Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from the Ministry of Defence



  1.  The UK remains committed to the emergence of a prosperous, democratic, secure and stable Afghanistan. The UK government effort is especially focussed on counter narcotics, security sector reform and developing a sustainable economy based on legitimate activity. Good progress has been made in terms of stabilising the overall security situation, building the capacity of Afghan security forces and extending the authority of the Government of Afghanistan across the country. The National Assembly and Provincial Council elections held on 18 September represented a major step forward in Afghanistan's development as a fledgling democratic state. There remain, however, considerable challenges ahead: the extension of the NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) into the south and east of Afghanistan; achieving greater synergy between the NATO and Coalition missions, leading in time to a NATO Mission across the whole of Afghanistan; the continuing development of Afghan security forces; dealing with the opium trade and how to build on and consolidate the success of the Bonn Process with a new framework for the future. Afghanistan has been NATO's principal operational priority since it assumed control of ISAF in 2003. The deployment to Kabul of the HQ ARRC Group, to lead ISAF from May 2006, will make a major contribution to these efforts at the same time as the UK moves the focus of its military effort from the north to the south of the country. But this military deployment alone will not guarantee success. An integrated approach covering security, governance, development and counter-narcotics is vital. There is a virtuous circle where increased security supports development which in turn improves security. Development and reconstruction are key to our success—crucial because without them, military intervention would not necessarily increase stability and security.


  2.  The security situation in Afghanistan is broadly stable, if fragile, with levels of violence driven by a range of factors including tribal rivalry, criminal activity and seasonal factors including the weather. There was an upsurge in violence preceding the 18 September National Assembly elections, as widely anticipated, though polling day was not significantly disrupted. Neither insurgent groups nor the range of illegally armed groups (IAGs) currently pose a credible strategic threat to the stability of Afghanistan.

  3.  The International Military Presence in Afghanistan, comprising the NATO-led ISAF and the US-led Coalition, is designed to:

    —    Prevent Afghanistan reverting to ungoverned space which could harbour terrorism.

    —    Build security and government institutions so that the progress of recent years becomes irreversible, and to enable eventual international military disengagement.

    —    Support efforts to counter the growth of narcotics production and trafficking.


  4.  ISAF came into being at the end of 2001, and has operated under NATO command since 11 August 2003. ISAF is present in Afghanistan at the request of the Afghan government, and under the authorisation of successive United Nations Security Council Resolutions. The latest (UNSCR1623) was agreed on 13 September 2005. Since October 2003, when the UN Security Council agreed to extend the mandate of ISAF beyond Kabul, NATO forces have extended into the north and west of Afghanistan and are now looking to expand into the south, increasing security and stability and extending the authority of the Government of Afghanistan across the whole of Afghanistan. Having made this commitment to Afghanistan, NATO Allies will now need to demonstrate the will and resolve, and allocate the necessary resources, to make a success of this engagement. The long-term aim for the Alliance must be to consolidate the gains made so far and build indigenous Afghan capacity, so that international military forces can eventually disengage from Afghanistan.

  5.  Coalition forces are commanded by Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan (CFC-A), with its US-led headquarters in Kabul, which in turn comes under US Central Command (CENTCOM) in Tampa, Florida. The UK provides the Deputy Commanding General for CFC-A. CFC-A currently has some 18,000 personnel under command. The US also has the G8 lead for developing the Afghan National Army, currently some 28,000 strong.


  6.  ISAF operates primarily through Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs): joint civil-military teams deployed to extend the influence of the Government of Afghanistan beyond Kabul, facilitating the development of Security Sector Reform (SSR) and the reconstruction effort, and thereby helping create the conditions for a stable and secure environment. Each PRT is configured and operated according to the prevailing security situation, socio-economic conditions and terrain in the region they are operating. All ISAF PRTs work to NATO's Operational Plan (OPLAN 10302), which sets the framework for ISAF to conduct military operations across Afghanistan, in co-operation with indigenous and coalition forces. PRTs seek to achieve their objectives through dialogue and liaison with all actors operating in the region. This includes local military, political and religious leaders, Afghan Government representatives, UNAMA and Coalition partners. PRTs generally maintain a light footprint and are not designed to impose security on the region, but rather to help the Afghan people create a safe and stable environment themselves.

