Select Committee on Defence Thirteenth Report


1.We are disturbed by the deterioration in the security situation in MND(SE) over the past months. Coalition forces in the region now operate in the context of a significantly higher threat than they did during the initial post-conflict phase of operations. And for ordinary Iraqis, lawlessness remains a particular difficulty. We recognise that the security situation in South Eastern Iraq is very different from, and more benign than, in some areas beyond the UK's area of responsibility. We accept that the increase in violence in the region is due largely to the local struggle for political and economic power, rather than from a sectarian-based insurgency. But we remain concerned about the implications for UK Forces of the steady escalation of violence in the region. (Paragraph 15)
2.The interest in the region demonstrated by the new Iraqi Prime Minister is a positive development. It is essential that Central Government in Baghdad, as a whole, maintains its interest in Basra and the wider region and has the capability to deliver its intentions. (Paragraph 16)
3.We were given differing assessments of the extent of the smuggling of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) across the border from Iran but we remain troubled about the implications of any such smuggling for the security of our forces and Iraqi civilians. Given the apparent ease with which IED technology can be smuggled across the border with Iran, we were pleased to hear of plans to support and develop both the Iraqi Navy and the Border Forces to help contain this threat. (Paragraph 22)
4.Security sector reform will be crucial to the drawback, and the eventual withdrawal, of UK Forces from Iraq. UK and Coalition forces have achieved considerable successes in training the new Iraqi army. We hope that the Iraqi 10th Division will soon gain full operational readiness and progressively assume responsibility for the security of the region, with Multi-National Forces in a mentoring and supporting role. But we are concerned at the serious challenges that remain in training the Iraqi Police Service (IPS). Corruption, militia infiltration and politicization of the IPS should be addressed as a matter of priority. Sustainable progress for both the Iraqi Army and Police will only come about if problems in the Iraqi Defence and Interior Ministries are addressed. (Paragraph 27)
5.It is not clear how the four elements of the local transition assessment will be measured and what level of threat, or capability, will be required prior to transition. We call upon the MoD to clarify, in detail, the criteria for transition. (Paragraph 29)
6.We welcome the recent hand-over of Muthanna province to Provincial Iraq Control, as a first step in the transition process in MND(SE). The next 12 months will be critical in setting the conditions necessary for long-term Iraqi self-reliance. The key test in MND(SE) will be the transition of Basra, where significant problems remain. (Paragraph 31)
7.Transition to Provincial Iraqi Control will allow UK Forces to draw back and assume a supporting role to Iraqi Security Forces. It does not mean that UK Forces will be able to withdraw from theatre, although we would expect some consequent reduction. We call upon the MoD to clarify the role which UK Forces will fulfil following transition and the implications for troop numbers in theatre. (Paragraph 32)
8.While we would expect the MoD to make reasonable efforts to recover equipment of high value, we support the pragmatic cost/value approach being taken, with equipment and bases passed on to the Iraqi Army where appropriate. (Paragraph 35)
9.We continue to be uncertain about the role of the PRT and believe that its value remains to be demonstrated. It is essential that the PRT should serve to enhance, rather than replace or duplicate, Iraqi decision-making. (Paragraph 37)
10.Iraq is potentially a wealthy country and we share the view that it should not be a priority for UK development funding, if this is at the expense of development support to poorer countries. Nevertheless, the Government should consider whether an injection of funding would help the Basra PRT deliver quickly. (Paragraph 38)
11.We call upon the MoD to make public, on a regular basis, the number of detainees UK Forces hold in Iraq, how those figures have fluctuated since the opening of the Divisional Temporary Detention Facility at Shaibah, and the grounds for detention. Detention without trial is, of itself, undesirable, though we understand the reasons for it. (Paragraph 46)
12.We are pleased that the MoD is considering new ways of incorporating local Iraqi representatives in the review process for detainees held at the UK's Divisional Temporary Detention Facility. (Paragraph 49)
13.We call upon the MoD to explain what its plans are for the future of the DTDF after the closure of the Shaibah Logistics Base. (Paragraph 50)
14.We are concerned at the increasingly sophisticated nature of the threat and the consequent vulnerability of UK Forces travelling in Snatch Land Rovers. We welcome the Secretary of State's review of the use of Snatch vehicles in Iraq and believe it is essential that this review be completed as quickly as possible. In the long-term, FRES may offer a solution to the difficulties associated with the Snatch, but its introduction is too far off to offer an answer to current operational needs in Iraq. The MoD should consider an "off the shelf" purchase as an immediate and interim replacement for Snatch, even if it does not fulfil the long-term capability requirement. It is unsatisfactory that the lack of capability was not addressed with greater urgency much earlier. (Paragraph 59)
