Letter to Rt Hon Alan Williams MP, Chairman
of the Committee, from the Prime Minister, dated 11 July
Ahead of my appearance before the Liaison Committee
next week and in view of the recent tragic losses by our Armed
Forces serving in Afghanistan, I wanted to write to you to update
the Committee on our current operations in Afghanistan, and on
the related work we are doing in Pakistan, in case you wanted
to raise this.
The last 10 days have been extraordinarily difficult.
My thoughts are with the families of the brave servicemen who
have been killed. The sacrifice that they have made in the service
of our country will never be forgotten.
While I know there are some who have questioned
our strategy, I continue to believe our strategy is the right
Eight years ago the problem was the Taleban
regime in Afghanistan. After violently seizing power in the 1990s,
they ruled the country with utter brutality and contempt for human
rightsand provided a safe haven to Al Qaeda. It is right
that we helped to remove a regime which allowed Al Qaeda to plot
terror around the world, culminating in the attacks on 9/11.
So in 2001 the case for intervention in
Afghanistan was to take on a global terrorist threat and prevent
terrorist attacks in Britain and across the world. In 2009 the
overriding reason for our continued involvement is the sameto
take on, at its source, the terrorist threat, and prevent attacks
here and elsewhere.
Eight years ago we removed the Taleban from
power, and drove Al Qaeda from Afghanistan. As Al Qaeda relocated
to the remote mountains of Pakistan's northwest frontier province
and federally administered tribal areas, a new crucible of terrorism
has emerged straddling the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The Director-General of our Security Service
has said that three quarters of the most serious plots against
the UK have links into these mountains. So our purpose is clear:
to prevent terrorism coming to the streets of Britain. Our security
depends on strengthening the Pakistan and Afghan Governments to
defeat both Al Qaeda and also the Pakistan and Afghan Taleban.
If in Pakistan, the Taleban are allowed to overwhelm Pakistan's
democracy, Al Qaeda would once again have greater freedom from
which to launch terrorist attacks across the worldand the
longer term implications for the stability of this crucial region,
and for global stability, could be more serious still. If, in
Afghanistan, extremists return to power and once again provide
a safe haven for Al Qaeda, then the same threat of global terrorism
So this is a fight to clear terrorist networks
from Afghanistan and Pakistan, to support the elected governments
in both countries against the Taleban, to tackle the heroin trade
which funds terrorism and the insurgency, and to build longer
To succeed in one of the two countries would
mean that Al Qaeda could still attack us from the other.
Progress in one of the two countries will never
be sustainable without progress in both.
This is why our strategy, published in April,
reflects an integrated approach across both countries. It sets
out why it is both in our interest to train the Afghan forces
to resist the return of the Afghan Taleban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan,
and in our interest to support Pakistan's security and armed forces
against Al Qaeda and the Pakistan Taleban in Pakistan.
Let me deal first with progress against the
terrorist insurgencies in Pakistan. The Pakistani Government has
recently launched successful operations to drive out militant
extremists from the Swat and Buner regions in the north west.
Operational success has come at a heavy price for the Pakistani
security forces, and also a heavy humanitarian cost with millions
internally displaced. Despite this, the overwhelming majority
of the Pakistani people fully support their government's action,
recognising that failure to bring these regions under the control
of the Pakistani Government would pose a fundamental threat to
the future of their country.
It is vital to ensure that we do not allow humanitarian
problems to become for some a pretext for radicalisation. That
is why Britain is playing a leading role in international assistance
to Pakistan to help its internally displaced people. And as Pakistan
steps up the fight on terrorism so we will focus greater attention
on the basic human challenges it still facesin education,
health and respect for human rightsin each of which failure
serves only to fuel radicalisation. Britain's development programme
in Pakistan will become our second largest worldwide, with £665 million
in assistance over the next four years, refocusing much of our
aidincluding over £125 million of education spendingon
the border areas.
Our work in taking on terrorism in Pakistan
must be matched by progress in Afghanistan. But while in Pakistan
our role is to support Pakistan's security forces, in Afghanistan
we are not yet at the point where the Afghan army and police can
maintain control of the country without direct outside help. The
immediate priority is to ensure security for the population in
the run up to the presidential elections in August. I am working
together with President Obama and other leaders to ensure the
UN has all the support it needs so that those elections are free
and credible. In the military campaign, as the Committee will
know, President Obama has reinforced the US presence by 21,000.