  7.  The UK PRT comprises representatives of the armed forces, as well as from DFID and the FCO, representatives from other nations and a security sector expert from the Afghan government. The Afghan representative allows the PRT to demonstrate that it is a joint international/Afghan operation; and it allows the PRT to draw on Afghan experience of dealing with the local population and officials. The UK PRT works extremely closely with the local UNAMA Regional Office. It has successfully supported local disarmament initiatives, brokered by UNAMA, by lobbying local factional leaders to engage constructively in the process, and by monitoring their compliance. The UK PRT is increasingly becoming involved in police reform and remains closely involved in supporting the 300 Afghan national policemen deployed from Kabul to Mazar-e Sharif in October 2003 to overcome the factional nature of the existing force. The UK funds five UK police advisers/mentors to work alongside US colleagues at the Regional Police Training College in Mazar. This has led to particularly close liaison between the PRTs, the FCO, DFID and police advisers, focused on effective deployment of trained recruits across the region. ANA and local police elements now routinely conduct joint patrols in the region. There is clear evidence to suggest that this action has reduced levels of banditry in previously notorious areas. It has also won the support of the local population, which clearly appreciates the effective presence of indigenous, centralised security institutions.


  8.  The international military presence in Afghanistan will have most effect if ISAF and Coalition forces can initially be drawn into greater synergy and, ultimately, NATO taking responsibility for the main military effort in Afghanistan. This will:

    —    Eliminate ISAF/Coalition duplication of effort and provide clearer command and control.

    —    Provide a single international military entity with which the Afghan authorities can engage.

    —    Take full advantage of HQ ARRC's presence in 2006-07.

    —    Provide—with HQ ARRC deployment and ISAF expansion—a push towards long-term stabilisation of the Afghan security situation, and ultimate ownership of Afghan security by the Afghans themselves, at a crucial point in the country's development.

    —    Present a single international community front to those (including the illegally armed groups and Taliban) who continue to oppose the development of Afghanistan.

    —    Provide impetus for NATO to continue its evolution towards becoming a more operationally effective organisation.

  A NATO-led mission across Afghanistan can only be achieved once ISAF expansion is complete. The UK is therefore working to support and facilitate the expansion of ISAF into the south (see below) as the next stage in the process. It is important to stress that a NATO-led mission would be concerned with the existing ISAF tasks—reconstruction and counter-insurgency (COIN). Counter-terrorism (in the sense of targeted operations against known terrorist groups), would remain the responsibility of residual specialist Coalition force elements operating alongside NATO. The mechanisms for increased alignment of the two missions, including the detailed command and control arrangements, are still being discussed.


  9.  The UK led the first ISAF deployment to Kabul in 2001. The current UK commitment to ISAF comprises a PRT in the north of Afghanistan (Mazar-e-Sharif), the Forward Support Base and Quick Reaction Force for Area North, 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 serve with the Coalition (the Harriers provide Close Air Support (CAS) and air reconnaissance to both ISAF and the Coalition). We handed over our responsibility for the PRT in Maymaneh to the Norwegians on 1 September 2005.


  10.  The Prime Minister announced the intention to deploy the HQ ARRC Group to Afghanistan at the NATO ministerial meeting in Istanbul in July 2004. The UK believes that, with the deployment of the ARRC for a nine month period from May next year, (back-to-back with the Italians who took over ISAF leadership in August 2005), there is an opportunity for a "step change" in the international commitment to Afghanistan. The UK government has been considering further deployments to Afghanistan in this strategic context. As the Secretary of State made clear in a media briefing on 13 September, from next April we plan to move our forces from the North of Afghanistan to a base in Helmand province in the South. We shall establish a new British-led Provincial Reconstruction Team at Lashkar Gah. But the Taliban are still active in the area. So are drugs traffickers. The overall operating environment is therefore less benign than in other parts of ISAF's current area of operation. We must be prepared to support, even defend, the Provincial Reconstruction Team. That means that, with Allies, we shall need a stronger military presence in the south than is currently required for the PRTs operating in the North.

