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One of the key aspects of bringing security to the Afghan people is the training of police who are free from corruption. In Iraq we found that it was of great assistance if the Iraqi army mentored the Iraqi police. Will a similar approach be adopted in Afghanistan?
The Prime Minister: That is one of the approaches that we are considering. The European Union responsibility for the training of police forces has been with Germany, and it has done a great deal, but more must be done. It is possible to envisage circumstances in which the army will help with the training of police forces, and it is possible that there will be more civilians training them as well. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we cannot just talk about training the army. As I said, General McChrystal recommended a build-up of the police forces from 98,000 to 150,000. That is a big increase, but those forces must be in the right places, they must of course be paid-that is one of the problems that we have experienced before-and they must be free of corruption. That is an order that the Afghan Government must accept.
Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West) (Lab): The whole House will be greatly reassured by what my right hon. Friend has said about the need to reconcile and reintegrate many of those who are loosely called Taliban, but who are certainly not under the direction of the three main insurgencies. He will be aware that in Iraq, 100,000 Sunnis were signed up, reintegrated and paid by the Americans to join the Iraqi national army in a matter of three weeks. A way ahead like that would be possible, but does my right hon. Friend not see that President Karzai is an obstacle? He is widely implicated in the fraud that took place in the election, and in the corruption that extends throughout the country. Can my right hon. Friend not think of ways of ensuring that Dr. Abdullah is much more closely involved in the execution and administration of politics in the country?
The Prime Minister: I have talked to both President Karzai and Dr. Abdullah about how, whatever happens about the election, they can work more closely together and ensure that there is some common purpose, but that is a decision for them to make after they have seen the findings of the independent electoral commission.
I agree with my hon. Friend that unless corruption is dealt with, the reputation of Afghanistan and the trust that people will have in its Government will be severely limited. I also agree with him that reintegration must be a central element of what we do. A large number of people would be prepared to leave the province of the Taliban. We must have a strategy for that, not just at national level but at local level, and that is exactly what we are working on now.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): While it is unlikely that the Taliban can be eliminated, even with increased NATO troops, is it not equally true that it is impossible for the Taliban to conquer Afghanistan relying, as they do, on roadside bombs and suicide bombers? Does that not point to the need to convince the Taliban that NATO will stay there for as long as necessary? That means that even if we are able gradually to withdraw our ground forces, we must give a commitment to long-term NATO air support working with the enlarged Afghan Government.
The Prime Minister: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made an important point. In hand-to-hand, one-to-one fighting, the Taliban have lost. That is why they have changed their tactics, and why their tactics are now essentially those of guerrilla warfare. That is why they are laying devices to kill or maim our soldiers, and why 80 per cent. of deaths-not just British fatalities, but fatalities across Afghanistan-arise from the use of IEDs.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right to suggest that the Taliban cannot win a conventional war, but can only disrupt our attempt to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. He is also absolutely right to say that we must think ahead. We must send a message to the Taliban that we are not going to walk away, and that-as he rightly suggests-NATO will stay the course. At the same time, however, we must be prepared to integrate those elements of the insurgency who are not among the Taliban ideologues into the framework of a civilian society that can develop in the future.
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): In July, when I last visited Afghanistan, I saw for myself not only the tremendous job that our armed forces are doing there, but the growing use of the Afghan national army in front-line operations. However, I am less clear about how the Afghan Government are being encouraged to take responsibility for the overall security situation. Will the Prime Minister say something more about what action he is taking in that regard?
The Prime Minister: The Afghan security services have already taken responsibility in some areas of Afghanistan, but it has become absolutely clear that they must be better trained, better equipped, and better able to deal with both military and civilian tasks. That will involve not just the army but the police. Training and partnering must develop apace. Training and mentoring will mean, in some cases, embedding British forces with the Afghan forces, but what is currently being proposed is that similar units of Afghan and British forces should work together with a joint command. That would make the training of Afghan forces more rapid, and give them experience of what is happening on the ground more quickly.
As I have said, it is incredibly important that if we take and hold ground, that is done not only by British forces but by Afghan forces, so that Afghanistan's own forces are holding ground against the Taliban for the future. That is why the strategy of partnering is so important to the next stage.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): After eight years, what confidence can we have that the strategy announced by the Prime Minister today has a better chance of success than the strategies previously announced by this Government?
