Select Committee on Defence Fifth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  It is vital for the future of Afghanistan that the ISAF mission is a success. Political and economic development in Afghanistan is dependent on stability and security. (Paragraph 25)

2.  The successful completion of ISAF stage 3 expansion under the leadership of the ARRC will demonstrate NATO's value as a force for international stability beyond the geographical confines of its original Cold War remit. (Paragraph 26)

3.  We recognise that some countries have historical and constitutional reasons for not participating in certain aspects of military operations. It is important for the success of the stage 3 expansion that ISAF is able to present an effective and united front to those who seek to undermine it. Despite the Minister's assurances, we remain concerned that national caveats risk impairing the effectiveness of the ISAF mission in the Southern provinces where conditions are likely to be most challenging. (Paragraph 31)

4.  We note the Minister's assurances that national caveats would be less of a constraint in Afghanistan than they had been during the deployment to the Balkans. We recommend that MoD continue to work with NATO partners to develop robust rules of engagement with the minimum of national caveats so that further progress is made before the ISAF stage 4 expansion. (Paragraph 32)

5.  We are concerned that, should the security situation in the South prove worse than anticipated, the UK will be called on to provide additional forces. The UK has already committed significant numbers of troops and assets to ISAF stage 3. NATO should call on the military assets of other countries before approaching the UK for further contributions. (Paragraph 34)

6.  We welcome the creation of a single HQ to command ISAF and OEF as a logical consequence of the increased "synergy" of the missions. On paper the command, control and communication arrangements between ISAF and OEF seem clear, but the success of the arrangements will be tested when operational decisions have to be made. We will scrutinise closely the operational effectiveness of these arrangements particularly in regard to the allocation of air assets. (Paragraph 38)

7.  We welcome the Minister's assurances that UK Forces would be permitted to take offensive action against forces that are threatening them and, if necessary, pursue and destroy such forces. In the more dangerous South, it is essential that UK commanders are empowered to act proactively against known threats. (Paragraph 40)

8.  MoD anticipates that ISAF stage 4 expansion will happen under the leadership of the ARRC and that OEF Forces in the East will be re-badged under ISAF command. It is important that command and control arrangements are finalised and shown to be effective before the two missions are merged. (Paragraph 42)

9.  We support the objectives of the UK deployment to Helmand. UK Forces working with the Government of Afghanistan in building the capability of Afghan security institutions can bring greater security to the people of Helmand and help create the conditions for political and economic development. To achieve greater security and stability, the deployment will have to overcome significant vested interests. These threats are significant and the success of the UK deployment is by no means certain. (Paragraph 47)

10.  While we note the Minister's assurances that there are no security threats which pose a strategic threat to Afghanistan, recent events suggest that the security situation in Helmand is becoming increasingly fragile. (Paragraph 51)

11.  We note MoD's estimate that the Taliban in Helmand might number "over a thousand" and that allegiances were determined by "who is paying them". It is imperative that UK Forces work quickly and closely with Afghan security forces to develop a reliable intelligence picture of threats in Helmand. (Paragraph 52)

12.  It is essential that the legal status of embedded trainers is made clear and that all operational practices with regard to prisoners, and the rules of engagement under which the trainers will operate, are properly clarified before they are deployed. We intend to monitor these arrangements closely. (Paragraph 54)

13.  Building security will take time, and is dependent on developing the capability of Afghan Forces. We welcome MoD's plans to work closely with Afghans to develop the capability of the Afghan National Army. A well-trained army is key to bringing long-term stability to Helmand. (Paragraph 55)

14.  Given the importance to the Helmand mission of airlift capability, we note with concern the small number of UK helicopters dedicated to the deployment. We welcome the commitment made by the US and Dutch air forces to supplement the UK airlift. We remain deeply concerned about the ability of the UK's ten dedicated helicopters to perform the extensive range of roles that will be asked of them, particularly given the demanding environment in which they will operate and the likely attrition rates that will result. (Paragraph 59)

15.  We note MoD's assurance that the total close air support package is robust and that the US commitment of close air support will remain following the withdrawal of US Forces from the Southern provinces. We will continue to monitor closely whether experience bears out MoD's confidence about the continued availability of air assets to the UK deployment. (Paragraph 62)