15.We are concerned by the extreme temperatures to which our troops are subjected in armoured vehicles in Iraq. We call upon the MoD to investigate as a matter of urgency how the threat of heat exhaustion can be most effectively overcome, including examining the feasibility of equipping vehicles with air conditioning. UK troops have been operating in Iraq for over three years: it is unacceptable that resources have not yet been provided to combat the high temperatures. (Paragraph 62)
16.We are also concerned that attention is given to the position of cooks and kitchen staff and that measures are taken to provide sufficient ventilation and to maintain properly air-conditioning equipment. More broadly, we believe that our troops require adequate air-conditioned environments not only while they are on duty but when they are at rest so that they can recover from the excessive heat. Effective recuperation is crucial to troops' alertness and hence to the avoidance of casualties. (Paragraph 63)
17.We were impressed by the work of the Joint Helicopter Force—Iraq (JHF-I) which fulfils an essential role in enabling UK operations on the ground. But we are deeply concerned at the shortage of helicopters in theatre and believe that unless measures are taken to increase the number of helicopters and to reduce pressure on crews, the effectiveness and coherence of UK operations on the ground will suffer. We call upon the MoD to examine what steps it can take to remedy the shortage of helicopters and implement them as a matter of urgency. (Paragraph 68)
18.It is unacceptable that Servicemen and women, many of whom are serving greatly in excess of Harmony Guidelines, should have their leave disrupted by the MoD's inability to provide a reliable airbridge. (Paragraph 69)
19.We call upon the MoD to address the issue of airbridge unreliability as a matter of priority. Although we recognise the improvements already made in this area, we believe additional steps must be taken to address the shortage of available aircraft in theatre. (Paragraph 71)
20.We note that the safety of C-130 Hercules remains an issue of concern to aircrew in theatre. While we welcome the decision to fit Explosion Suppressant Foam to some Hercules, we believe that it should be fitted to all Hercules in operational theatres. We are alarmed by the suggestion that the MoD might not be fitting protective systems because of the impact on other priorities. The protection of our Armed Forces should be given the highest priority. (Paragraph 74)
21.We seek reassurance from the MoD that lessons will be learned and safety features will be integrated in the plans for the A400M. (Paragraph 75)
22.The MoD's confidence that the UK Armed Forces are not overstretched contrasts with what we are hearing from Service personnel on the ground. We are concerned that the "can-do" attitude of which our Services are rightly proud may be leading Service commanders to underplay the pressure on Service personnel and their families. The Armed Forces can tolerate short-term pressure but sustained breaches of Harmony Guidelines will damage the Services' operational capability. This is a matter of crucial importance. We intend to take evidence on the MoD's Annual Report and Accounts in the Autumn and will give close attention to the data on Harmony Guidelines. (Paragraph 79)
23.We are concerned that the MoD's reliance on reservists may not be sustainable: this is a matter we intend to return to when we examine the MoD's Annual Report and Accounts. (Paragraph 81)
24.There is clearly concern among UK personnel about the structure and level of allowances. It is not unreasonable that our Servicemen and women should expect some financial recognition for active service overseas: we intend to pursue this issue further. (Paragraph 82)
25.Over recent years, the MoD has been quick to implement changes that produce savings but it does not appear to have addressed the growing number of capability gaps with the same or sufficient urgency. Long-term procurement projects are failing to deliver mission-critical capabilities on time. Capability gaps are opening up and these need to be met by the MoD as a matter of urgency, even if that means opting for interim solutions. This may well require more money—not just a reshuffling of priorities. We intend to return to this issue when we take evidence from the Chief of Defence Procurement in October. (Paragraph 87)
26.The Defence Industrial Strategy seeks to make a quantum difference to procurement on time and to cost. Given the tasks which our Armed Service personnel now face, it is vital that it should succeed. However, the DIS will take some time to deliver the capabilities required. (Paragraph 88)
27.The issues raised in this report give rise to a fundamental question: are our Armed Forces structured, trained and equipped to fulfil the role envisaged for them in the Strategic Defence Review and its successor policy documents? This is a question of very great importance, going to the heart of the Government's defence policy. We believe this question needs to be addressed: we will return to it. (Paragraph 89)

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