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"What we need is a political push to match the military push we're now agreeing to".
Given that the United States is engaged in an exhaustive review of strategy, would it not have made more sense to make a statement on the strategy and on our allies' political commitments to this conflict before the statement on deployment that we have heard today?
The Prime Minister: I hope that in looking at the statement, the hon. Gentleman will agree that I have tried to set forward the strategy that we have to pursue. Since December 2007, when I first said that the strategy must be one of giving the Afghan people more control of their own affairs and of, over time and progressively, building up the Afghan army, police, security services and local government, we have tried to pursue that consistent strategy and to persuade our allies to adopt it. It is important, of course, that we allow the deployment of troops to happen as quickly as possible now that decisions have been made across the alliance. It is right that, side by side with the statement of strategy and why we are there, I announced the figures for troop numbers. As I said, the troops will be deployed to Afghanistan within the next few weeks. It is important that we can signal that that way ahead can start. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest that we should have waited longer; it is right to move ahead now.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): The Canadians are withdrawing combat forces from Kandahar in 2011. Kandahar, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is right next door to Helmand. Has my friend spoken to Stephen Harper, the Conservative Prime Minister of Canada, to ask him to reconsider, and what did Mr. Harper say?
The Prime Minister: I spoke to Mr. Harper at the Commonwealth conference and we had a discussion with other countries that were also present, including Australia, which is involved in Afghanistan, and New Zealand. It is my view that in Kandahar and Helmand there will be a greater number of troops next year than there are this year. Although some countries have made difficult decisions that they themselves have the responsibility to take, overall the number of troops in Helmand and Kandahar will rise.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD):
In a few months, the Afghan national army will be bigger than the British Army. The Prime Minister has mentioned the 43 nations
in the coalition, but he must accept that the vast majority of our major European NATO allies have not contributed troops on the ground in southern Afghanistan. May I ask him one specific question, which I believe will be a great help for our servicemen and women? May we have the deployment of more unmanned aerial vehicles-UAVs-to help detect terrorist activities?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is right to mention that. I think I mentioned in my statement that the numbers would rise. It is an essential part of our strategy that this surveillance takes place so that we can discover and then dismantle the IEDs that have caused so much damage to our forces. Everybody here knows that 80 per cent. of the deaths that have been caused over the past few months have been caused by IEDs. To track and dismantle them we need unmanned vehicles. We also need military intelligence and engineers in the theatre who are enabled to dismantle these weapons, which have caused so much destruction.
Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that his cogent explanation of our purpose in Afghanistan will command widespread understanding? Did I hear him right when I heard him say that the civilian aid programme will now work together with the military effort so that we can have a co-ordinated and unified approach under General McChrystal? Could this not be an opportunity to get around the corruption that at the moment so besets the Karzai regime and is the biggest threat to our being successful in our programme? Could that not be brought together under General McChrystal and delivered direct to the governance in the districts and provinces?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. It is essential that we tackle corruption in the Afghan Administration. The way to do that is to ensure that moneys that are being spent in Afghanistan are properly accounted for. When money goes to the Afghan Administration for spending within Afghanistan, there is an Afghan reconstruction trust fund that is audited by the World Bank, and we try to ensure that moneys are going for the purposes that are intended.
My hon. Friend's more general point about the co-ordination of military and civilian work is very important and that is what we want to look at as part of the agenda for the London conference. It is important that as we look at who will succeed the UN special representative in Afghanistan, we try to bring together the military and civilian work in a more co-ordinated way and that we have people in charge of the humanitarian and development work in Afghanistan on a consistent and co-ordinated basis. What my hon. Friend says will definitely be taken into account as we consider what we can achieve as part of the London conference.
I am pleased to note that members of the armed forces who have served in Afghanistan are now in the Public Gallery of this House. I want, as will the whole House, to thank them for everything that they do in the service of our country.
Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Having campaigned over the last four years for more protected vehicles with V-shaped hulls, I welcome the increased numbers of Mastiffs and Ridgbacks being delivered to theatre. Is the Prime Minister confident that the extra troops being sent to Afghanistan will not have the opposite effect to that which is intended-to exacerbate the situation, as has happened in the past? Could this not be history repeating itself?