The Prime Minister:
We have been proposing something similar for the last 18 months. I think people have recognised that unless there is a strategy allowing Afghan people to take more responsibility for their own affairs, we cannot see a way through this that does not involve British or other troops being there for many, many years. The importance of what we are saying today lies in the fact that it is supported by NATO itself, and is very much in tune with what General McChrystal is
saying. He has reconsidered the American strategy. As he says, he is moving from counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency: he is concentrating on people and winning their support, rather than concentrating on areas and eliminating Taliban military. At the same time, he is completely signed up to the idea that we must train and partner the Afghan forces.
I believe that that is the right strategy, because it gives us a way forward. It moves from the status quo in a way that shows that if the Afghans can take responsibility for their own affairs more quickly, we can bring our troops home more quickly.
Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the threat posed by al-Qaeda applies to all NATO member countries? Will he join me in urging some of our more reticent European allies to contribute on the same brave and dangerous level as the British armed forces?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there must be burden-sharing. Before the elections, I and others persuaded some other European countries to contribute more, and there was a greater contribution from other countries in the run-up to the elections. It is now for all of us-once the strategy is set out by President Obama and then by NATO itself; and there is a meeting taking place in the next few days to do that-to persuade other countries that this is the right way forward for them. Some countries will find it better that they are training Afghan forces and not engaged in military action on the ground; some will be prepared to contribute more money rather than more helicopters; some may be prepared to contribute equipment rather than staff on the ground-but everyone must accept that if they are part of the coalition they have got to share the burden.
Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): As I am a member of the Territorial Army who has served in Afghanistan, the Prime Minister will understand my particular interest, and it is worth remembering that a large percentage of our forces in Afghanistan are members of the reserve. Indeed, as one of the EOD-explosive ordnance disposal-trained engineers to which the Prime Minister referred, it is likely that I may have to go there again, perhaps even sooner than I think after this question. This week, however, I was told that I may not be able to train again until next April. How can that be right and, more importantly, what sort of message does that send to the members of the reserve forces whom the Prime Minister claims to value so much?
The Prime Minister: I will look in detail at the individual cases that are raised but, as I have said, our focus is on Afghanistan at present, and those people who are likely to go to Afghanistan will get the training that is necessary.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): I am interested in the new timelines that the Prime Minister mentioned in his statement. What will happen in 2011 when Canada withdraws its combat forces from Kandahar, which is next door to Helmand province? Will we be expected to move in there, or will the Afghan army be expected to step up to the plate? What is going to happen in 2011?
The Prime Minister: It is not the assumption that we will move in. Yes, there will be greater presence from the Afghan army, because its numbers will have grown by about 50,000 over the next period of time. We are also awaiting an announcement from the Americans on what they will be doing. Some of their troops who they announced in the previous round are yet to arrive in Afghanistan. Therefore, I think that quite a few changes will be taking place as a result of announcements from different countries.
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): The Prime Minister is right to emphasise the role of the Afghan security services, but Afghanistan is bigger, more complex and presents a more difficult problem than Iraq, and as Iraq's indigenous security forces number 600,000, how does the Prime Minister imagine we can succeed in Afghanistan with less than half that number?
The Prime Minister: First, Afghanistan is very different from Iraq. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman should accept that the figures I have given for the army are the increase in numbers over the next year-from 90,000 to 134,000. That is not necessarily the limit on the numbers that will be placed in the Afghan army or the limit of our ability to train members of the Afghan army. I have already given a figure on the rising numbers of police who will be trained for the future. As we know, in the end, Afghan civil society at the local level must operate as well, and where it does operate successfully-perhaps through tribal chiefs, the shuras that have been developed, or the community councils that have been created-that can make a huge difference. We are dealing with a different country and different conditions, but the limits I have referred to on the training of the army for the next year are not the limits on the army for the future.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): I ask the Prime Minister to maintain a close interest in the poppy cultivation problem. Such cultivation funds the insurgency, and the heroin produced wreaks havoc on the streets of our country. What progress is being made in reducing the amount of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan?
The Prime Minister: The International Development Secretary will be able to write to my hon. Friend in detail about the success of Governor Mangal's programme in Helmand, where in order to replace poppy cultivation we encouraged the growing of wheat. Partly because the wheat price has been high over the past few months, that has been very successful in moving thousands of farmers from poppy cultivation to wheat farming. We will be extending the programme over the course of the next year. That is one way in which we are reducing the dependence on poppy cultivation in Helmand. We realise that that is a continuing challenge, however.
