Relations with MoD
17. A glance at our list of witnesses shows that
the overwhelming majority of them have been from MoD. We also
asked for and received a significant amount of written information.
As we mentioned above we have visited a number of MoD sites. By
and large we have received the co-operation and assistance which
we have requested. In some respects however we have not:
- We requested sight of the directives
issued by the Chief of Defence Staff to the commanding officers
in theatre. This was after the conclusion of combat operations
and we were prepared to receive them in the form of classified
papers and respect that classification. Our request was refused.
- We requested copies of the Rules of Engagement
(RoE) under which British forces fought. Again this was after
the conclusion of combat operations and again we would have been
prepared to receive them as a classified document. The RoE of
the American forces have been published. Our request was refused.
- We requested copies of the 'lessons learned'
reports produced by senior officers involved in the operation.
Lessons for the Future states, 'all Service units, MoD
directorates and agencies directly involved in an operation whether
in theatre or elsewhere, [are required] to submit frank reports
via the chain of command on their experiences.' These reports
were provided to the National Audit Office for their inquiry.
Our request was refused, ostensibly on the grounds that the disclosure
of these reports would 'harm the frankness and candour of internal
discussion, both on this operation and for future operations.'
18. As noted above we made a number of visits to
military units and establishments involved in the operation as
well as visiting British forces in Iraq. All of our visits were
valuable and informative. Some were arranged at short notice,
and where that was the case, there were inevitably occasional
constraints on whom we were able to meet or what we were able
to do. But sometimes we were perhaps not as well served as we
should have been. One such occasion led to correspondence between
us and MoD.
19. When he appeared before us at the conclusion
of our inquiry, the Secretary of State said:
I should begin by congratulating the Committee
on what I know has been a very thorough inquiry into Operation
Telic. I will not pretend that this process of scrutiny is always
entirely comfortable for those who sit on this side of the table
All those who care about defence will certainly welcome
and applaud the inquiry. It is a serious and appropriate examination
of what are extremely important issues.
In a debate in the House on 13 January, he said,
of MoD's own lessons learned exercise:
There is no benefit in a lessons process that
is bland or uncritical. I encouraged the production of an honest,
unflinching report that focussed quite rightly on the future,
and outlined areas where there must be improvements.
20. MoD's two published lessons documents were prepared
and published with commendable speed and, while they did not hesitate
to draw attention to the many successes of the operation, they
did also identify failings and shortcomings in a number of areas.
But they were conducted within MoD, drawing on evidence provided
through the chain of command. The process was not independent
and it was not transparent.
21. By contrast, our inquiry has been both transparent
(as far we have been able to make it) and independent. We are
an all party committee, established by the House of Commons and
entrusted by it with the responsibility to scrutinise the policies
and actions of MoD and the Armed Forces. Our report is derived
from the evidence we have received. Some of that evidence has
been classified. We have spoken to many of the commanding officers
whose reports on the operation we have not been allowed to see.
We do not believe that they would have been less candid in the
reports which they submitted, if they had known that those reports
would be provided to us. We regret that MoD has failed to provide
us with certain documents which we have requested and has demonstrated
on occasion less co-operation and openness than we have the right
to expect as a select committee of the House of Commons.
22. We raised the increasing importance of special
forces to modern military operations in our inquiry into the New
Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review last year. In a speech
to RUSI in July 2002 the Secretary of State said 'there will also
be an increasing role for the use of Special Forces in the present
23. That 'increasing role' was demonstrated in
operations in Afghanistan, and has now been emphatically reinforced
by the crucial role which they played in Iraq. Their skills and
professionalism provide a unique capability to the total British
military effort. It remains, however, the policy of MoD to
make no public comment on their activities. As the Secretary of
State told us in May 2003, '
I am not going to go into the
detail of what [Special Forces] were doing.'
The information which we have received subsequently on their activities
has largely been classified. Because of this longstanding policy
on the part of MoD not to speak publicly about their contribution,
we have been unable to cover their activities in the way they
deserve in this report.
1 Ev 443 Back
Ev 444 Back
Eg First Report of Session 1982-83, The Handling of Press and
Public Information during the Falklands Conflict, HC (1982-83)
17; Tenth Report of Session 1990-91, Preliminary Lessons of
Operation Granby, HC (1990-91) 287; Fourteenth Report of Session
1999-2000, Lessons of Kosovo, HC (1999-2000) 347. Back
Tenth Report of Session 1990-91, HC 287 Back
Q 1 Back
Ninth Report of Session 2002-03, HC 813 Back
Tenth Report of Session 2002-03, HC 405 Back
Second Report of Session 2003-04, HC 81 Back
HC (2003-04) 247 Back
HC Deb, 3 February 2004, c 625 Back
National Audit Office: Ministry of Defence, Operation TELIC-United
Kingdom Military Operations in Iraq (HC 60, Session 2003-04,
11 December 2003), Appendix A Back
Ev 402 Back
Q 2220 Back
HC Deb, 13 January 2004, c686 Back
Q 79 Back