Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

6  The UK's mission in Afghanistan

212.  Having considered the role of the international community in Afghanistan and discussed the importance of Pakistan in relation to the current conflict in Afghanistan, we turn now to focus in more detail on the UK's role in Afghanistan since 2001.


213.  The UK has been involved in Afghanistan alongside coalition forces, led by the US under Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), since October 2001. In March 2006, UK troops deployed to Helmand Province as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and since then they have formed part of a 16-nation counter-insurgency force in southern Afghanistan. FCO representation in Afghanistan is based in the British Embassy in Kabul (around 150 civilian staff), the Civil-Military Mission Headquarters in Lashkar Gah, Helmand (over 60 civilian staff) and in Forward Operating Bases across Helmand Province including in Gereshk, Musa Qaleh, Garmsir and Sangin Nad-e-Ali.

214.  The UK's contribution to the international intervention in Afghanistan has been significant. It is the second biggest troop contributor in Afghanistan with nearly 9,000 troops in theatre and, as at 21 July 2009, 187 British service personnel have lost their lives in Afghanistan. The UK's financial contribution has also been high: the cost of UK military operations in Afghanistan increased from £750 million in 2006-07 to £1.5 billion in 2007-08, and to £2.6 billion in 2008-09. At the same time, development and stabilisation spending increased from £154 million in 2006-07, to £166 million in 2007-08, and to £207 million in 2008-09,[358] making the UK Afghanistan's third biggest donor, behind the US and the Asian Development Bank.

The UK's expanding mission

215.  When UK forces entered Afghanistan in October 2001, they did so in support of the United States, and in direct response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. In a statement to the House on 4 October 2001, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair outlined the UK's objectives:

We must bring Bin Laden and other Al Qaida leaders to justice and eliminate the terrorist threat they pose. And we must ensure that Afghanistan ceases to harbour and sustain international terrorism. If the Taliban regime will not comply with that objective, we must bring about change in that regime to ensure that Afghanistan's links to international terrorism are broken.

I believe the humanitarian coalition to help the people of Afghanistan to be as vital as any military action itself. […] The international community has already pledged sufficient funds to meet the most immediate needs. […] We will give Mr Brahimi [Lakhdar Brahimi, former United Nations representative for Afghanistan and Iraq] all the support we can, to help ensure that the UN and the whole of the international community comes together to meet the humanitarian challenge. […]

We will do what we can to minimise the suffering of the Afghan people as a result of the conflict; and we commit ourselves to work with them afterwards inside and outside Afghanistan to ensure a better, more peaceful future, free from the repression and dictatorship that is their present existence.

The coalition is strong. Military plans are robust. The humanitarian plans are falling into place. […]The Afghan people are not our enemy, for they have our sympathy and they will have our support. Our enemy is Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network, who were responsible for the events of 11 September. The Taliban regime must yield them up or become our enemy also. We will not act for revenge. We will act because we need to for the protection of our people and our way of life, including confidence in our economy. The threat posed by bin Laden and his terrorism must be eliminated. We act for justice. We act with world opinion behind us and we have an absolute determination to see justice done and this evil of mass international terrorism confronted and defeated. [359]

216.  In practical terms, this political commitment led to the deployment of the first UK troops in November 2001, when Royal Marines helped secure the airfield at Bagram. Subsequently, 1,700 UK soldiers were deployed until July 2002 as Task Force Jacana in eastern Afghanistan to deny and destroy terrorist infrastructure. The UK also oversaw efforts to establish ISAF and led it for the first six-months of its operation until June 2002. Following the hand-over of ISAF control, the UK military presence was scaled down significantly, although a small contingent of logistics and support troops remained to assist ISAF.[360] In May 2003, the UK announced the creation of its first Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the north of Afghanistan, in Mazar-e-Sharif, with the aim of helping to extend the authority of central government and facilitating reconstruction by improving the security environment. This was followed by a second, smaller, UK-led PRT in Meymaneh, also in northern Afghanistan.