Most are now in theatre, many of them alongside British forces
in Helmand because, as the new American Commander General McChrystal
has explained, it is increasingly clear that Helmand is where
the insurgency is concentrating its efforts, with over a third
of the violence in the whole of Afghanistan. And in April, I announced
that the UK would temporarily increase its contribution to 9,000 for
the election period.
American and British forces are now working
together to secure the key population centres. The British effort
is focused on a major operation, Panther's Claw, supported by
Afghan forces, driving the Taleban 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.
These operations are co-ordinated and based
on a joint civilian-military plan. This was set out in detail
in our April strategy and in my statement to the House of Commons.
Where an idea is cleared and security is established, Governor
Mangal and his district governors follow up with plans to build
basic servicesclean water, electricity, roads, basic justice,
basic healthcare, and then economic development. This inevitably
takes time, but the important thing is that work has begun, to
give the people a stake in the future. One of the first signs
of this will be polling stations for the Afghan presidential elections
opening in areas where previously that would have been impossible.
None of this could take place without the fearless
work of our troops. They will continue to face a tough and dangerous
battle and we will continue to place the highest priority on their
safety. I know that there are particular concerns over vehicles.
In the last three years, we have spent over £1 billion
in urgent operational requirements for vehicles. This includes
280 Mastiffs, which offer world leading protection against
mines and roadside bombs. In addition we almost doubled our helicopter
capability from late 2006 to early this year. Operational
funding comes from the Treasury Reserve, in addition to the defence
budget: Reserve funding for Afghanistan has increased from £700 million
in 2006-07 to £1.5 billion in 07-08 to £2.6 billion
in 08-09 and over £3 billion this yeardemonstrating
that we have continued to ensure that this operation has the financial
backing it needs. We will go further later this year with the
deployment of the new Ridgeback vehicles and Merlin helicopters.
While it takes time to train crews and adapt equipment to the
conditions, our defence forces are working as fast as they can.
Despite the tragic losses, morale remains highand
I can report the assessment of commanders on the ground: that
the current operations are succeeding in their objectives. They
are having a marked impact on the Taleban in central Helmand,
will improve security for the population In the run up to the
elections, and will allow longer term work on governance and development
But our brave service men and women know that
taking the fight to the enemy will unavoidably put them in harm's
way. The majority of recent casualtiesBritish and Americanhave
been sustained not in direct confrontation with the insurgency,
but from improvised explosive devices. From April we started to
deploy additional units to tackle this growing threat. I can also
assure the Committee that the Ministry of Defence is equally focused
on strengthening our approach in ways that will enable our forces
to have the greatest impact, including better campaign continuity,
further improvements in civilian-military integration, the closest
possible co-ordination with American forces, and above all a gradual
shift towards training and mentoring of the Afghan army and police,
who hold the key to long term success. We will of course continue
to review our force levels, based on the advice of our commanders
and discussions with allies.
The major challenges in both Afghanistan and
Pakistan, the links between them, and our responses, are set out
in more detail in the strategy the Government published in April,
a copy of which is attached. The broad nature of that strategy
reminds us of the importance both of operation Panther's Claw,
which understandably and rightly remains the focus of public attention,
but also of our work in other parts of Helmand where progress,
while taking time, is significant: roads are being built, shuras
are bringing proper justice not Taleban justice to the local people,
farmers are being persuaded to switch from poppy to wheatall
because of the security created by our forces.
It has been a very difficult summer and it is
not over. But if we are to deny Helmand to the Taleban in the
long term; if we are to help Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat
this vicious insurgency and prevent the return of Al Qaedathen
it is vital that the international community sees its commitment
It is a mark of how important this is to global
security and stability that over forty countries are in Afghanistan.
At the G8 meeting all members agreed on
the importance of the work now being done there, and I talked
directly with President Obama about the shared challenges we face.
I am determined that Britain will continue to live up to its obligations,
and with 9,000 troopsmore than twice as many as any
other nation besides America, serving with distinction where the
fighting is hardestI believe we are shouldering our share
of the burden in Afghanistan.
I also know that British forces will continue
to show the immense courage and professionalism for which they
are rightly renowned. And I hope that the Committeeand
indeed all parties in the Housewill stand with our Armed
Forces at this difficult time. I shall of course be happy to answer
any questions the Committee have on this.
I am sending this letter to all relevant Committee
Chairs, and I am placing a copy in the Library of both Houses.
Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP