Examination of Witnesses (Questions 2240
THURSDAY 5 FEBRUARY 2004
Q2240 Chairman: I did not
think I would be the one to have that put-down, Secretary of State.
I walked into that pretty unwittingly!
Mr Hoon: I apologise. It was not
in any way meant to be a put-down. I simply think that the premise
of your question depended on the results of an inquiry that is
only just beginning, and given the inquiry, I am not sure it would
be wise of me to anticipate its results.
Q2241 Chairman: I thought
you used that answer to the earlier questions. Following on from
that very successful questionand I think I know the answer
but I am still asking itdo you think the war in Iraq has
undermined our ability politically to take the sort of pre-emptive
actions which the SDR New Chapter identified as likely to be necessary
against the threat from international terrorism?
Mr Hoon: No, I do not believe
that it has. We have made clear that in dealing with threats to
the people of the United Kingdom, it is necessary to take action
against those threats where they arise and not simply wait for
them to manifest themselves in the United Kingdom itself. In a
sense, operations in Afghanistan were an illustration of that,
and the operations there, which continue, have not only destroyed
the training camps that were previously available to Al-Qaeda,
but they have also disrupted significantly their command and control
and their communications. That continues to be operationally necessary,
but it is a very good illustration, I think, Chairman, of precisely
the point that you were making.
Chairman: We look forward to seeing what
recommendations the Committee of Inquiry makes to minimise the
risk of any failures, if failures there were, in intelligence.
Q2242 Mr Havard: Much of the
discussion, obviously, in Westminster village is all about the
things that happen in Westminster village, but I am interested
in what intelligence and what advice was given to operational
commanders on the ground from all of this, presumably expecting
to go into a situation of present danger and a threat and all
the rest of it on the basis of the intelligence assessment. We
know you did not have "Jones the Spy", which is a bit
of a problem in Iraq, because you could not grade a lot of the
intelligence, but we have heard stories that this is the most
photographed country in the world, yet when troops engaged, the
maps were wrong, and boys were drawing things on bits of paper
and swapping them around. There were serious problems with basic
intelligence and information. What I would like to know therefore
is what in fact was said to the troops and the operational commanders.
Were they expecting the weapons of mass destruction to come via
a boy with a bag on his back pretending to be a shepherd rather
than it being a ballistic missile? In other words, I would like
to know the advice about the asymmetric threat but also the direct
military threat. What advice did they get?
Mr Hoon: Troops were prepared
to deal with a number of potential threats in the way in which
weapons of mass destruction might have been deployed. I am sure
all of us can recall some early television clips of missiles coming
into deployed forces in Kuwait and people making the appropriate
response by getting into their chemical protection suits. It was
a very vivid image at the start of the conflict.
Q2243 Mr Havard: Is that because
they did not know?
Mr Hoon: It happened on a number
of occasions. It was clear that those people had been properly
briefed to expect a threat from a weapon of mass destruction,
and they took appropriate action. I can recall embedded journalists
describing that process as their cameraman took the pictures,
and we all saw those pictures on our television screens. It indicates
that they were properly prepared for that threat. As the operation
developed, there were examples, particularly affecting American
coalition forces, of attacks of an asymmetric kind. By then I
think we were more in control of the territory from which, say,
missiles could have been launched.
Q2244 Mr Havard: What you
are really describing is they did not know so they tried to protect
themselves against anything and everything.
Mr Hoon: That is probably a prudent
preparation for any kind of military conflict.
Q2245 Mr Havard: Is that good
Mr Hoon: I do not understand why
you say it was not good enough.
Q2246 Mr Havard: If you are
an operational commander on the ground, you would expect you might
get a little bit of graded intelligence as to what it is you are
Mr Hoon: I have indicated, I think,
the clearest possible example of what they were prepared to deal
with and why they did it.
Chairman: We are coming on to this again,
Secretary of State, on NBC defence.
Q2247 Mr Havard: My question
is actually about embedded officers in the process, and it does
follow on, in a sense. What we have learned is we have had embedded
officers in Tampa and then in Qatar as part of the planning process,
which I think quite clearly was thought to be, in terms of what
was described to us as a "bottom up" process, very successful
and very helpful, I think, in terms of doing what one of the officers
called "We influenced the planning for the better" and
I think some of them were afraid of the planning that they saw
when they started. They were quite clearly only brought into the
planning at certain stages, and I wanted to ask you about the
timing of that. We know they were there after 11 September, and
they had been there for some time. We are told that they discovered
a "no foreigners" planning exercise going on in May
2002, in other words the Americans were excluding everyone, including
the Brits, from that process. They were eventually involved in
June and July 2002, and they got some authority to then carry
on and do some pre-planning. But what they also told us was that
what they discovered was that there were two windows for this
exercise to happen in, the spring or the autumn. We know the war
happened in the spring. You know the suspicion is that the Americans
were always going to go in the spring anyway, no matter what the
intelligence told them and no matter what the planning was. The
question we want to ask is how successful do you think they were
in terms of not only the political activities that were involved
in the planning but also the operational side of the planning,
on matters such as targeting and so on? There are two questions:
one is about the military efficiency of these people's involvement
and also their political involvement.
