Select Committee on Defence Fifth Report

1 Introduction

Our inquiry

1. At our first meeting on 21 July 2005, the Committee agreed that it should conduct an inquiry into the UK deployment to Afghanistan. Our intention was to examine the purpose of the proposed deployment of NATO's UK-led HQ Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) to Afghanistan which was to coincide with the expansion of the ISAF mission to its Western and Southern provinces (ISAF stage 3). Our intention was also to examine the objectives of the UK deployment to Helmand province as part of the ISAF stage 3 expansion and to seek information from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) about the proposals for merging ISAF with the Operation Enduring Freedom mission.[1]

2. This has been the first stage of a two-stage inquiry, in which we have focused on pre-deployment issues for the ARRC and UK Forces deployed to Helmand province. The second stage, beginning later in 2006, will consider lessons learned from the UK deployment.

3. As part of our inquiry, we visited the Headquarters of the ARRC and units of 1 Signal Brigade, which will provide the command and control structure for the deployed headquarters of the ARRC, in Rheindahlen, Germany, on 23/24 November 2005. We also visited Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ), Northwood, Middlesex, on 8 December 2005.

4. At the outset of our inquiry we held an informal seminar with Dr Shirin Akiner, Harry Bucknall, Michael Griffin, and Dr Dylan Hendrickson who shared with us their expertise on Afghanistan and the Central Asia region. We took oral evidence at Westminster on 17 January 2006 from MoD officials: Mr Martin Howard, Director General Operations Policy, and Air Vice Marshal Chris Nickols, CBE, Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Operations). On 7 March 2006, following the conclusion of NATO's force generation process, we took oral evidence from Rt Hon Adam Ingram MP, Minister for the Armed Forces, Air Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy, Commander of Joint Operations PJHQ, Dr Roger Hutton, Director Joint Commitments Policy and Peter Holland, Head of the Afghan Drugs Inter-Departmental Unit (ADIDU).

5. We received written evidence from the Afghan Drugs Inter-Department Unit (ADIDU), the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), MoD and the Senlis Council. We are grateful to all those who provided oral and written evidence to our inquiry and assisted with our visits. We are also grateful to the specialist advisers who assisted us: Mr Paul Beaver, Professor Michael Clarke, Rear Admiral Richard Cobbold, Air Vice Marshal Professor Tony Mason, Dr Andrew Rathmell, and Brigadier Austin Thorp.


6. Following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre, New York, on 11 September 2001, Afghanistan became the centre of world attention. The USA concluded (and the UK agreed) that Afghanistan was harbouring al-Qaeda terrorists, including its leader Osama Bin Laden, and in alliance with the Afghan Northern Alliance, launched a military campaign, supported by the UK, to drive the ruling Taliban regime from power. The Taliban were defeated through a combination of US air power and ground operations by the Northern Alliance.

7. The Taliban regime fell in late 2001. Since then, the international community, through organisations including the United Nations, the G8, the World Bank, NATO and the EU, has sought to stabilise and reconstruct Afghanistan. It is the Government's view, with which we agree, that the UK has a strategic interest in bringing security and stability to Afghanistan, and it is in pursuit of this strategic interest that UK Forces operate in Afghanistan.[2]

International presence since 2001

8. The December 2001 Bonn Agreement set out a twin-track political and stabilisation process for Afghanistan. Plans were set out for nationwide presidential and parliamentary elections and an international force to ensure stability in and around the capital Kabul. The UN Security Council Resolution 1386 mandated a 5,000 strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to achieve this.[3] Alongside this stabilisation force, a counter-terrorism operation was established under the US-led coalition, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). OEF has operated primarily in a counter-terrorism role in the South and Eastern Afghan border provinces where al-Qaeda and Taliban supporters are reported to be based.[4]