16.  The availability of close air support providing sufficient mobility and fire power will be absolutely essential to the success of the Helmand deployment. We recommend, if no equivalent force can be provided by the NATO force generation process, that the Harrier GR7 squadron based at Kandahar should remain beyond June 2006 and for as long as necessary. (Paragraph 64)

17.  We note that concerns have been raised about the appropriateness of the defensive aid suite fitted to C130 Hercules used in Afghanistan. We also note MoD's assurances that the Hercules DAS is appropriate to conditions in Afghanistan. (Paragraph 67)

18.  We accept that the scope for investment in equipment is infinite, but the suggestion that aircraft are not being properly protected for resource reasons is a serious one and we call on MoD to provide evidence to demonstrate that this is not the case. (Paragraph 68)

19.  We note MoD's assurances that the force package to Helmand is fit for purpose. The threat from improvised explosive devices will need to be kept under constant review. (Paragraph 71)

20.  We note the Minister's commitment that commanders in theatre will be listened to and given what they need to ensure the protection of troops. We shall monitor this closely. (Paragraph 72)

21.  We call on MoD to provide greater clarity about the UK Forces' responsibilities to detainees in the period before they are handed over to Afghan security forces. It is unsatisfactory that these matters are not yet concluded. (Paragraph 77)

22.  We recommend that pre-deployment training should emphasise the responsibilities of UK soldiers to detainees under their care before they hand over responsibility to the Afghan authorities. (Paragraph 78)

23.  The MoD Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Afghanistan must establish clearly the rights of detainees so that they are treated justly and fairly. We urge MoD to recognise that, whilst its legal responsibilities may have been discharged, its duty of care to detainees does not end once they have been handed over to the Afghan authorities, and we look to see this fully reflected in the Memorandum of Understanding. (Paragraph 79)

24.  The UK deployment to Afghanistan is likely to result in a breach of harmony guidelines in some key areas in the short term. MoD has plans to address these potential breaches by encouraging contributions from NATO partners in those trades under most pressure. Overall, we accept MoD's assurance that the impact of the Afghanistan mission on our Armed Forces is manageable. We will continue to monitor the situation. (Paragraph 84)

25.  There is a fundamental tension between the UK's objective of promoting stability and security and its aim of implementing an effective counter-narcotics strategy. It is likely the more successful the deployment is at impeding the drugs trade, the more it will come under attack from those involved in it. In the short term at least, the security situation is likely to deteriorate. (Paragraph 90)

26.  We were concerned to hear that the Taliban is becoming more involved with the narcotics trade in Helmand. This development is likely to increase the exposure of UK Forces to attack as it seeks to limit the opium trade in Helmand. (Paragraph 91)

27.  We remain uncertain of the exact role which UK Forces will be asked to play in support of the counter-narcotics strategy and call on MoD to provide clarification. (Paragraph 92)

28.  We note the proposals of the Senlis Council for the licensing of opium production but we accept, in the absence of a well developed legal and security system, ADIDU's conclusion that the Senlis Council's proposals would be inappropriate at this time. (Paragraph 95)

29.  We support ADIDU's focus on developing Afghan security institutions capable of targeting drug growers and traffickers, and on encouraging farmers to pursue alternative livelihoods. However, we believe the task of controlling and reducing the amount of opium produced in Helmand, requires a long-term strategy lasting well after a secure environment has been established. (Paragraph 96)

30.  We note the UK's commitment of £38 million for sustainable development in the Helmand PRT's first year. We welcome the intention to commit resources through the Government of Afghanistan and provincial bodies, but call on the UK Government to put in place safeguards to ensure that those resources fully reach their intended recipients. We argue that only by involving Afghans in key decisions will reconstruction work prove to be sustainable. (Paragraph 101)

31.  We do not believe it will prove possible to complete the reform of the security and justice institutions in Helmand within the three-year commitment so far made. (Paragraph 104)

32.  The Minister's reluctance to discuss an exit strategy from Helmand is understandable but we believe that MoD should be more forthcoming about how it will measure the success of the deployment. We recommend that MoD make public the targets by which they intend to measure the success of the Helmand deployment. (Paragraph 105)

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