217.  In May 2006, following an earlier decision to expand ISAF's operation throughout Afghanistan, UK forces were deployed to Helmand. By the summer of 2007, the number of UK personnel deployed had risen from some 3,300 to approximately 7,700 troops.[361]

218.  In a statement on 26 January 2006 outlining the parameters of the Helmand deployment, the then Secretary of State for Defence, Rt Hon Dr John Reid, told Parliament that the UK would be "working to ensure that we provide Afghanistan with a seamless package of democratic, political, developmental and military assistance in Helmand. All of that is necessary to ensure that international terrorism never again has a base in Afghanistan".[362] In March 2006, another comment by Dr Reid attracted much attention. In an interview he said of the UK's mission to Helmand, "if we came for three years here to accomplish our mission and had not fired one shot at the end of it, we would be very happy indeed".[363] Although widely quoted even today, James Fergusson notes that:

Reid's remark was not quite the hostage to fortune it was made out to be. What he also said […] was that he expected the mission to be "complex and dangerous … because the terrorists will want to destroy the economy and the legitimate trade and the government that we are helping to build up". He added that "if this didn't involve the necessity to use force, we wouldn't send soldiers".[364]

219.  Some 18 months after troops were deployed to Helmand, the Prime Minister outlined the Government's "strategic principles for the UK's involvement in Afghanistan" in a statement to the House.[365] These were to:

  • support the Afghan government, army and police to allow them to take responsibility for their own security;
  • strengthen national and local institutions and support the search for political reconciliation;
  • support reconstruction and development; and
  • work in partnership with the international community.

220.  The UK was also bound by a series of seven objectives agreed in December 2007 by the National Security, International Relations and Development Cabinet Committee:

  • reduce the insurgency on both sides of the Durand Line to a level where it no longer poses a significant threat to Afghanistan and Pakistan;
  • ensure that core Al Qaeda does not return to Afghanistan and is destroyed or at least contained in Pakistan's tribal areas;
  • ensure that Afghanistan remains a legitimate state and becomes more effective and able to handle its own security, increase the pace of economic development, and allow the UK and international military commitment to transition away from a ground combat role to security sector reform.
  • contain and reduce the drugs trade to divide it from the insurgency and prevent it from undermining security, governance and the economy;
  • provide long term sustainable support for Afghan Compact goals on governance, rule of law, human rights and social/economic development; and
  • keep allies engaged.

221.  These goals have been translated into nine interdependent strands which guide the UK's current effort in Afghanistan, as follows:

  • Security - Increased capacity of the Afghan Government and army and police to contain the insurgency;
  • Politics & Reconciliation - Strengthened national and local institutions and support for political reconciliation;
  • Governance & Rule of Law - Increased capacity and accountability of Afghan Government institutions to deliver basic services, remove corruption and provide justice for the Afghan people;
  • Economic Development & Reconstruction - Economic growth and poverty reduction that improves the lives of Afghan men, women and children;
  • Counter-Narcotics - Contain and reduce the drugs trade to prevent it from undermining security, governance and the economy;
  • Helmand - Increased capacity of local and national government to contain the insurgency and deliver security and development to local people;
  • Regional Engagement - Regional neighbours support the creation and maintenance of a stable Afghan state;
  • International Engagement - More coherent international engagement supporting Afghan peace building and development; and
  • Strategic Communications - Increased Afghan and UK public support for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.