The Prime Minister: No, I do not believe so. As I have said, we have had to adjust to a change in tactics by the Taliban. They are fighting what is in effect a guerrilla war and we have to change the techniques we use to deal with them. By having properly protected vehicles, surveillance of IEDs and intelligence backing up the military work of our troops in the field, I believe we are doing the right thing. The necessary surge in numbers in the parts of Afghanistan that have been subject to the greatest violence will be complemented by a political strategy, whereby if we take ground, it will increasingly be Afghan forces who hold the ground. Therefore, far from being seen as an occupying force, by partnering with Afghan forces we shall enable them over time to take security responsibility for their country.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister accept that a different analysis could be put on this? The vast increase in American troops due tomorrow-apparently-the increase of British troops to more than 10,000 and the demands on other countries look more and more like a colonial occupation, with all the demands that have been placed on the civilian administration in Afghanistan and apparently virtual control of it. Will that not just increase opposition there, in Pakistan and in neighbouring countries? Will it not actually make the situation worse, so that British troops may be there not just for another year, but for another eight years?
The Prime Minister: The question my hon. Friend has to ask himself is whether he believes that the Afghan Taliban, who are responsible for the denial of human rights, particularly to women, have the political support of the people of Afghanistan or not. All the recent evidence we have seen is that only a small minority of the population of Afghanistan support the Taliban. Even part of the insurgency includes people who are mercenaries, who are paid for their work and have no ideological commitment to what the Taliban say. In some cases, nationalists fighting with the Taliban can be detached from them by an effective Afghan Government and the process of reconciliation. If my hon. Friend starts from the proposition that the insurgency has massive support in Afghanistan, he may of course reach the conclusion that it is a mistake for us to work with the elected Afghan Government and the Afghan people to defeat that insurgency, but I start from the proposition that the Taliban have limited support in Afghanistan.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con):
Bearing in mind the fact that in the Prime Minister's last two statements to the House, he has quite rightly stressed the need for all our NATO allies to commit far more troops to Afghanistan and that he has also stressed that he would make great efforts to ensure that would happen,
does he understand that it is disappointing and disturbing for many of us that this afternoon he has been forced to be so coy and not reveal any of those extra troops and their countries?
The Prime Minister: I think the right hon. Gentleman is labouring the point. I have announced that eight countries have already agreed with the Secretary-General of NATO that they will provide troops additional to those that they have in Afghanistan. I have also said that the NATO Secretary-General expects more countries to announce that in the next few days. I have already given figures on the doubling of numbers of non-British and non-American troops in Afghanistan over the last two years and more to show that the international coalition is made up not just of Britain and America, but that a vast range of countries contributes to the coalition forces. We should wait and see what the announcements of other countries are before we rush to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman has rushed to.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): We are probably something less than six months away from a general election and I think our troops deserve to hear the House speak with one voice. Has the Prime Minister considered, therefore, bringing in the leaders of the main Opposition parties to agree on the strategy for Afghanistan to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a party political football?
The Prime Minister: I hope from what has been said today that a message is going to the country that despite our other differences, the leaders of the major political parties in this country are all supportive of the efforts our troops are making in Afghanistan, and that they agree that the strategy moving forward is one whereby Afghanistan itself must take more responsibility for its own affairs, that we must work with Pakistan as well as Afghanistan to deal with the terrorist threat in that region and that although the financial commitment is strenuous, it is right to support our troops and our forces as we are doing.
Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): Even with the 500 additional troops, total allied forces, including Afghans, do not exceed the 27,500 troops we had in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles. Given that Helmand province is four times the size of Northern Ireland and that the ratio of helicopters to troops is far lower than when I served in Northern Ireland, what makes the Prime Minister think that an extra 500 troops will make sufficient difference?
The Prime Minister:
Our strategy is not as the hon. Gentleman implies in his question; it is to build up Afghan forces so that they are in a position to take more security responsibility for their country. I am also telling the hon. Gentleman today that although there are 90,000 Afghan troops now, there will be, in our view, 135,000 or so by next year. It is our strategy to train up these Afghan forces so that they, by their professional ability, can hold the ground as well as take ground in Afghanistan over time. That is our strategy-not to rely exclusively on allied forces, but to have allied forces working with the Afghan army and a corruption-free
Afghan police over the next few years. So the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the strategy if he puts it the way he is doing.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should set out his strategy in a fully detailed White Paper to be published by the end of this year and that the White Paper should be debated on the Floor of the House on a votable and amendable motion before 28 January?
The Prime Minister: We did set out-in April, if I remember the date rightly-the proposals that we had for what we called the Afghanisation strategy. We have set that out in detail in the House. Of course, if Members of the House want to debate these things in more detail, it is right that we should do so, but I had understood-perhaps I have been misled-that the official Opposition support our strategy.