Mr Hoon: First of all, they did
a tremendous job, and I think I need to distinguish between the
regular liaison that takes place between Britain's armed forces
and Centcom, not least after Afghanistan, where we again had British
officers working very closely with their American counterparts
in preparing operations. That cooperation continued, and involvement
in the planning of specific operations, obviously, in relation
to Iraq, where againI do not actually have the exact numbers
but wherever I went in visiting forces, in preparing for the operations,
British forces were significantly represented, and whenever I
have spoken to either military officers or their political leadership
in the Pentagon, there has been great praise for the contribution
British forces made, but I would not want to be nationalistic
about that, and I am sure you were not being. The development
of military planning is a process, and I am pleased that British
officers were able to contribute significantly to that, but I
do not think necessarily they were any better or any worse than
their American counterparts. They did an extremely good job together.
Q2248 Mr Havard: I am critical
personally of the question about how they go about picking out
targets, and I think the fact that the British were there helped
that significantly, because they would have bombed a lot of things
that otherwise they did not bomb because there was perhaps more
intelligence from our side. It links back to the intelligence
process. What I am really interested in is were they influencing
that timetable, where they also being incorporated into the process,
was this part of a political incorporation process or was it really
about military planning for military effect? There is a tension
between those two things, and it is quite clear that we are going
to have to cooperate with the Americans for a long time in the
future. Perhaps you can say something about how you see that moving
on from the lessons learned here, how you are safeguarding, in
a sense, against the incorporation problem whilst enhancing the
real effect that they may have in terms of military planning.
Mr Hoon: On the question of targeting,
this was a completely integrated process. The air campaign was
about as integrated between the US and the UK as it could be.
Indeed, I can recall occasions on which aircraft were in the sky,
receiving their orders to take out particular targets, and it
depended entirely on which aircraft were available, whether they
were US or UK. That demonstrates the level of integration of targeting.
So I would not accept that there was any kind of difference in
approach between the US and the UK in the planning or preparation
or indeed in the execution of that process. As far as the embedding
of officers in military planning is concerned, their job is to
produce the best military plan available for coalition forces.
As I say, I believe that British forces played a significant part
in the planning and did a tremendous job.
Q2249 Chairman: Is this likely
to be permanent, Secretary of State, or just a series of ad hoc
Mr Hoon: I said in answer to the
earlier question that there has been regular liaison and exchanges
between Centcom, for example, and indeed other American command
headquarters, and British forces. I do not think they are ever
based on a permanent arrangement as such, but nevertheless, the
level of exchange over the years is such that in effect there
have always been British officers there, to the best of my knowledge,
certainly in my time in this job.
Q2250 Rachel Squire: First
Reflections and your Lessons for the Future report
highlighted the competing pressures of diplomatic negotiations
and military preparations. It is clear that in seeking to avoid
undermining the diplomatic phase of the crisis over Iraq, some
decisions in respect of military preparations were delayed. Would
you consider that it is inevitable that where military operations
are just one part of the spectrum of diplomatic and political
activity, the need to keep the political processes on track for
as long as possible will act as a constraint on military preparations?
Mr Hoon: It could. I do not believe
that it did as far as this particular operation is concerned.
Inevitably it is my job to ensure on behalf of the armed forces
and the Ministry of Defence that there is a consistent approach
both to a diplomatic effort as well as to a military effort, and
I believe that that consistent approach was carried through.
Q2251 Rachel Squire: You say
that you do not believe it did in relation to Operation Telic.
Are you really confident that there was no effect of the political
diplomatic process on the holding of stocks of military supplies
or in being able, for instance, to place orders early enough for
matters for urgent operational requirements so as to allow their
delivery to be just in time rather than just too late?
Mr Hoon: That is a perfectly proper
question, which I will try and deal with. As far as stockholding
is concerned, a judgment was madethe Committee has, I think,
discussed this in the pastabout the appropriate level of
equipment in store immediately available for a rapid reaction
in terms of an international crisis. A judgment was made that
that should be sufficient to equip the rapid reaction force at
around 9,000. Thereafter the judgment was made that urgent operational
requirements and the process of supplying those extra pieces of
equipment would require sufficient time in order to be able to
put a larger force into the field. That judgment, as I indicated
in my introductory remarks, perhaps required some updating in
the light of the kind of operation that we have just carried out
in Iraq, which is why I have decided that there shall be larger
stocks immediately available. That is in the light of the lessons
that we have learned from this operation. As the NAO, I think,
makes clear in its conclusions, there is always a balance to be
struck between having equipment available immediately, given the
cost of that, as against the process that we went through in relation
to making sure that our troops were sufficiently equipped to conduct
military operations in Iraq. It is a balance. It is a judgment.