222.  Lord Ashdown, who in 2007 was the UK's preferred candidate to be the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, has argued that the Government has set itself too many goals:

Whenever I hear our Prime Minister […] what I hear is not clarity, but confusion. It appears that his answer to the fact that we are close to losing one war in Afghanistan is to fight lots more: a war against the Taliban; a war against drugs; a war against want; a war against Afghanistan's old traditional ways. We cannot fight all these wars at the same time. We cannot "liberate" Afghan women, until we have first created an effective rule of law. We cannot pauperise Afghanistan's farmers as part of a war on drugs, if we want to rely on their support to fight the Taliban. We cannot lift Afghanistan out of poverty within the time frame we have to turn things round. To have too many priorities, is to have none.[366]

223.  Lord Malloch-Brown conceded in June 2009 that "some of the apparent objectives we were laying out in the early years were much too open-ended and seemed to imply a 20 or 30-year military commitment in Afghanistan by British troops".[367] He added that there was "a detachment between objectives and what it is reasonable to ask people to put their lives in danger for".[368]

224.  We asked witnesses whether the growth in objectives was a deliberate decision or one which evolved without due consideration through 'mission creep'. Colonel Christopher Langton of the IISS stated that the need to remain involved in Afghanistan to "prevent a return to the 'status quo ante bellum' has meant that other missions have emerged".[369] We asked Lord Malloch-Brown the same question. He told us that he "wouldn't say it was mission creep" but that "a deepening of the mission might be a more accurate description".[370] Lord Malloch-Brown added:

The difficulty is that you can eliminate individual terrorists, but if you leave a country as a failed state and a seedbed for renewed terrorism, you leave your job unfinished. Perhaps the early statements of the mission were too two-dimensional—one-dimensional, if you like—but the objective of leaving an Afghan Government, who are representative of their people and able to offer security to their people, and offer to the world a secure state that will not be a source of future terrorism, is an extension of the mission, not a change of mission.[371]

225.  We conclude that the UK's mission in Afghanistan has taken on a significantly different, and considerably expanded, character since the first British troops were deployed there in 2001. The UK has moved from its initial goal of supporting the US in countering international terrorism, far into the realms of counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics, protection of human rights, and state-building. During our visit we were struck by the sheer magnitude of the task confronting the UK. We conclude that there has been significant 'mission creep' in the British deployment to Afghanistan, and that this has resulted in the British Government being now committed to a wide range of objectives. We further conclude that in its response to this Report, the Government should set out, in unambiguous terms, its first and most important priority in Afghanistan.

The Helmand deployment

226.  In its Report of 6 April 2006 entitled, The UK deployment to Afghanistan, the Select Committee on Defence states the "MoD told us that it had chosen to deploy to Helmand Province specifically because it was an area containing continuing threats to stability from the narcotics trade, the Taliban and other illegally armed groups".[372] In his book, A Million Bullets, James Fergusson also considers the reasons behind the British deployment to Helmand. He states:

Operation Herrick 4, as the Helmand deployment was called, was supposed to secure economic development and reconstruction in the region. It was in the terminology of the planners, a 'hearts and minds' operation, not a search-and-destroy one. The intention was to spread the Karzai government's remit into the recalcitrant south of Afghanistan, the Pashtun heartlands and one-time spiritual home of the Taliban—a force that, barring a handful of hardliners, was confidently assessed to have been defeated in 2001. […] The move into southern Afghanistan was no ad hoc decision but part of a carefully phased international strategy to extend the remit of NATO's ISAF to areas of the country it had yet to reach.[373]

227.  British planning for the mission was carried out throughout 2005, and with it came a heavy emphasis on the 'comprehensive approach' which involved the FCO, MoD and DfID working together, and co-ordinating their work through a small cross-departmental body formerly known as the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Unit (PCRU) and now called the Stabilisation Unit. James Fergusson argues that the initial British plan in Helmand was, "ambitious, perhaps overly so".[374] Mr Fergusson states that the Government's Afghan planning committee was encouraged to "think big in Afghanistan" and that "the sense of purpose emanating from the Cabinet Office was impossible to ignore or resist" even although officials from the PCRU (now the Stabilisation Unit) advised a more measured approach. Allegedly sidestepping many of the concerns raised by people working on the ground in Helmand, the Joint Plan for Helmand was nevertheless agreed in December 2005.[375]