9. On 11 August 2003, NATO took command of the ISAF mission but continued to operate under the UN mandate and involve non-NATO contributor nations. In October 2003, UN Security Council Resolution 1510 paved the way for the extension of ISAF's mandate to the Northern provinces, known as ISAF stage 2. Stage 2 came into effect following NATO's Istanbul Conference of June 2004 when ISAF took command, through designated lead nations, of four Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) based in the provinces of Mazar-e-Sharif (UK), Meymana (UK), Feyzabad (Germany) and Baghlan (Netherlands).[5]

10. On 10 February 2005, the NATO Security Council announced its intention to expand the ISAF presence anti-clockwise into the Western and Southern provinces of Afghanistan.[6] Under the plan (ISAF stage 3), ISAF PRTs would be established in provinces, some of which had previously had a US presence, such as Helmand and Kandahar, and others, in provinces such as Zabul, which had no international presence. The Security Council also agreed to increase cooperation between the ISAF "stability mission" and the US-led OEF. At the same time it was announced that the UK-led Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) would, from May 2006 until February 2007, lead ISAF Forces. The ARRC would be commanded by Lieutenant General David Richards.

11. NATO's Operation Plan for stage 3 was announced on 8 December 2005.[7] Canada would establish a PRT in Kandahar province; the UK would take over responsibility from the US for the PRT based in Helmand province; Sweden would take over responsibility from the UK for the PRT based at Mazar-e-Sharif; and the US would establish a new ISAF PRT in Zabul province, bordering Pakistan. The force generation process, by which countries make commitments for troops and assets, continued until February 2006.

12. On 26 January 2006, the Secretary of State announced the composition of the UK force deployment to Helmand province as part of the stage 3 expansion plan. The force, totalling 3,300 personnel would be spearheaded by the 16 Air Assault Brigade of which 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment is the key component.[8]

13. When, on 2 February 2006, the Dutch parliament approved the commitment of 1,400 troops to Uruzgan province in the South, the force generation package for stage 3 was complete.[9]

The UK military commitment in Afghanistan

14. MoD told us that the UK commitment to the ISAF presence before stage 3 expansion totalled "around 1,000 people".[10] This comprised:

  • a PRT in the north of Afghanistan based at Mazar-e-Sharif. This was handed over to Sweden in March 2006 (the UK had handed over our responsibility for the PRT in Maymaneh to Norway on 1 September 2005);
  • the Forward Support Base and Quick Reaction Force for Area North (troops which can be deployed speedily to deal with outbreaks of unrest);
  • an infantry company that serves as the Kabul Patrol Company (KPC) in Kabul, and staff officers in HQ ISAF;
  • UK staff officers, a training team for the Afghan National Army; and
  • a detachment of six Harrier GR7 aircraft, based at Kandahar, which provide both ISAF and OEF with air support and air reconnaissance.[11]

15. The additional commitment will comprise:

  • The leadership, until February 2007, of the ISAF mission by the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC). Including the troops of 1 Signal Brigade, this will result in an additional 900 UK troops (out of a total of ARRC contingent of 1,300) so that about 2,000 UK personnel will be in, or in support of , HQ ARRC; [12] and
  • The deployment of 16 Air Assault Brigade to Helmand province and the Provincial Reconstruction Team based at Lashkar Gar, the provincial capital of Helmand. This force will comprise some 3,300 personnel.

16. MoD has told us that the UK commitment will "peak, briefly, at 5,700 before reducing to fewer than 4,700".[13]

1   Defence Committee press notice, 21 July 2005: Back

2   HC Deb, 26 January 2006, col 1529 Back

3 Back

4 Back

5   Ibid Back

6   Ibid Back

7 Back

8   HC Deb, 26 January 2006, col 1531 Back

9   "Dutch to join British troops on mission in Afghanistan", The Times, 3 February 2006 Back

10   Q 23 Back

11   Ev 46, para 9 Back

12   Q 23 Back

13   HC Deb, 26 January 2006, col 1531 Back

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Prepared 6 April 2006