The Comprehensive Approach: the point of war is not just to win but to make a better peace - Defence Committee Contents


Making it work

128. Many witnesses told us that the Comprehensive Approach was working better on the ground than in London.[129] Professor Farrell said:

    I think you need to distinguish between where we are in Whitehall and the departments versus in the field. There has been tremendous progress in the field and in terms of planning and operations.[130]

129. The joint memorandum from the three Departments described how the Comprehensive Approach in the Democratic Republic of Congo had been used successfully.

    […] the DFID, MoD and FCO team recognises no border between development, military and political issues. They have pushed the boundaries for joined up work not just by having joint policy teams but also creating joint management functions and a joint communications unit to handle press and public affairs. The UK earned a reputation for speaking with one voice and linking political pressure and programmes to influence partners towards a positive result. The departments continue to work together to deliver our contribution to international efforts to secure a lasting peace in DRC by pooling analysis, ideas and problem solving and shifting funding flexibly to take advantage of opportunities. Such collaboration does not end with the cross-Whitehall conflict prevention initiative.

It cited as an example of how the Departments work closely together on a project to rebuild a vital bridge in the eastern part of that country.

    Although funded through DFID's infrastructure programme, much of the expertise needed to deliver the project is being sourced through MoD's links with the military engineer community. This comprehensive approach has contributed to providing the leverage needed to encourage the UN locally to provide the construction manpower. Overall, this means the project can be delivered quicker, more effectively and at less cost than would otherwise be the case.[131]

130. Professors Farrell and Chalmers described the difficulties in the use of the Comprehensive Approach in Afghanistan together with some of the improvements which had been made. In particular, they commented on the need for good planning but also on the difficulties posed, especially in making the plan stick. Professor Farrell said:

    The Joint Plan for Helmand was led by the PCRU [Post Conflict Reconstruction Unit, now called the Stabilisation Unit] involved in collaboration with PJHQ. It was highly comprehensive in its generation. It had a flaw in terms of connecting what were those aspirations at an operational level generated in Britain with what was happening on the ground. The Helmand Road Map was designed to address that. The primary authors were despatched by the Stabilisation Unit into Lashkar Gar and they worked with 52 Brigade and they took 52 Brigade's campaign plan, its operational design, and built around that a reformed plan for Helmand. Both of those are great examples of comprehensive planning actually. I think both at an operational and tactical level as well we are seeing much more of a comprehensive approach.[132]

131. In their joint memorandum, the three Departments also cited improvements in the co-ordination in Helmand since the establishment of the Civil-Military Mission.

    One good example of the Comprehensive Approach being used in practice is the UK Civil-Military Mission Helmand (CMMH) in Lashkar Gah. The CMMH is the integrated structure that brought together the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and the military led Task Force Helmand (TFH), and it co-ordinates the efforts of DFID, FCO, MoD, and other international partners, including the US, Denmark and Estonia, in a comprehensive approach to stabilisation including a seamless package of reconstruction assistance for Helmand province. Staff are also based in five Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) across Helmand Province in Gereshk, Musa Qala, Garmsir, Nad-e-Ali and Sangin.

    It provides a mechanism, through joint teams, for tracking and driving implementation across the thematic and geographical strands of the Helmand Roadmap.[133]

132. We asked the PUSs if the success of the PRTs was too dependent on the particular individual leading it. In essence, they acknowledged the importance of good leadership but said that leaders were not the whole story.

    Dr Shafik: There is no doubt that leadership matters and I think we have seen when we have had good leaders of PRTs that they are more effective. Having a cadre of people who are experienced in these situations is quite important. […] But leaders cannot be the whole story and so the work that we are doing through the Stabilisation Unit and building up the civilian cadre and having other people in the PRT who have experience working in this comprehensive inter-departmental way will reinforce the fact when you do not have the strongest leadership. So I think you have to work on both fronts—the leaders as well as the worker bees that are also need to be embedded with a comprehensive spirit.[134]

    Sir Bill Jeffrey: I think the nature of this beast is such that the person you put in charge of it is going to have a profound impact on how successful this is. […] The way to make it stronger and more consistently effective is by […] growing a group of staff who have done quite a bit of this sort of thing.[135]

    Sir Peter Ricketts: Leadership is always important in these operations […] But we also need to have systems in place so that it is not totally reliant on any one individual and there is a strong enough system so that cooperation will work in addition to there being a good leader at the top. I think it is very important and a very powerful signal that the next civilian leader of our operation in Helmand will be a DFID member of staff.[136]

133. In recognising the importance of Afghanistan to the UK, DFID has redistributed its aid funding for development, reconstruction and stabilisation so that Afghanistan receives a greater proportion than other poor countries and a higher proportion of that aid is spent in Helmand. Dr Shafik explained the current distribution of aid money in Afghanistan.