228.  A study by Professor Theo Farrell and Dr Stuart Gordon, both of whom were witnesses in our inquiry, suggests that the initial British plan resembled the "Malayan 'ink-spot' strategy", a reference to the successful counter-insurgency approach adopted by the UK in Malaya some fifty years ago.[376] Focusing on the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, the plan was to use British and Afghan troops to provide a framework of security that would allow development work to "slowly transform the political, social and economic fabric of the town and generate 'effects' that would spill over beyond the town itself".[377]

229.  The UK's decision to deploy a Brigade to Helmand in 2006 was, according to Daniel Korski, initially hailed as an important improvement on the small US-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the main city of Helmand province, Lashkar Gah, which only had a limited capacity and a few hundred soldiers.[378] However, Professor Farrell and Dr Gordon state that "the initial plan contained serious weaknesses" including "an information vacuum" and a diversion of resources away from Afghanistan caused by "Whitehall's focus on Iraq". They add there was an erroneous presumption that Afghan elites shared British views on how to reverse state failure, and that there was no clear cross-governmental blueprint for a counter-insurgency campaign or any sense of how it would link to counter-narcotics efforts. Daniel Korski highlights the fact that the Government's strategy did not account for the time it took for the FCO and DFID to "staff up the UK Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) let alone before all government departments, including the MoD, realised the nature of the fight".[379]

230.  Most analysts believe that the initial UK strategy failed primarily because of a lack of manpower, and a poor understanding of the local situation and the level of resistance that would emerge. Professor Adam Roberts states that because the insurgency began relatively slowly its seriousness was not recognized for some time.[380] Giving evidence to us, Lord Malloch-Brown acknowledged that "the strength of the insurgent opposition we have faced in Helmand has surprised us; there is no way around that".[381]

231.  Professor Farrell and Dr Gordon also note that "the UK plan was derailed almost from the outset" following a request in June 2006 from the Afghan government, for British troops to deploy to northern Helmand to show that government authority extended throughout the province.[382] The resulting "platoon house strategy" where British troops found themselves in outlying areas of Helmand, surrounded by insurgents and cut off from support, was highly controversial and resulted in significant losses among UK forces. The multiple demands placed upon the British military by other key individuals and institutions in Afghanistan is a theme which is also discussed by journalist and author Ahmed Rashid, who suggests that British military commanders appear to have "suffered under too many masters". He notes:

Richards [General David Richards, former Commander of ISAF] arrived in Kabul with a plan to implement an ink spot strategy […] However with British troops surrounded by the Taliban the moment they arrived in towns the ink could not flow. […] NATO states wanted him to preserve their caveats, while Blair insisted that he go softly on Pakistan because of the ISI's cooperation with MI5 in catching Britain's domestic terrorists—even though British officers under fire in Helmand were seething with anger at the ISI's support to the Taliban. The Americans and the Afghans said Richards was too soft with the Pakistanis.[383]

232.  A number of commentators have argued that there was a lack of clarity about why the UK was in Helmand. Brigadier Andrew Mackay, who commanded British forces in Helmand in 2007, is reported to have been struck by the lack of clear direction "from above" and is quoted as saying there was a sense of "making it up as we go along."[384] Stephen Gray's book Operation Snakebite is just one of many accounts to highlight the apparent disconnect between different Whitehall departments.[385] Mr Gray quotes the former UK Ambassador to Kabul, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, as saying that "a lot of people had been rather naïve about what could be done here in Afghanistan. There was still sort of a hangover of misplaced optimism."[386] Military analyst Daniel Marston argues that the mission was initially "hampered by the fact that HMG and the Ministry of Defence had generally failed to stipulate that what was needed was a COIN [counter-insurgency] campaign." He adds that the mission was originally presented as a peace support and counter-narcotics operation, primarily as a matter of UK domestic political expediency.[387] James Fergusson suggests that many of the soldiers in Helmand including more senior officers had only "the haziest idea of what Herrick 4 was supposed to achieve". He adds:

In this they were no different to most of the British public. Some of them thought the fighting was about poppies, and the need to curtail and control the world's biggest source of opium. Some thought it was about the War on Terror, and conflated the Taliban with Al Qaeda in the most general way. Others were closer to the mark when they said it was about policing the world, and bringing democracy and governance to a benighted nation.

James Fergusson goes on to quote from a memo by Brigadier Ed Butler in which he says:

Everyone here should be entirely clear as to why we are here […] If we fail to deliver a pro-Western Islamic state in the post- 9/11 era then I would suggest that the War on Terror will become untenable.[388]

233.  In a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in November 2008, the then Defence Secretary Rt Hon John Hutton stated:

If we hadn't gone into Southern Afghanistan in 2006 the Taleban would probably now control Southern Helmand and Kandahar. There are many students of history in this room today who would tell us that those who control Kandahar have often controlled Kabul. Which would give free reign to Al Qaeda through Afghanistan. Pre 9/11 all over again.[389]

234.  On a more positive note, Daniel Korski stated that "the problems of integrating economic reconstruction with military operations have decreased with every update of the so-called 'Helmand Road Map', which has guided UK effort since 2007. He commented that more civilians are now working in the PRT and that civil-military structures have improved.[390] In a recent innovation the PRT is now headed by the civilian UK Senior Representative working alongside the Brigadier who currently commands TFH. The UK Senior Representative reports to the Ambassador in Kabul, while the Brigade remains under the command of ISAF for all operational military matters.[391] We note that the Defence Committee is currently examining how effective the UK's 'comprehensive approach' has been, and we await with interest their findings on this issue.

235.  During our visit to Helmand we were briefed about progress that is being made in a number of towns in the Helmand Valley. For example, in Garmsir the UK has been able to undertake development activities, assisted in part by the presence of a good district governor and chief of police. We witnessed the good working relationships for ourselves when we visited Helmand and the importance that was attached to the civilian elements of mission, which in part is due to the recent appointment of a senior FCO official to head the PRT. However, as we also witnessed during that visit, the security situation makes it extremely difficult for civilians to move around the province, and as a result civilian projects suffer. Lord Malloch-Brown told us that the arrival of additional US forces, combined with the longer-term focus on training the Afghan National Army, would help to provide a "long-term, credible security solution".[392]

236.  We conclude that the UK deployment to Helmand was undermined by unrealistic planning at senior levels, poor co-ordination between Whitehall departments and crucially, a failure to provide the military with clear direction. We further conclude that as the situation currently stands, the "comprehensive approach" is faltering, largely because the security situation is preventing any strengthening of governance and Afghan capacity. The very clear conclusion that we took from our visit to Helmand is that stabilisation need not be complicated or expensive, but it does require provision of security, good governance, and a belief within the local population that ISAF forces will outlast the insurgents.

The role of, and impact on, the British armed forces

237.  The British military remains key to the UK achieving its foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan. In the eight years since British troops were deployed they have paid a significant price in fatalities and injuries. British troops have been on the receiving end of a particularly virulent insurgency in Helmand where the majority of UK forces are based. Of late there have been increased attacks on the main provincial city, Lashkar Gah. Over the course of 2008, security incidents rose by 188%, the second highest increase in all of Afghanistan's provinces.[393] In its written submission, the FCO acknowledges the rise in security incidents but argues that particularly in the south and east, this is "often as a result of ANA and ISAF initiated operations".[394] During our visit to Helmand in April 2009, we were briefed on a number of operations involving British and Afghan forces that had resulted in significant successes against the insurgents. However, we were also told that the situation was expected to worsen in the coming months, and that although the British control the most densely populated areas in Helmand, the Taliban continued to dominate entire districts within the province. Since June, UK armed forces have been engaged in a major offensive, Operation Panther's Claw, supported by Afghan forces, which has aimed to drive the Taliban from the areas of central Helmand which have until now remained beyond the reach of the Afghan Government. The Americans are engaged in a similar operation in the southern part of the province. Once an area is cleared and security is established, the aim is for Governor Mangal and his district governors to follow up with plans to build basic services such as clean water, electricity, roads, basic justice, basic healthcare, and then economic development.[395]

