Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 260-279)


24 APRIL 2007

  Q260  Mr Havard: That is quite interesting really. I do not know General McNeill very well but I assume he is a poker player because he was very clear about possibly not only being happy with what the Brits were giving him, but maybe they could give him a bit more a bit later on because he wanted another battalion now he has got one. It was this question about capacity, about being able to dominate the ground, and he was talking very much about using the Afghan National Army in that sort of process.

  General Richards: You can dominate what has been secured—in other words you go into a semi-defensive mode relatively easily. The difficult thing is gaining the ground in the first place and then, after you have gained it, you secure it, and that is where the Afghan Army and police can be used very successfully.

  Q261  Mr Havard: More in consolidation and less in manoeuvre because they do not have the manoeuvre capability.

  General Richards: Yes, they are not at that stage of training and nor do they have the equipment, so I saw a nice little synergy developing between the more capable ISAF troops that, if you like, go forward and expand the ADZ while the security of the expanded ADZ can be more and more given to the Afghans.

  Q262  Mr Havard: One final quick question, General Wardak was asking for more British embedded trainers. What was your view of how successful or otherwise that process was and was it a big enough contribution from the British in terms of helping develop the Afghan National Army?

  General Richards: The British are pretty squeaky clean in this respect—I speak as a NATO officer—in that we, the UK, provided all the OMLTs (or "awful omelettes" as they were called) that we were asked to provide. I know that that process is still ongoing. There is no doubt, speaking to SACEUR again yesterday, that NATO as a whole needs to provide more OMLTs. If the UK had the wherewithal to do more then that would be great, but I do not think that the UK should by any means be singled out for anything but praise on this one.

  Q263  Mr Havard: It is an additional contribution that NATO needs to make.

  General Richards: There is no doubt that we have not met the original number of OMLTs and, of course, as the Army expands this number of OMLTs is going to expand too. That is a dynamic process and the UK is well ahead of the game at the moment in that respect.

  Q264  Mr Jones: General, can I ask about military assets available to ISAF. When you were in charge the headlines in newspapers here were about lack of helicopters. Firstly, what is your position on that now and, secondly, what additional assets does ISAF actually need?

  General Richards: There is a CJSOR which has now been agreed. That was a pretty long drawn-out process last summer and I remember we talked about it on your visit.

  Q265  Chairman: Just remind us.

  General Richards: Combined joint statement of requirement. That is put together by D-SACEUR on behalf of SACEUR in shape. As I understand it, talking yesterday—to bring you entirely up to date—after Riga and in the process immediately after that within the CJSOR an additional eight battalions were agreed to. Five have now been met, that is three US, a British battalion and the Polish battalion. If we the UK can provide this regional reserve later in the year, which is the plan now, then six of the eight will have been provided to General McNeill. There is more progress that needs to be made on it, but if you compare it with the situation last year it is pretty good and SACEUR is cautiously optimistic about it all.

  Q266  Mr Jones: One thing that I certainly was impressed with was the contribution that some of the new NATO Allies are making, which does not get a great deal of press over here. When you were in charge though, were you happy with the support that you were getting from NATO?

  General Richards: There is NATO and there are the nations of NATO, I always was careful to draw a distinction, because NATO is as good as its constituent nations allow it to be and my chain of command could not have been more supportive to me, so I have no problems with NATO but I also now know more about the politics of the 37 nations of ISAF and the 26 nations of NATO than I ever thought I would.

  Q267  Mr Jones: Just on that point, one of the issues which clearly I do not quite think the British media have got round and I do not think certain elements of the Conservative Party have got their head round yet is the fact that this is a multinational operation. What more can be done to actually expose, for example, what is actually happening, certainly with the tremendous work and dangerous work that the Dutch, the Canadians and others are doing and also, like I say, some of the new aspirant nations. Is there a selling exercise that needs to be done here in terms of British public opinion and also broader European opinion on this?

