Iraq and Afghanistan - Defence Committee Contents

Supplementary memorandum from the Ministry of Defence

  During my recent joint oral evidence session with David Miliband, the Defence Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee asked questions about our detention policy and legal obligations. The Clerk wrote to our Liaison Officer on 11 November confirming the information we promised to provide.

  You asked for further information on detainee numbers (Q21, 25 & 26). I intend shortly to provide a statement to the House updating the public record on this issue, drawing on the outcome of our review of detention records. I will ensure that the statement responds to the questions you have asked. In the meantime, however, on the basis of our review and our enquiries to date, I am pleased to confirm that there is no evidence that anyone transferred to US custody by the UK was ever transferred onwards to Guantanamo Bay (Q29).

  I also want to take this opportunity to confirm our legal position with respect to detainees. The UK does not have legal obligations towards the treatment of individuals we have detained once they have been transferred to the custody of another state, whether in Iraq and Afghanistan or through the normal judicial extradition process. We work to ensure that the justice system of the host state is able to offer an accused a fair trial and that the facilities to which he or she may be transferred meet basic minimum standards. We take this obligation very seriously, which is why we are working closely with coalition colleagues and the Iraqi and Afghan authorities to help them to develop their justice sectors and the rule of law.

  I also agreed to furnish you with a note itemising those members of ISAF who have made commitments to increase their dispositions and deployments in Afghanistan (Q77). There are currently 41 countries contributing to the NATO ISAF mission contributing around 50,000 troops. These troops are based across the five main Regional Command areas with the majority based in Regional Commands South and East.

  Regardless of their current intentions and political will, each nation has its own parliamentary and political processes to adhere to and we must respect this. It would be inappropriate for me to speculate on any future commitments from other nations.

  What I can say is that recent announcements from a number of our ISAF partners reaffirm, and in some cases, increase, their commitment to this mission. This has reassured me that the United Kingdom is not the only nation committed to stay in Afghanistan until the job is done.

  The United States, by far the biggest contributor has committed to deploy an additional Battalion and Brigade Combat Team to Afghanistan. Germany has recently renewed its mandate and increased the ceiling of its commitment to 4,500 troops. The Government of France have approved the continued presence of the French military contingent. The Canadians are to enhance the air support capability in Kandahar early next year. And the Estonians have extended their mission to Afghanistan increasing their commitment from 150 to 170 troops.

  There are other ways in which partner nations are contributing to the NATO mission. For example, as well as their contribution of approximately 400 troops, the Czech Republic has donated 12 helicopter airframes to the Afghan National Army Air Corps. 6 of these are now in Afghanistan and a further 6 have been refurbished and are awaiting transportation.

  As you will be aware, the NATO mission in Afghanistan is more than just about how many troops we have on the ground. It is about the international community supporting the Government of Afghanistan in building peace and resilience. This involves a significant military commitment but there is also a considerable civilian commitment.

  Much of this work is being delivered by the 26 Provincial Reconstruction Teams located across the country, led by nations such as Australia, The Netherlands, Romania, Italy, Spain, Lithuania, Sweden, Hungary, Norway, New Zealand and Turkey. These teams consist of civilian and military specialists and they work to deliver aid and reconstruction projects as well as provide security for these activities.

  We should also bear in mind the significant commitment from the 65,000-strong Afghan National Army. This Army is being built almost from scratch. In only a relatively short period of time we have seen Afghan troops begin to conduct independent operations with minimal ISAF support.

  The support we provide along with our ISAF partners and the efforts of the Afghans should be commended.

  I am copying this to Mike Gapes MP and to David Heathcoat-Amory MP and will place a copy in the Library of the House.

Rt Hon John Hutton MP

17 November 2008

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