238.  British troops have also had to deal with a fourfold increase in the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)[396] in the year to February 2009, an enormously difficult challenge which, ironically, has come about as a result of coalition successes against the insurgents. Professor Theo Farrell of King's College London told us that the Taliban have been forced to adopt new tactics as a result of military operations carried out against them in 2007 and 2008 which led to the deaths of around 6,000 Taliban fighters and consequent damage to the Taliban's ability to conduct conventional warfare.[397]

239.  The number of deaths of British soldiers in Afghanistan for the whole of 2008 was 51.[398] In 2009, the equivalent number was almost reached by 20 July 2009. The Government has argued that this recent spike in casualty figures is explained by pro-active British targeting of Taliban strongholds, in a bid to provide greater security for the provincial capital Lashkar Gah and to pave the way for a voter registration programme.[399]


240.  We asked several of our witnesses why there had been such a serious increase in casualties over the past twelve months. Colonel Christopher Langton stated that increased casualty figures could be attributed to the increased operational tempo faced by British troops.[400] Professor Theo Farrell responded that although combat troops have had better protective equipment to mitigate the effects of improvised explosive devices since mid-2007, there has not been sufficient equipment to ensure the safety of other personnel involved in logistics, intelligence and communications who face similar risks. Professor Farrell told us, "that gap has been identified and is being plugged by the protected mobility package, but that will take between now and early 2011 to reach full capability".[401]

241.  As the Defence Committee's Report into Defence Equipment 2009 details, the Ministry of Defence has taken a range of measures to ensure that troops in Afghanistan have adequate air capabilities and support.[402] However, during our visit to Helmand we were told repeatedly about the deleterious effect the lack of helicopters continues to have on the military's ability to prosecute operations there. In this respect, we note, with interest, the Defence Committee's recent Report into Helicopter Capability.[403] We were also told about the allegedly poor conditions faced by those serving on the front-line in forward operating bases throughout Helmand Province. And we witnessed just how cumbersome the man-portable equipment designed to provide protection for troops against improvised explosive devices is.

242.  More generally, our overall impression was of British forces doing a terrific job to contain and improve the security situation in Helmand, but with very limited resources and support. The issue of resources has been examined in detail by the National Audit Office (NAO) in its Support to High Intensity Operations Report,[404] and by the Committee of Public Accounts in its recent Report Ministry of Defence: Major Projects Report. Although the NAO noted that the Ministry of Defence is now taking appropriate measures to tackle problems and shortfalls in relation to equipment, the Public Accounts Committee concluded that "delays to projects have caused gaps in front-line capability, or increased the risk that gaps may arise in future".[405]

243.  Classic counter-insurgency doctrine suggests that some 20 troops are required for every 1,000 people in the affected population.[406] In the south of Afghanistan this would necessitate some 280,000 military personnel, which far exceeds the military presence which has existed in Helmand. Last year, Brigadier Carleton Smith was reported to have called for an additional brigade of around 4,000 to be sent to Helmand.[407] In May 2009 we asked Lord Malloch-Brown whether more British troops would be sent. He replied:

We have concluded […] that we cannot solve this through that classic counter-insurgency ratio of troops to population. That is another reason why we need a political-military strategy. We have to use our military presence to put pressure on the insurgent elements to the point where we create conditions for successful reconciliation by the Government, with elements of society who currently appear to support the insurgents.[408]

244.  In July 2009, General Sir Richard Dannatt, the outgoing Chief of the General Staff, stated: "I have said before, we can have effect where we have boots on the ground" and that "I don't mind whether the feet in those boots are British, American or Afghan, but we need more to have the persistent effect to give the people (of Helmand) confidence in us. […] "That is the top line and the bottom line."[409]