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): May I reinforce the comments of my colleague on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), about the role of other forces in Afghanistan? There was consistent criticism by British and US forces when we visited in April that NATO allies on a NATO mission were not playing their full role. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that the new troops going to Afghanistan from NATO and other countries will not be governed by so-called caveats? It is frankly no good having troops who will not fight at weekends, who will not fly at night and who go home at five o'clock.
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we expect other countries to do more, but he is also a fair man and he recognises that, over the last few weeks, we have been trying to persuade NATO allies and, indeed, allies outside NATO to do more. But I think we also have got to appreciate that, in the end, we have got to build up the Afghan forces, just as Pakistan has got to have a more professional approach to dealing with terrorism, and that is where the answer to the problems lies in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We can do a great deal and we will have to do more, but, in the end, we want Afghan people themselves to take more responsibility for their own affairs.
Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): Many of the extra EOD-explosive ordnance disposal-engineers the Prime Minister referred to will have to come from the Territorial Army. Now that he has seen the error of his ways and reversed his proposed cut to the TA, will he simply reassure the House that there will be no cuts to its budget next year?
The Prime Minister: I think we have made absolutely clear in the last few days the value we attach to the Territorial Army, given the decisions about money that we have made. But I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also consider that the priority at the moment is the effort in Afghanistan, and directing our resources to Afghanistan means also that we finance the Territorial Army for what it can do in Afghanistan. That is a decision that we have made. I had thought that the Opposition might be more-
The Prime Minister: I am grateful for the fact that the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) has served and I am grateful to all people who serve in the Territorial Army. It is important to recognise that, but it is also important to recognise that our resources have got to be prioritised towards what we are doing in Afghanistan.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): What proportion of Helmand does the British Army currently control, and how much more territory does the Prime Minister want them to win, with or without the help of the Afghan allies?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman puts the question in the context of territory. I would prefer to put it in the context of people, and people working with the British Army in the main population centres. Our strategy is to work with the Afghan people in the villages and towns-particularly in the towns-to make sure that they feel comfortable with the Afghan army gradually taking more responsibility, to have an Afghan police force that is more in tune with the needs of the people, and, as I said, to build up the shuras and Afghan local government with good provincial and district governors. That is the strategy that we want to pursue.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): The Prime Minister stated that there are 90,000 trained Afghan troops, but as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, just 10 per cent. of those troops are in Helmand province, yet 50 per cent. of the action-the hostilities-take place there. Surely it is time for more Afghan trained troops to be sent to Helmand province. The Prime Minister stated that there are 5,000 recruits coming. It will take two years to train those troops. Could he call President Karzai and get more Afghan troops down to Helmand now?
The Prime Minister:
I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstands what I am saying. First, there are 10,000 troops to be trained for partnering in Afghanistan's Helmand province over the next year, not 5,000. Half of these will be trained by the British, and half of them by the Americans. Some of the troops that will come to Helmand will already have been trained and they will be there for partnering. Some of them will come to be trained from the beginning. The commitment that I have from President Karzai is that he now sees that Helmand is a priority, and that troops will be dispatched from the rest of the country to Helmand where, as the
hon. Gentleman rightly says, a great deal of the violence is. It is in recognition of that that I have made today's announcements.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): In his statement the Prime Minister mentioned Yemen. He will know that Yemeni nationals form one of the largest groups operating within al-Qaeda, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Will the Prime Minister give a commitment that he will continue to work with the Government of Yemen to ensure that it does not become a failed state, and that Government Ministers and officials from Yemen will be invited to the London conference?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the terrorist threats that we see in different parts of the world. It is true that terrorists operating from Yemen, and in some cases then trained in Pakistan, are people whom we have had to pursue. It is also right that Somalia has become a major centre for the development of terrorist activity and that some of these groups are targeting Britain, but I repeat that the main centre-the epicentre, so to speak-of global terrorism remains Pakistan and the Pakistan-Afghan border. To take on the terrorist threat in Britain, we have to target Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the efforts that we put there into a political as well as military strategy are the most important things we can do. Of course we will not neglect the importance of Yemen and the dangers that I know exist there, but I emphasise that the important centre of global terrorism remains the one that we have been talking about today.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): The Prime Minister leads the House in noting the sacrifice given by our soldiers. Sadly, is not this initiative repeating the mistakes of a political generation ago in Vietnam, when people talked about the west being under threat, saying with all good will that we wanted to withdraw, but inevitably getting drawn closer and closer into a conflict that ultimately could not be won?
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