  11.  We are discussing with NATO what those additional forces should be. We are currently engaged with the NATO force generation process, which will determine the detail of UK and Allied contributions to ISAF expansion in the south. Once the UK has determined an appropriate force package, a full statement to Parliament will be made about the UK commitment.

  12.  In addition to the strategic effect of this deployment in terms of enabling ISAF expansion, the UK has chosen to focus its efforts on Helmand Province because we believe we can make a difference in supporting the counter-narcotics effort and in countering the continuing threat to stability from the residual Taliban insurgency, illegally armed groups and criminal activity. The province is in the heartland of the narcotics trade, with more opium poppy cultivated there annually than in any other region in Afghanistan. We also plan to build Afghan National Army and Police capacity with a view to transferring responsibility for security in the medium term. The military deployment will be closely linked with political engagement and development efforts in the province.


  13.  The military effort is just one element of the international effort in Afghanistan. The key point for wider engagement in Afghanistan is that the deployment of military resources alone does not provide the long term solution. The keys to sustainable reconstruction are wide international engagement and, in a national context, the involvement of several elements of the Whitehall machine. Building the capacity of the Afghan authorities is one essential part of this international development. The Bonn process set the initial agenda for the security sector reform process and there remains work ongoing in each of the G8 lead areas: police reform, judicial reform, Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR), building the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Counter-Narcotics. Developing an effective ANA will be crucial to achieving future stability in Afghanistan. The UK has provided funding to support the ANA and is involved in training Non-Commissioned Officers. Already the ANA is regularly contributing to operations across Afghanistan. The Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) process has gone well with over 60,000 personnel disarmed and over 9,000 heavy weapons cantoned. The focus is now turning to the more challenging disbandment of illegally armed groups. Progress on police work is ongoing, as is the development of the judicial system, albeit at a slower pace.

  14.  As the international community re-assesses its engagement in Afghanistan in the post-Bonn period, NATO is currently looking at its future role and how an increased focus on security sector reform can be integrated into ISAF expansion. The UK is encouraging an increased role for NATO in the future, for example building the capacity of the ANA through operational mentoring. There is also scope for increased participation in other activities such as support to the Afghan National Police, support to DDR and more consistent support to the counter narcotics effort, within the scope of the counter-narcotics annex to the NATO OPLAN.

  15.  On a national level the UK has entered into an "Enduring Relationship" with Afghanistan, signed by the Prime Minister and President Karzai in August, to take forward national assistance in a number of these areas, as part of a wider programme of bilateral assistance.


  16.  It is no longer terrorism, but the cultivation, processing and distribution of opium products that is the greatest threat to Afghan security. The narcotics trade influences senior levels in the government and effectively controls some of the provincial administrations. Counter-Narcotics policy and management of operations is the responsibility of the Afghan authorities—the Ministry for Counter-Narcotics and the Ministry of the Interior. As the G8 lead nation on coordinating international support on counter-narcotics, the UK is committed to eliminating the opium industry, which is seen as central to achieving our long term goals of bringing stability to the country. Military support to counter-narcotics needs to be part of a wider integrated strategy firmly rooted in addressing the issue of alternative livelihoods and the development of a criminal justice system. To this effect, all UK work on counter-narcotics is co-ordinated through the Afghan Drugs Inter-departmental Unit (ADIDU) drawn from the FCO, DFID, MOD, Home Office and HMR&C. The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime report states that there has been a 21% drop in poppy cultivation this year, down from 131,000 hectares to 103,000 hectares. Overall production was only slightly down however, as favourable weather conditions resulted in an increase in the opium yield per acre from 32 kilogrammes in 2004 to 39 kilogrammes in 2005. But we recognise that this is a significant challenge; there is much to do before Afghanistan is free of this industry and its influence.

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