Previous SectionIndexHome Page

John Reid: Yes, there will be. That is what we are insisting on. I am glad that my hon. Friend was at Operation Herrick yesterday. I will be there tomorrow.
26 Jan 2006 : Column 1540
I am glad that he is able to convey to the House the morale and the resolution of our troops, which we would expect, and that of our allies.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his announcement today because it will relieve the concerns of many members of our armed forces and those of their families. That is an important point at this time.

Is it still the intention, as part of the ISAF deployment, that the Dutch troops will deploy to that part of Afghanistan between Kabul and Helmand, which I think is called the Oruzgan province, which is where many of the remnants of the Taliban reside? What would be the effect on our deployment, which the right hon. Gentleman has announced today, if the Dutch decided, either ministerially or through their Parliament, not to make that deployment, or if later, having made it, they decided to withdraw?

John Reid: The Oruzgan province is to the north. As I said, the Dutch Cabinet have unanimously decided that they wish to go ahead. The matter has to be discussed in their Parliament, although formal power does not actually lie there. However, there will be a discussion and a debate, in the way that we are having today. I believe that the Dutch will take a decision, but it is a sovereign decision for them. If they decide that they do not want to deploy there, we will have to find another way of doing that. I am confident that we will do so. We will not be plugging the gap, but the gap will be plugged.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Recognising, as my right hon. Friend has said, that the choice at this moment is between the continuing military role of the international community or the return of the Taliban fanatics, will the United States, in particular, be extremely careful over their intelligence, bearing in mind that some two weeks ago there was a bombing raid, and all the evidence seems to suggest that the victims, including young children, were innocent? Hearts and minds are involved in this campaign, and that includes the way that prisoners are interrogated by the Afghan authorities. I hope that all that will be very much borne in mind.

John Reid: I am sure that it is by the United States. It is always a dreadfully difficult task to balance the fight against a dreadful enemy who is unconstrained by any morality, any conventional norms of international standards and any Geneva convention. They will demean people, degrade them and show them publicly, and they are increasingly behaving in that manner. At the same time, we are fighting to a set of standards under scrutiny by the media, under international legalities, under human rights and other standards. It is always difficult to get the balance right. I would merely say that we and our allies, the United States and others, try to get the balance right continuously. I know that it is always on our mind, but we try to ensure that it does not unduly constrain our troops. In the long run, the maintenance of such standards strategically is a source of legitimacy and strength to us, and that is why we take such care.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): The invasion of Afghanistan, unlike the invasion of Iraq, was necessary and right, and the Government
26 Jan 2006 : Column 1541
deserve our full support. Will the Secretary of State recognise that the distinction between NATO's reconstruction efforts and the counter-insurgency efforts that are led by the United States, which was always difficult to reconcile and always seemed artificial and implausible, is now infinitely more difficult to sustain if NATO troops are to be deployed to the south of Afghanistan? As the right hon. Gentleman has recognised, they may have to deal with insurgency attacks upon them. Will he therefore give slightly greater urgency than his initial remarks implied to working with our allies to try to ensure as quickly as possible some form of unified command?

John Reid: Obviously, I do not accept the premise of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks, but I think that beyond that premise and his comments about Iraq he makes an important point. I do not think that it is impossible to distinguish between a mission that is led by a counter-terrorist objective and one that is led by rebuilding and re-capacity provincial reconstruction team-style objectives.

Of course, it is impossible to distinguish absolutely between the two objectives, especially if terrorists are attacking and there are insurgency attacks. I reassure the House that if terrorists and insurgents attack us, we will defend ourselves. They would be attacked back. There is no question about that. That is not a matter of caveats. We are not going there to be the armed wing of Oxfam or anything of that nature. If we are attacked, the British forces will defend themselves. On the other hand, their primary task or main task is not to seek and destroy terrorists—the United States are leading that mission. I think that as they successfully exclude terrorists and the reconstruction task force, ISAF—NATO—moves round the clock of Afghanistan, there will be a closer synergy. How that is done is a matter for discussion. However, I will discuss the matter continuously, as I have been doing, with our allies. Some are more reluctant than others to see that achieved.

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, especially ahead of the London conference on Afghanistan next week. Does he agree that in developing its peace-building strategy, the United Nations has emphasised the need for the task of maintaining security to go hand in hand with development and reconstruction? Will my right hon. Friend therefore assure the House that the troops that are sent to Afghanistan will not only maintain security, important though that is in the difficult terrain of south Afghanistan, but assist in reconstruction, and will he join me in reminding the House that it is important that we see though our commitment to Afghanistan and to the new democratically elected Government, as they seek to carry out the difficult task of building the country's infrastructure, services and employment base?

John Reid: Absolutely. As I said earlier, military means, though a necessary condition for success, are not a sufficient condition. We will provide the security framework within which the reconstruction of Afghanistan can take place. That is why, if we are countering narcotics and withdrawing some of the income, it is so important that there should be
26 Jan 2006 : Column 1542
alternative livelihoods. People do not willingly starve to death in a state of grace. There must be something more at the end of it to allow them to maintain their families, so we must complement the intervention of the Afghan military with alternative means of livelihood.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): As the Secretary of State knows, 3,000 troops from 16th Air Assault Brigade are taking part in Exercise Herrick Eagle, although less than two weeks ago the Minister of State for the armed forces stated that

The announcement from the Secretary of State today confirms that that will happen. When will the deployment commence? How long will the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment and elements of the headquarters of 16th Air Assault Brigade be based in Afghanistan? Does that not yet again illustrate the overstretch? When will the right hon. Gentleman address that principal problem?

John Reid: First, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, that was a classic case of a series of non sequiturs, each of which was intrinsically mistaken, and which, compounded together, were one big mistake. Because people start contingent preparations, it does not mean that it is inevitable that a decision will be taken to deploy them. The decision to deploy 16th Air Assault Brigade was not taken when we started the contingency preparations. It was taken this morning. Matters could have been otherwise, even as late as the past week or two. Secondly, there is no contradiction between our other commitments and those in Afghanistan. It is challenging, but there is not overstretch to the extent that the hon. Gentleman suggests. Thirdly, I dare say that the morale among the troops, with whom the hon. Gentleman continually tells me he mixes, is superbly higher every time I or anyone else meets them than his morale often is on these matters.

Bob Russell: Oh, for God's sake.

John Reid: I can only relate to the hon. Gentleman my experience of these matters.

Bob Russell: Disgraceful.

John Reid: The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view. When I meet those soldiers on exercise, they are prepared to meet the challenge. It is to their eternal credit that their morale and resolution is superior to that of most commentators in the United Kingdom.

Next Section IndexHome Page