245.  Military analyst Daniel Marston claims that "The British…have faced heavy criticism for their prosecution of the war in the South",[410] but in oral evidence to us, Professor Theo Farrell stated that "there is evidence that our taskforces have consistently got better at learning lessons internally". Speaking in November 2008, then Defence Secretary John Hutton expanded upon the challenges that British troops are facing:

After our third summer in Helmand down the south, we are still learning how to operate and realise our objectives. That is the nature of any prolonged and complex campaign. Take Helmand province for example. A tribal melting pot, the largest of which is the Alizai with around 20 subsets. Lay on top of that the influences of kith, kin, and the Pashtun tribal code, tribal and traditional loyalties and you will begin to understand just how a complex an environment it is. Our people are constantly trying to decipher that complexity in order to do their jobs with empathy.[411]

Lord Malloch-Brown also told us that lessons were being learned:

As with any good military action by this country over the centuries, we have stepped up our game and our commitment, and reinforced our effort to deal with an enemy who has been tougher than we initially thought would be the case. Please do not misunderstand me - it is not a surprise that we faced an insurgency in Helmand, which is the reason why we went there. We knew it was there, we wanted to take it on and it has been a hard fight […].[412]

246.  We asked one of our witnesses, James Fergusson, what impact the campaign was having on the British armed services. He stated:

It is very tired. The marines have just been there for their second tour, and I have heard that they are complaining bitterly […]. They were fighting in exactly the same places they were on their first tour, and a lot of them cannot see the point of it. I cannot speak for the whole Army, but you come across a lot of despondent views within it. […].

Many senior soldiers will tell you that this is not sustainable for ever. Apart from anything else, we do not have the equipment for it. We do not have the helicopters, as I am sure you know. In terms of Chinook forces, we have 40 Chinooks altogether, of which half are working and perhaps eight are deployed in Helmand at any one time. The Army is very small and we are asking an awful lot of it.[413]

247.  In paragraphs 187 to 188 above we have discussed the planned US 'surge' in troop deployments to Helmand. This will bring much-needed support to the British forces in that province.

248.  We conclude that the Government must ensure that our armed forces are provided with the appropriate resources to undertake the tasks requested of them, particularly in an environment as challenging as Helmand. We further conclude that in spite of well-documented difficulties, British armed forces are now gradually beginning to create and sustain the conditions that make it possible to extend good governance and the rule of law in the most heavily populated areas of Helmand. We conclude that the support provided by additional equipment and by the US 'surge' of troops in Helmand will be of considerable assistance, and is greatly to be welcomed.

The role of FCO staff

249.  During our visit to Afghanistan in April 2009 we saw for ourselves the scale of the UK's current wide-ranging effort there. We met many highly committed, able and motivated civilian personnel who are an integral part of that effort. However, we were surprised to be told by interlocutors that there are no Pashtu speakers within either the FCO or DfID in Afghanistan and only two Pashtu speakers in the army. Both the FCO and DfID rely on locally engaged staff for translation and interpretation. 

250.  We conclude that the ability to engage with Afghans in key local languages is crucial to the UK's effort in Afghanistan and we are concerned that nearly eight years after intervening in Afghanistan, the FCO still has no Pashtu speakers. We recommend that in its response to this Report, the FCO sets out why this situation exists and what it is doing, as a matter of urgency, to rectify the situation.

251.  We were also told that although the length of civilian postings to Afghanistan varies according to each individual, it is not uncommon for many FCO staff to be posted for only six months during which they work six weeks in-country, before taking two weeks leave. We were told that this arrangement can result in a lack of continuity and that staff often cover for colleagues who are on leave and, in effect, end up doing one and a half jobs. We were also told that logistical problems and security concerns can result in delays to staff returning to work.

252.  We recommend that in its response to this Report, the FCO provides details of the length of Postings which it uses in Afghanistan and whether it is considering introducing longer tour lengths to ensure continuity of knowledge and experience.

