Select Committee on Defence Fifth Report


Building stability and security in Afghanistan and checking the narcotics trade, are vital objectives both for Afghanistan and for the stability of the Central Asia region.

The UK is currently involved in two military operations in Afghanistan: the US-led coalition Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) with a counter-terrorism mission; and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) with a security and stabilisation mission which will extend into the Western and Southern provinces during 2006. In due course, the ISAF and OEF missions will merge so that ISAF's authority will cover the whole of the country.

The UK is at the centre of these developments. The UK-led HQ Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) will command ISAF from May 2006 to February 2007, a period coinciding with the expansion of ISAF's presence. This will be a crucial time for ISAF. The Southern provinces will be a testing security environment and it is vital for the future of Afghanistan and the credibility of NATO that the mission is successful. We were impressed by the professionalism of the people in the ARRC and we are confident that the ARRC will meet the challenges it faces.

From June 2006, the UK's 16 Air Assault Brigade will deploy to Helmand province as part of ISAF's stage 3 expansion. Its mission is to bring increased security and stability to the province and to check the narcotics trade. It faces significant obstacles, and the security situation is fragile. The opium trade flourishes and the livelihoods of many people rely on it. There is therefore real tension between the tasks of achieving security and reducing the opium trade. The role of UK Services in the dangerous counter-narcotics mission should be clarified.

We are deeply concerned that the UK airlift and close air support capability may not be sufficient to support the Helmand deployment. The MoD should ensure that close air support should continue to be available in Helmand, if necessary by keeping the Harrier GR7 squadron at Kandahar. We also have concerns about the effect the Helmand deployment might have on the overstretch of our Armed Forces, particularly on pinchpoint trade personnel, and we will monitor this and the other matters which have caused us concern, very closely.

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Prepared 6 April 2006