of al-Qaeda and the Taliban continue to be targets for our operations.
I am not in a position to be able to answer directly the hon. Gentleman's question about the duration of the commitment; I am sure that he did not expect a specific answer. All I can say is that we have a continuing responsibility to prosecute offensive operations against those who would seek to destabilise not only Afghanistan but the peace and security of the world, and we will ensure that ours is an appropriate contribution.
As for the other activities being pursued right across government, there is a significant aid programme and we have pledged economic support to the Interim Administration, policing training is being provided by Germany, and we are involved in an extensive programme of military trainingalthough the United States is firmly in the lead there. There is, therefore, a determined joined-up effort right across government to ensure that there will be a reconstructed Afghanistan. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept, however, that the key to this lies with the Afghans themselves, which is why it is so important to give such strong support to the Loya Jirga and to the process of rebuilding the Government and the Administration of that country.
If I may say so, I think that the hon. Gentleman was unfair to the Department for International Development and inaccurate in his comments about the co-operation between the Ministry of Defence and that Department. On a number of occasions it has been possible for forces that arrive early in a situation that requires stabilisation to carry out reconstruction tasks with funding from DFID. That is perhaps the best example of joined-up government that I can give. Such activities also occurred in Sierra Leone, and I anticipate that they will occur again in Afghanistan. I have seen for myself the British forces in
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): I, too, thank the Secretary of State for giving me notice of his statement. I also thank his colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the consultations and the advice that I received on this subject yesterday.
May I also send my best wishes and those of my colleagues to the people involved at Bagram and their families? Our first hope is that they all make a speedy recovery. Those affected and their families will want to know whether this outbreak could have been prevented. Our forces have encountered medical problems on deployment before. In Sierra Leone, for example, 159 of them returned with malaria. Were any lessons learned from that incident, and can the Secretary of State assure us that all our forces in Afghanistan were fully inoculated before they left? Are other nations also involved? Are troops from other nations suffering such problems?
The Secretary of State mentioned the defence medical services. The shortages have been highlighted by many Members, not least my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). We understand that there are only enough staff from the regular forces to maintain one field hospital, and that, given a strategic defence review target of 14 deployable field hospitals, we can muster only five at a push for the reserve forces. Is it not the case that unless we get the manning in the defence medical services right, there may come a time when we will not be able to deploy on combat operations because we will not have proper medical support?
May I give the Secretary of State a chance to scotch some of the more ridiculous rumours that appear to be coming out of Bagram, especially those about the number of people in quarantine? I have heard journalists mention figures ranging from 60 to 300. Can the Secretary of State tell us roughly how many people are in quarantine? Can he confirm that all those in quarantine are medical staff, and that none are combat staffor even special forces, as has been suggested in the press? Is it not the case that if our combat staff were being detained in quarantine, Operation Veritas would be considerably affected?
I am pleased that Turkey is taking over the leadership of ISAF. How long does the Secretary of State expect that to last, and what preparations are being made for another nation to take over? Does the Secretary of State share my hope that some of our European partners will consider taking over, as they have the ability to do so?
I join the Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), in congratulating our forces on Operation Snipe. They did an excellent job. The Secretary of State mentioned other nations, however. Do we not know that many al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are hiding in Pakistan? What possibility is there of cross-border co-operation with Pakistan? Might our forces have hot pursuit into Pakistan, or would there be Pakistan forces on that side of the border to deal with the terrorists?