358   "UK Policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan: the way forward", Cabinet Office, April 2009, p 8,  Back

359   HC Deb, 4 Oct 2001, col 675 Back

360   "Afghanistan", House of Commons Library Standard Note, SN/IA/4788, 8 July 2008 Back

361   Defence Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2006-07, UK Operations in Afghanistan, HC 408 Back

362   "Afghanistan", House of Commons Library Standard Note, SN/IA/4788, 8 July 2008 Back

363   Transcript available via the Ministry of Defence website: Back

364   James Fergusson, A Million Bullets (2008) Back

365   HC Deb, 12 Dec 2007, col 303 Back

366   Lord Ashdown, "What I told Gordon Brown about Afghanistan", The Spectator (Coffee House Blog), 15 September 2008, Back

367   Q 182 Back

368   Q 182 Back

369   Ev 111 Back

370   Q 175 Back

371   Q 174 Back

372   Defence Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2005-06, The UK Deployment to Afghanistan, HC 558, para 45  Back

373   James Fergusson, A Million Bullets (London, 2008), p 9 Back

374   Ibid., pp 147-148 Back

375   IbidBack

376   Professor Theo Farrell and Dr Stuart Gordon, "COIN Machine: The British Military in Afghanistan", Rusi Journal 2009, Jul 2009, Vol. 154, No. 3 Back

377   IbidBack

378   Ev 154 Back

379   Ev 154-155 Back

380   Ev 115 Back

381   Q 183 Back

382   Professor Theo Farrell and Dr Stuart Gordon, "COIN Machine: The British Military in Afghanistan", Rusi Journal 2009, Jul 2009, Vol. 154, No. 3 Back

383   Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos (2008), p 360  Back

384   Richard Norton-Taylor, "Afghanistan: soldiers' reports tell of undue optimism, chaos and policy made on the hoof", The Guardian, 30 March 2009 Back

385   IbidBack

386   Richard Norton-Taylor, "Afghanistan: soldiers' reports tell of undue optimism, chaos and policy made on the hoof", The Guardian, 30 March 2009 Back

387   Daniel Marston, "British Operations in Helmand Afghanistan", Small Wars Journal, 13 September 2008 Back

388   Quoted in James Fergusson, A Million Bullets (London, 2008) p 23 Back

389   Rt Hon John Hutton MP, (then) Secretary of State for Defence at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, 11 Nov 2008 Back

390   Ev 155 Back

391   Ev 82 Back

392   Q 194  Back

393   "Afghanistan Index", Brookings Institution, 21 January 2009, Back

394   Ev 78 Back

395   Uncorrected Evidence presented by Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, Uploaded on 16 July 2009, HC 257-ii  Back

396   HC Deb, 5 February 2009, col 1034 Back

397   Q 2 [Professor Farrell] Back

398   Ministry of Defence, "Operations in Afghanistan: British Fatalities", via Ministry of Defence website, Back

399   "NATO forces complete major operation in southern Afghanistan", Jane's Country Risk Daily Report, 5 January 2009 Back

400   Q 6 [Colonel Langton] Back

401   Q 6 [Professor Farrell] Back

402   Defence Committee, Third Report of Session 2008-09, Defence Equipment 2009, HC 107 Back

403   Defence Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2008-09, Helicopter Capability, HC 434 Back

404   National Audit Office, Session 2008-2009, Support to High Intensity Operations, HC 508  Back

405   Public Accounts Committee, Twentieth Report of Session 2008-09, Ministry of Defence: Major Projects Report 2008, HC 165  Back

406   See for example the US Army Field Manual 3-24, pp 1-13  Back

407   "4,000 more British troops 'needed to fight Taleban in Afghanistan'", The Times, 25 September 2008 Back

408   Q 193 Back

409   "Army head calls for more troops", BBC News Online, 15 July 2009 Back

410   Daniel Marston, "British Operations in Helmand Afghanistan", Small Wars Journal, 13 September 2008, Back

411   Rt Hon John Hutton MP, (then) Secretary of State for Defence at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, 11 Nov 2008 Back

412   Q 199 Back

413   Q 141 [James Fergusson] Back

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