    If DFID was treating Afghanistan like a normal country and we try to allocate aid on an objective criteria based on how much poverty there is in that country and how good its policies are and how effectively we think the money could be used we would probably allocate it one-tenth of what we give it now. So that gives you a sense of proportion; we are giving it ten times more than we normally would if we were treating it as an ordinary country. If you look at Helmand, Helmand actually only constitutes about five per cent of the population of Afghanistan. We are giving it about a quarter of our aid programme, so again disproportionately putting more effort in given the priority that it has.[137]

134. As discussed in Part 2 of this Report, in the early days in Iraq and Afghanistan it was difficult for the FCO and DFID to identify people willing and able to deploy to theatre. In addition, it was difficult to find civilians with the relevant skills to deploy to carry out the reconstruction work in all fields. This has improved with good work being done by DFID and the Stabilisation Unit to provide more civilian staff on the ground in Afghanistan. Dr Shafik said that staff were working better together:

    […] there has been a steady improvement in terms of the level of interaction with DFID staff actively engaging with the military in terms of pre-deployment and in terms of training programmes. […] I think that if you see the operations in action in Helmand, for example, or in Basra most people would say that they are some of the best examples of civilian-military collaboration anywhere in the world.[138]

135. One area of concern is that military and civilian personnel serve different length tours. The majority of the Armed Forces do six months with at most one break (called rest and recuperation) while civilians stay for at least a year but do six weeks in theatre followed by two weeks off. This difference has led to some difficulties in co-ordination and the continuity of knowledge within the military. In order to help address the difficulties in co-ordination, the MoD has recently extended the lengths of some key officer postings to one year but combat tours remain at six months.[139]

136. Professor Farrell told us that some UK commanders felt that they did not have enough authority or access to funds to carry out development work, unlike their American counterparts who had access to Commanders Emergency Response Pool (CERP) funding.[140] The American military were thus better resourced and empowered to carry out development work. We asked the PUSs if there was any conflict in the way the Americans and the British operated. Dr Shafik said that they did operate differently:

    […] the Afghan government's budget this year is about $4 billion. The CERP programme, the US military walking-around money, as they call it, is about $750 million. It is equivalent to all the revenues raised by the Afghan state. There is something wrong with that picture, and our view is that unless the Afghan government is seen to be delivering security and basic services to its own population it will never be seen as legitimate and credible and able to have a writ over their country, and so ultimately we feel very strongly that the majority of our aid money should go through the Afghan government and that is a difference in approach from the American approach. We are actively discussing this with the Americans and the new administration is more sympathetic to this approach because they realise that in the end your only exit strategy is for the Afghans to do it themselves, and so unless we get them used to managing money and raising their own revenue and spending it responsibly you will be there forever.[141]

137. Dr Shafik disagreed with the approach taken by the Americans calling it "misguided" and saying that its effect was "transient" and not sustainable unless followed by longer term development.[142]

138. We asked Brigadier Messenger, a former commander in Helmand, whether the Forces in Helmand had sufficient resources. He said that he had limited sums devolved to him to spend and that bigger projects were funded from the Stabilisation Aid Fund devolved to staff in Kabul and Lashkar Gah.[143] He had not looked with any envy on the CERP funds available to American commanders and, indeed, thought that cash would not necessarily avoid the need for combat.

    I do not buy into this "go in with cash and you might avoid the need for combat" because to my mind to go in with cash, there is no guarantee that that cash will go to the right place. In some ways, having that approach rewards instability and may even be counterproductive in certain areas.[144]

139. We asked about positive outcomes on the ground from the use of the Comprehensive Approach. Dr Shafik said that the wheat programme in Helmand had been successful.

    In Afghanistan the latest reporting is that they have had the best wheat harvest this century in Afghanistan and they have produced 6.3 million tonnes, making Afghanistan self-sufficient in wheat for the first time ever. And poppy seems to be going down. Over the last year we have had a programme with Governor Mangal to distribute wheat seed in Helmand. […] I think that that is an example where that is a programme that we develop with the Governor in collaboration with the FCO working closely with the Governor and his advisers and the military were clearly key for providing the security envelope for that distribution programme and we could not have done that unless that had been a collaborative effort.[145]

140. There has been a significant increase in the cultivation of wheat and a fall in that of opium. The FCO has funded seven annual reports into the changing pattern of crop cultivation in Afghanistan. The latest report, published in May 2009, concluded that, although opium production had decreased, improvements in security were needed to prevent a return to the level of opium production in less propitious times.