I judged that the previous level was not sufficient, but it could
be the caseand I well recall this when I was first appointedthat
we end up not using stock because it becomes time-expired and
the money is thereby wasted. One of my early jobs was to close
down various warehouses full of spare parts for equipment that
had gone out of service and that had never been used. I have a
responsibility not only to the taxpayer but also to the armed
forces to make sure that we spend scarce resources as effectively
as possible, and destroying stock that has never been used because
it is no longer relevant is not something that I think is necessarily
the best use of those scarce resources, either from the point
of view of the taxpayer or, crucially, from the point of view
of the armed forces, because I could have spent that money on
something more useful as far as they were concerned. It is a judgment;
it is a balance. We have got to get that judgment and balance
right. My view is that we did what was necessary in Iraq, but
perhaps learning the lessons that we hold larger stocks for the
future than we did at the time. Those judgments evolve in the
light of experience.
Q2252 Rachel Squire: Can I
then ask you whether, in terms of learning those lessons, there
was any consideration of whether international political processes
could impact on the urgent delivery of supplies and equipment
that had actually been manufactured outside the UK.
Mr Hoon: I do not think we had
a particular problem on this occasion, but there will be plenty
of people in this room that can recall the difficulties that we
had on previous occasions in securing ammunition from particular
countries. I had probably better not name those countries, to
be diplomatic, but I think everyone knows what I am talking about.
Obviously, the reliability of supplies is crucial, and that is
again something that has to be taken into account as part of this
Q2253 Chairman: We are just
trying to remember. Switzerland and Belgium. Apologies to any
Belgians and Swiss.
Mr Hoon: So much for diplomacy,
Chairman: I was never skilled in that,
Secretary of State.
Q2254 Mr Blunt: Secretary
of State, before following up on issues about equipment, can I
just say that I spent two and a half years as a special advisor
to one of your predecessors, and I have a vivid memory of reading
a cutting from the Sun in Warsaw about a story about a
Wren who had gone AWOL and was causing some concern, Wrens having
just been introduced to the ships. It would be extraordinary,
given the sensitivity to the press of the administration that
you represent that your cuttings service is not being sent out
to your private office on a daily basis when you are overseas.
Not now, but could you please investigate and confirm that your
private office received the cuttings service in question on those
dates that you were away in Warsaw and Ukraine?
Mr Hoon: I will certainly investigate
Q2255 Mr Blunt: Let me begin
with something that I hope we all agree on. I want to declare
my interest as the son and grandson of two senior military logisticians,
who I think would have taken huge pleasure from the unprecedented
achievement in modern military logistics, which you described
in your opening statement as heroic, in getting the equipment
out to the Gulf for Gulf War II. Would they be right to take huge
pride in that achievement, if they were still alive, and would
they also be right in saying that the scale of their achievementsincluding
all the civilian agencies involvedexceeded everyone's reasonable
Mr Hoon: I am grateful for that
observation, because it is my view that the logisticians have
not always been accorded the praise that I think they rightly
deserve. They tend to be people who are rather taken for granted
in the process, and I must say I was particularly impressed when
I went to exercise Saif Sareea.
Q2256 Mr Blunt: I fear we
do not have very long, so "yes" will do.
Mr Hoon: It is important that
I answer the question. I recall going there towards the end of
the exercise and at that stage there was the process beginning
of getting the equipment and people back to the United Kingdom,
and I must say that was a remarkable effort and, as you have properly
said, this was something which was duplicated in our operations
in Iraq this time.
Q2257 Mr Blunt: Therefore,
Secretary of State, it is correct that the failures of supply
that have been identified by the NAO are actually rather more
to do with the strategic issue of the timetable to which the logisticians
were working than any lower order issues such as efficiency in
the supply chain about asset tracking that you are talking about.
You have talked about the sheer volume of matériel that
the logistic chain is having to deal with in a very short space
of time. You, as Defence Secretary, were responsible for the timetable.
Is that correct?
Mr Hoon: Yes, but if the implication
of that is that there should have been more time, then I am sure
your father and grandfather would have recognised as the logisticians
that they were that the time is the time that you have available,
and the job of a logistician is to ensure that the equipment is
moved from, in this case, mostly the United Kingdom to theatre
in the time that is available. That is the job they did, and that
is why they did it so heroically.
Q2258 Mr Blunt: The point
is, Secretary of State, that you were responsible for the timetable
by the political decision that you took as Secretary of State
for Defence for when preparations could begin. Could you turn
to the chronology in your First Reflections document on
page 73, the second booklet: Operations in Iraq: Lessons for
the Future. As far as you are aware, the chronology is accurate?
Mr Hoon: Yes.
Q2259 Mr Blunt: There are
no dates in this chronology that the MoD appears to regard as
significant between 17 December 1999 and 12 September 2002.
Mr Hoon: I am sorry. That is a
completely open-ended question. I would be much happier if you
were rather more precise as to what you mean by that.