  General Richards: There is. The Dutch have been brilliant down in the south. Everyone was very wary of whether they would have the stomach and actually they are conducting a model operation in Oruzgan, the Dutch Major-General, General van Loon, in Kandahar showed that a Dutch general is every bit as good as any other general with some very innovative thinking. Obviously, the Canadian effort I cannot praise too much, it is just wonderful the sacrifices Canada has made. I would like to say—and I know everyone knows that they are heavily involved—we would be nowhere without the USA in every respect, both in the amount of money they are putting in, through the bravery of their troops and their preparedness to take risk and to fight when not every nation yet has that offensive spirit. The smaller nations like the Estonians, the Danes, are filling vital slots that, say, in the case of the UK we would have a problem filling because of other commitments, they are being picked up by these other nations. The other one if I may, whilst I am praising a few others, is the Romanians. They have been a model of how new NATO perhaps should function. They picked up the Zabol commitment and moved out of Kandahar at a time when actually, in many respects, they would like to have stayed there because it was a relatively easy task, but they took on, with American help, the much more demanding Zabul province. My biggest heroes outside are the Portuguese, funnily enough, because they were my one little reserve, I had one company of light troops from Portugal, Britain's oldest ally, who did a hell of a lot of things that made a lot of difference, particularly in Farah province in a very demanding side shoot or offshoot of what was happening in the South.

  Q268  Mr Jones: You saw the arrival of the first troops of Jordan coming in and also nations like the United Arab Emirates and others contributed forces. How important do you think it is to actually try and get non-NATO forces into this coalition?

  General Richards: Eleven nations in ISAF were not in NATO and the Australian commitment, in particular, is an interesting one because that is becoming more significant still. There was a recent announcement from Prime Minister Howard that they were going to increase their contribution to about 1,000, which is fantastic news for everybody because they are extremely capable troops. Your point about Jordan and other Muslim states contributing is very important and I know that the Secretary-General of NATO is working on encouraging other Muslim nations to contribute and NATO held a very successful symposium in the Middle East not long ago, looking at that amongst other things. It would put the lie to any suggestion that this is a sort of us versus them, which it quite clearly is not. The other area that we are not allowed to get onto yet is obviously Pakistan and how can we do more with them.

  Chairman: We will, shortly. John Smith.

  Q269  John Smith: This is a bit of an unfair question, Chairman, but if the General is in a position to answer it, he was the military commander in the field during the Riga Summit and I just wondered whether you were encouraged by that summit, did it mark a step change in your opinion as regards the long term commitment of NATO to Afghanistan, or was it the same old posturing?

  General Richards: Initially I thought same old stuff here, but actually what flowed from it has been nothing but good. I remember the then SACEUR—it was General Jones, it was his swansong really—ringing me and he asked me to write something, which I did, which in the corridors behind the main meeting, amongst all the other work that was going on, clearly did have effect. If you look at post Riga—and this is a point the new SACEUR made to me yesterday on the phone—there are now five battalions more in Afghanistan than there were pre-Riga. Whether it was all Riga I do not know, but we have every reason to think that there is very solid support within NATO as an institution for what NATO is trying to do in Afghanistan and the proof of the pudding in terms of Riga is that we have had quite a big increase in troops.

  Q270  Chairman: Is there anything that you want to say about caveats, or has it all been said?

  General Richards: I am happy if you are that we have discussed it and it has all been said. ROE, for what it is worth, I never saw as a problem; we are fighting within the ROE today and so it has not been an issue for me. Caveats you are as well-versed in as I am; troop numbers were the real issue rather than caveats. If we just pursue it slightly, without wishing to sound like some sort of apologist for what, for example, the Germans or the Swedes or any nation you like were doing in the North, or the Italians in the West, simply being able to move their troops from the North to the South would not have been a solution to me at all because we have got just about the right number of troops in the North to contain the situation there, which is broadly stable. I had no incentive to move them out; what I was always after—going back to your question—which has now been fully accepted was an increase in the overall number of troops, it was not really caveats because within the area where we were doing the fighting we were able to fight.

  Chairman: Thank you. We have three issues left to cover; you have to leave at five o'clock. I would like to cover civil/military assistance etc until twenty-five to five, international/regional context, including the issue of Pakistan, until about quarter to five, narcotics until about five to five and the final five minutes for contingencies. Civil/military assistance; Dai Havard.