    Across much of Afghanistan opium poppy is being replaced by wheat in the 2008-09 growing season—a pattern of crop substitution that was already evident in some parts of the country the previous year. This is largely as a result of the fall in opium prices and the sharp rise in wheat prices over the last eighteen months. […]

    Unfortunately, the conditions for enduring reductions in cultivation are currently not in place in many areas of Afghanistan, and the potential for production to return to many of the areas declared poppy free in 2007 and 2008 is very real. It remains to be seen how those in both the development and drug control communities might respond to the threat and the reality of resurgence in cultivation in the coming years. It is certainly hoped that the response will be one that focuses on delivering durable reductions in opium production through improvements in social protection, basic security, incomes and employment rather than simply delivering short term reduction in the area under cultivation through measures that might expose rural communities to greater risk and endanger their continued support for the Afghan state.[146]

141. Dr Shafik also pointed to the success of the Comprehensive Approach in Sierra Leone.

    There we had a joint approach across HMG to transform the security sector, both the Ministry of Defence, the Army and the police and the Office of National Security, and that was a joint programme run by the Ministry of Defence through the IMAT Programme; it was led by the British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone who oversaw this team effort. I think it is no accident that as a result of that strengthening of the security sector in Sierra Leone at the last elections there was an orderly transition of power, the Opposition Party won and they took office in a peaceful manner and there were no security incidents as a result. I think that is another good example where the collaborative approach across defence, diplomacy and development resulted in an extraordinary transition in less than a decade in one of the poorest countries in the world.[147]

142. We note the positive examples of the use of the Comprehensive Approach in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone, and recently, in Afghanistan. These success stories should be brought together to inform the development of a strengthened Comprehensive Approach doctrine. Positive outcomes in Afghanistan should also be used to inform the public debate about the success of operations there.

Working with NGOs

143. NGOs are involved in almost all situations where the Comprehensive Approach is likely to be used and as such departments need to promote good working relationships with them. In the joint memorandum, the Departments told us that they met regularly with international and non-governmental organisations, both in-country and in London, to ensure these were aware of the UK's objectives in particular countries or regions and those of the international community.

    These meetings are valuable in exchanging perceptions, de-conflicting initiatives and, where appropriate, identifying common objectives and how best to coordinate in their achievement. The NGO-Military Contact Group also meets regularly to cover generic issues, including enhancing mutual understanding and, where appropriate, better ways of working together and the development of a more comprehensive approach to issues.[148]

144. As part of this inquiry, we asked the National Audit Office to undertake research on our behalf to identify the views of NGOs about the Comprehensive Approach. Nine NGOs and one body representing NGOs working in areas such as Afghanistan and Iraq participated. Many NGOs told us that they believe that working too closely with the military and others adversely impacted on the effectiveness of humanitarian aid and, in some cases, the safety of their staff. They were willing to co-operate with the Government on the planning and co-ordination of efforts, particularly in the UK, but were unwilling to work collectively alongside the military and DFID.[149]

145. Many of the NGOs identified a number of potential or actual benefits of the Comprehensive Approach. These included the potential to bridge the gap between insecurity and security and thus create a stable environment in which humanitarian and development activities could be conducted. They also thought that the Comprehensive Approach could address both the initial stabilisation of a country and the subsequent risk of the country slipping back into conflict. They cited the following additional benefits:

  • co-ordinated activity across defence (military), development and diplomatic arms of government;
  • coherence of government policy as an obvious and important objective; and
  • the creation of conditions for a more inclusive consultation of key stakeholders in a way that could make an intervention more responsive to the needs of the civilians on the ground.[150]

146. The NGOs, however, did express concerns about the effectiveness of the Comprehensive Approach when applied to a country in conflict. In particular, they were concerned that the Comprehensive Approach impacted on the effectiveness of humanitarian and development aid in general, and the NGOs' ability to undertake their role safely and effectively. In particular, NGOs said that the Comprehensive Approach could:

  • distort aid flows, with resources being moved away from meeting the greatest humanitarian and development needs towards stabilisation activities;
  • reduce the effectiveness of aid spending in that quick impact projects do not address key development challenges and, therefore, are poor value for money;
  • blur the lines between military and humanitarian organisations. This blurring can impact on the local population's perceptions of the neutrality, impartiality and independence of NGOs, and thus on the NGOs' ability to operate effectively and safely in countries where there is a conflict. Consequently, NGO access to vulnerable and /or remote populations in conflict situations can be hindered;
  • increase the militarisation of civilian settings or facilities, such as hospitals, in the host country. For example, the presence of armed private security providers in Afghan hospitals (to protect DFID staff) can turn the facilities, and the Afghan users of those facilities, into targets for belligerents; and
  • result in governments, including their military organisations, undertaking a greater role in the provision of humanitarian assistance. This increased role could be at odds with international guidelines and agreements (for example, authored by the UN) on the provision of humanitarian assistance in general, and the relationship between humanitarian and military actors in particular. Amongst other things, the guidelines and agreements seek to ensure that differences between humanitarian and military actors are recognised and respected and there is space for humanitarian organisations to operate safely and effectively.[151]

147. Both Professors Chalmers and Farrell agreed with much of what the NGOs said.

    Professor Chalmers: There is clearly a tension between those who would argue that they should be integrated into a more general approach and the NGOs themselves who would say that they are quite prepared to co-ordinate but they are independent actors with different objectives and indeed sometimes have problems when the actions of the military appear to increase their insecurity [in Afghanistan].

    Professor Farrell: I would have thought the problem there is that a lot of DFID's funding goes into the NGO community to then provide the services that are required. What is very important practically for all the NGOs, with only a few exceptions, is the appearance that they are independent, that they are not connected to some kind of national form of military effort. […] It is fundamental to their ability to operate because they have to be seen as neutral because they have to go to dangerous areas and work with people. If that impartiality was lost then their physical security would be threatened and also their ability to work with the locals.[152]

148. We asked DFID how difficult it was to work with NGOs. Dr Shafik stressed that her department was sensitive to the concerns of NGOs, and that they operated under internationally agreed guidelines when working with NGOs.

    Many NGOs, particularly the humanitarian ones, place a very high premium on their independence and neutrality, and it is the key to their own security. We consult with them regularly. They have said quite clearly that it is very important for them not to be seen as agents of the military because their security is then jeopardised. They provide a vital service and the more NGOs we have operating in places like Afghanistan the better off we are, and in order to work with them we have […] developed guidelines for engagement with NGOs in armed conflict for Afghanistan and the ISAF troops have signed up to those guidelines.[153]

149. We asked witnesses from NATO and the European Union how they managed their relationships with NGOs.

    Mr Howard (NATO): Certainly in my time in NATO we have had a number of engagements with NGOs on very specific issues, for example to do with civilian casualties in Afghanistan. I think we are now broadening that into a much more systematic relationship with NGOs to talk about the overall plan or the overall sense of progress inside Afghanistan, but I know that actually on the ground in Afghanistan there is pretty regular contact with commanders and NGOs, well recognising that some NGOs will always have difficulties about working with the military, for their own reasons will always be very keen on the concept of humanitarian space and, therefore, the need to keep a certain amount at arms' length. Personally, I think there is quite a long way for us to go in this area, but we are making progress, particularly on the ground.[154]

    Mr Cooper (EU): I think for us the place where we do this best at the moment is in Kosovo, where we have had quite a long preparation time. We have created a kind of forum of NGOs and consulted them, and we work in partnership with the main NGOs on the ground in Kosovo, and that works very well.[155]

    Mr Williams (NATO): […]the UN hosts a forum of NGOs at which ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] is present and in which some form of co-operation is developed. One issue that has irritated NGOs has been the fact that some ISAF nations have driven around in white vehicles, for example, therefore confusing the status of ISAF with the status of NGOs, but we came to a very amicable solution to that where ISAF has issued instructions for the repainting of its vehicles. So there are mechanisms and fora for working things out. […] So I would not say there was a huge gap between NGOs, but their purposes and modus operandi are slightly different. They need a certain space and distance from ISAF in order to function, in order to be recognised for their specificity. Sometimes on the ISAF side there is a sense of obligation towards the NGOs. If they get in trouble it will be ISAF, often, that may be required to help them out. I think the relationship is balanced, as long as everyone understands what the relationship is. I think the biggest problem the NGOs have is that the military turn-over in ISAF is so huge that, as they develop relationships with particular points of contact, then that point of contact goes and the continuity goes and the ability to build up a fruitful, stable, more co-operative relationship is hampered, not by ideological reasons often, but just by practical reasons of change-over in ISAF staff. NGOs tend to be much more present for a greater period and often have more experience than some of the ISAF officers that they are dealing with.[156]

150. Lord Malloch-Brown told us that disassociating themselves from the military did not necessarily make aid workers safe.