I should also say that there is considerable evidence the people who are involved in the industry of growing heroin are also those involved in placing IEDs, which have caused so much havoc among our troops, and a lot of our surveillance work is now related to tracking those people. One of my announcements today was the increased surveillance that will take place in Afghanistan of those who are trying mainly by night but also by day to plant IEDs.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): Even allowing for the considerable and remarkable expertise of British troops in training the Afghans, at which they have been very successful, the timelines outlined in the Prime Minister's statement will be extremely tight. Given the further advice that he received earlier in the year from the chiefs, is he satisfied that there are within 11 Light Brigade enough British soldiers to hold, clear and build on that ground until there are sufficient Afghan soldiers to take the strain?
The Prime Minister: I agree that one of the big questions is how we can train Afghan forces at a far more rapid rate than before. At present, we are seeing recruitment of Afghan forces at a rate of 2,000 a month. That will rise to about 5,000 a month. Of course, not every one of them will go on to get full training or even turn up, so we are talking about an estimated increase of 4,000 a month over the next year. I have talked to General McChrystal about this, and we have talked to the American authorities as well as to NATO, and it seems to be a practical proposition. Steps are being put in place for it to happen. Karzai is sure that he can provide the numbers of those who will be prepared to be recruited to the armed forces. That is the first stage; if we are to go in to train, we must have the Afghan forces with whom to do so.
On numbers, I want to make sure that the House understands what I said earlier. I said that we discussed a number of options earlier this year. None of them included raising the number of forces by 2,000. We discussed several options. We decided to raise the numbers to 9,000. We decided we would review that after the elections had taken place because a lot rested on security related to the conduct of the elections. We have now conducted that review, and we have been in touch with the Americans, and by agreement with our commanders on the ground and the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Chief of the General Staff and others who have been involved-I met all the chiefs yesterday for breakfast-we have decided on the increase to 9,500 subject to the conditions I set out. I hope people will understand that at all times we have acted in good faith.
The Prime Minister's statement puts considerable emphasis on growing the capacity of the Afghan army. Does he recognise some future danger in building an ever stronger army if at the same time we indulge a systemically weak and corrupt Government? Does the history of Pakistan not point out the danger of such an equation, and what is being done to mitigate these risks?
The Prime Minister:
The hon. Gentleman makes the very important point that if we are to have Afghan responsibility for Afghan affairs, we need both local and national Government who work effectively. I would perhaps put more emphasis than the hon. Gentleman on local government being effective. For most people in Afghanistan the hold of central Government is very weak indeed. However, I agree that President Karzai and those who will hold authority in Afghanistan after
the elections-whoever they are-must take responsibility for making sure that we have corrupt-free government across the country. A lot is related to the heroin trade, as has been said, but there is a responsibility on those who rule Afghanistan to make sure that the confidence we have placed in them by sending troops to deal with the problems is repaid by their cleansing the Government of corrupt activities. That will be part of the contract with any future Government in Afghanistan.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The Prime Minister's statement was silent on the continued abject failure of the major European NATO countries to provide troops on the ground in Helmand province. In respect of his comments on hearts and minds, may I suggest that his Government take some leadership? Over the summer his Ministers have told me:
"No steps have...been taken by UK Trade and Investment to encourage the export of goods from Afghanistan"
"No locally produced food has been procured for British troops in Helmand Province by the MOD Food Supply Contractor."-[ Official Report, 14 September 2009; Vol. 496, c. 2188W and 2122W.]
Is there not a case for the British Government to boost the economy of Afghanistan, and in that connection may I urge his Ministers to discuss matters with UK-based charity POM354, which is doing that on the ground in Afghanistan as we speak?
The Prime Minister: There is, of course, a case for that and we would want to see it happen in the future. The hon. Gentleman has been to Camp Bastion and knows the arrangements that have to be made in an area that is otherwise barren to ensure that our troops are properly fed and equipped. He knows the airlifts that take place to make that possible. We should be proud that we have been able to supply equipment, food and everything that is necessary for our troops by ensuring that these airlifts take place. He is right that, over time, we must be able to encourage local Afghan industry too.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister mentioned in his statement welcome investment to ensure that the kit and the equipment to back up our brave armed forces in theatre is available. On the question of Army vehicles, he mentioned the Ridgback and the Mastiff-of course, the very successful Jackal vehicle has also been used. Can he assure me that the MOD is looking at a replacement for the Snatch vehicle that combines protection and a lower profile, so that as we move into stabilisation that kind of vehicle is available for our armed forces?
The Prime Minister: I think that my hon. Friend is talking about a vehicle that is made near or in her constituency. She is right to say that the Jackal is a very important vehicle. It is very popular with our troops and we depend upon it greatly.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): May I put it to the Prime Minister that anyone who thinks that a NATO-trained Afghan army recruited from 67 mutually hostile tribes will defeat the Taliban is living in a political cloud cuckoo land?
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