  Mr Havard: We saw a much more integrated organisational set of arrangements as far as development work in the PRT and so on than we had seen previously, and quite clearly a lot of work had been done on that. All of those people, including the Afghans involved in some of the NGOs, told us about the difficulty of actually carrying out their work on the ground—are we going to deal with policing under this, Chairman?

  Chairman: You could concentrate on policing.

  Q271  Mr Havard: One of the things that clearly comes screaming through is that that is the gap, the development has gone on in the Army, General Wardak said to us "I want embedded trainers for policing as well as for the Army, that has been a success there, I want it here", but it is missing. One of the things that I was interested in discussing with the President was this business about auxiliary policing, and you have mentioned it two or three times. Can I just say that I am confused about it; I am confused about it because on the one hand people described it as a militia, right through to being the community bobby, but it is the tension between that and the Afghan National Police, so now we have a discussion about should it be the Afghan National Police or these auxiliary police. What would you say about what should be done in relation to trying to develop that policing activity that does not, if you like, become counter-productive in the sense that it causes one force to clash against another because it becomes a regional force rather than a national force?

  General Richards: There is no doubt that the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Auxiliary Police is part of the Afghan National Police, so anyone who said they are militia is just being mischievous. There were some that saw it as a militia but the parameters within which it was drawn up very clearly put them under the Minister of the Interior and under the police, but there were certain nations that did not like them, but in fact the PAG signed up to it and while I understand—and I checked last week because I thought you might raise it—there are still birthing pangs, broadly the aim is being achieved which is that they are securing localities. In that respect the idea that they are a local bobby is right, but obviously there is a slight difference in that they have to be armed and they have to be prepared to fight to secure their locality. The whole issue of the police is a good one for you to get your teeth into because, if you like, the Afghan National Army is doing pretty well. Yes, it has further to go but there is a huge amount of money from the USA, they had ETTs and NATO is now partnering them through the OMLT concept. The Afghan National Police is at least two or three years behind the Army; it will benefit from a huge input in resources from the US again into the police, this year and next, which is why I keep saying how much we all owe the USA in this respect because both in absolute and relative terms they are putting in much more money than any other nation and they are also through a contract putting in trainers. They are ex-policemen who are being paid to go down into the most difficult areas and mentor and train the Afghan police, including the Afghan National Auxiliary Police.

  Q272  Mr Havard: Is there a problem that the British Army might substitute for something there and end up trying to do that training as well.

  General Richards: It would not be the first time.

  Q273  Mr Havard: Without resources.

  General Richards: Not without resources directly, but it would not be the first time that the British Army and other armies have had to act at least as role models to the police. I used to encourage all the NATO forces, if they saw there was a problem, not to just leave it but to get involved, whether it was misbehaviour on a roadblock or just not understanding what was about. I do not think it should become our role primarily, but we should not let bad habits develop sort of thing.

  Q274  Mr Holloway: Helmand is where the Arab world would identify the British particularly and where we would appear on Arab television channels, perhaps to our own cost. Have we got the right balance of spending between military effort and reconstruction in Helmand?

  General Richards: Difficult. I know it is a very crude use of my right arm, but if we agree broadly and crudely that we have to have an upward trajectory in progress which is sufficient to enthuse people to keep them with us, then from what you told me it would seem that we have not yet got that balance right, but it has to be much more holistic than chucking money at it. You need to look at how you develop capacity because if, say, there are not enough Brits or international people who want to go to Helmand, if you want to focus on Helmand, then there are plenty of Afghans that will do it.

  Q275  Mr Holloway: I was about to ask exactly this, do you not think we are a bit self-centred sometimes because we imagine that only DFID or UN agencies can do stuff, but despite the lack of civil society there are actually a lot of Afghans who could do stuff with relatively small amounts of money that you could then expand when you have confidence, so why are we doing it?

  General Richards: You need both, it is a balance. You will need DFID to provide the structure and the overview and all this sort of thing, but I do think you can give properly trained Afghans much more to do, but you have to train them and I do not, to be frank, always see that process going on. If there is quite a lot of criticism of corruption and poor capacity, where are the solutions to that in a properly worked out programme that over one or two years will start to solve it?

  Q276  Mr Holloway: Finally, if we accept that at the tactical level we have defeated the Taliban—as part of that we have got air power and they have not—what happens to security and therefore development, or the other way round if you want to put it that way, when and if our enemy starts using increased numbers of foreigners and increasing levels of asymmetrical warfare? What does that actually do to your ordinary Afghan's attitude towards us in terms of providing security and providing development?

  General Richards: That is why they are going down that route, because they see the import in what you are hinting at. The only way to win at counter-insurgency is to ensure that the people remain on your side, therefore they want to see you succeed and they will report that the foreigner has arrived in their midst.

  Q277  Mr Holloway: Are we on target for that? Are we where you would want us to be in terms of hearts and minds right now?

  General Richards: I think, going back to your point, that the balance between investment in reconstruction, development and improvements in governance needs to be looked at again to make sure that it matches the S bit in my RDGP and S, and I suspect that you are right, that with the honourable and notable exception of the USA—and we the UK are there or thereabouts—there is insufficient money and effort overall going into Afghanistan to be certain that we will continue to achieve that upward trajectory in the minds of people of sufficient progress to meet their expectations.

  Q278  Mr Hamilton: General, all through the discussion you have used your right arm quite a substantial amount of times. I am a Member of Parliament, I represent Midlothian, and I have two major towns, Penicuik at one side of the county, Dalkeith at the other side; with all the 24-hour television, newspapers and infrastructure the people in Penicuik have not got a clue what is going on in Dalkeith, the people in Dalkeith do not have a clue what is going on in Penicuik most of the time. We are building new schools in Midlothian, we are doing a whole host of things, but information that we try to put out in a sophisticated way within the United Kingdom—sometimes the message does not get there. In how many areas within Helmand Province, Afghanistan, do you think that people know what is happening in one part of Afghanistan to the other part? When you try to get that information through to the people and tell them what was being done and how we can help them, is it not the case in one village that we might not be able to do that with another village because there is no infrastructure between them, they do not have a clue what is going on? How do you overcome that when you are communicating with the population to let them know individually that you are actually able to help? We find it difficult here, but it must be 100 times more difficult in Afghanistan.

  General Richards: It is, and I could bore you with the woeful stories about the ignorance on the part of a lot of us about how you did that. For example, my PSYOPS chief came in once—a very short story this, Chairman, to substantiate your view—to show me a film he had made about alternative livelihoods, and it was really a very, very clever film, good stuff, showed greenhouses being built and tomatoes or something—the whole thrust was instead of poppy. I said to him "When is this going out then?" and he said "It will go out on Afghan television on whatever" and I said "How many poppy farmers watch television then in this country?" You are absolutely right and there are two things I would say: an information operation has to be rooted in substance and then if there is real progress—I will not use my right arm again—then over time, rather like the jungle drums, it does get out. The tribes often spread over a number of villages and they do meet, there are processes whether it is the provincial assembly or a regional substitute which they are beginning to develop, and then there are the various mullahs who are very important, so as long as it is rooted in substance it will happen. It is when you only, if you like, talk it but do not walk it that you have the problem over time that I think we have all identified, are we keeping pace with these people's expectations.

  Chairman: Moving on to what we have all been waiting for, Pakistan and other areas. Dai Havard.

  Q279  Mr Havard: It is Brian and myself actually who will try and ask about this, but one of the things I was interested in was the Iranian development work that is going on in Afghanistan and we had an interesting discussion with General McNeill about their involvement in the country and his idea of possibly also putting forces over to the West in Herat in the future and any mixed messages there may be in relation to the politics of that sort of activity in the South. We are interested in the Indian Government development programme building a road which links the ring road into Iran for trade purposes and so on, so the question really is about what was your experience in relation to the politics of the relationships with the Iranians.

  General Richards: I had little interaction with the Iranians but I did meet the ambassador of Iran about three times and obviously I was well-versed in the amount of money and effort that Iran was putting into the West of the country but also into the Hazara population in particular, and it was clearly doing a lot of good work for Afghanistan. General McNeill's concern is a new development that I am really not in a position to comment on, I am afraid.

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