    [There is] this argument by NGOs and UN humanitarian agencies, which they make as strongly inside the UN as to you as a Committee, which is for this need for humanitarian separation and space, I am sympathetic to it, although in truth I do not think it is altogether practical, because I am not sure that people who want to kill a foreigner in these situations stop first to ask, "Are you from DFID or Oxfam?" Also, the indiscriminate nature of the weaponry now being used, these IEDs kill everybody who is in a vehicle going across that area. While I respect the argument, I do not think it would give them as much protection as they assert. They would not be treated as neutral combatants, very sadly. Further proof of that is that even the Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which are the most neutral, if you like, and most humanitarian, have in recent years come under attack and lost lives.[157]

151. Further tensions that need to be recognised may result from the role NGOs play in civilian society in support of regional and local government. This may be most evident in Afghanistan where the ISAF mission has a clear role to support the national Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

152. The MoD, DFID and the FCO recognise the importance of the independence of NGOs and that care should be exercised when coordinating activities with them. Nonetheless, NGOs are an important component in the use of the Comprehensive Approach and have much to offer, not only in terms of humanitarian aid work but in their knowledge and understanding of the region and the needs of local people. The three Departments should expand their work with NGOs to identify better ways to draw on their expertise and to ensure that each side is aware of the other's activities without compromising the safety of aid workers on the ground.

Working with local nationals

153. To make change happen on the ground, it is crucial to work with the local community and if possible to build on the structures and systems in place. This work needs to be conducted at three levels, local, regional and national. It is not straightforward to identify what local people want. There are many needs in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, with many competing factions and voices. The local population will have been significantly affected by the original conflict and the current security situation. It is important that the capability and confidence of local people is built up in all fields such as security, governance, law and order and development. The capacity to undertake reconstruction needs to be developed in local authorities.

154. Professor Chalmers believed that it was central to work closely with local nationals and to build up their local capacity in reconstruction, security, governance and law and order as the UK is not in the business of occupation and colonisation. He also said that the UK had a good record of channelling more aid through the Afghan state than other allies.[158]

155. At the start of the conflict in Afghanistan there was a limited understanding of the needs and expectations of the Afghan people and insufficient knowledge of the recent history and culture of Afghanistan. In an address to the International Institute for Strategic Studies on 1 October 2009, General McChrystal stressed how complex and how serious the situation in Afghanistan was. He pointed out areas of tremendous progress such as the construction of roads, the provision of clean water, access to healthcare and education but he also reported that many villagers live in fear. He said that "We must redefine the fight. The objective is the will of the Afghan people. We must protect the Afghan people from all threats: from the enemy; and from our own actions." The changed approach by the USA recognised that reconstruction was not a secondary activity and that civilian casualties and collateral damage had a significant impact on the ability to do reconstruction and stabilisation work, and, ultimately, to the withdrawal of allied forces from Afghanistan.[159]

156. An important component of working with local people is the ability to communicate directly with them in their own language. We asked the FCO, DFID and the MoD about the number of personnel who were fluent in the various languages spoken in Afghanistan. It was apparent that there had been very few people who spoke Pashtu in the early years of reconstruction work in Afghanistan.[160] Dr Shafik told us that DFID relied "very heavily on local staff; we have more Afghan staff working for us in Afghanistan than we have UK staff, so a lot of the language issues are addressed by the fact that much of our work is actually being done by Afghans".[161]

157. The FCO told us that "until 2002 we did not have an embassy in Kabul at all and so the need for Pashtu speakers lapsed and our cadre dissipated; so we now need to re-establish it".[162] We asked the three Departments for details of the numbers of personnel speaking the various languages. The results are summarised in the table below.

Table: Language skills1 in the MoD, DFID, the FCO and the Stabilisation Unit

Department Pashtu Dari Farsi
  Pashto is primarily spoken in the east, south and southwest of Afghanistan Dari, a Persian language, is most commonly spoken in the northern and western part of Afghanistan and Kabul Another commonly spoken Persian language
DFID   7 UK based staff in Kabul are learning Dari2   
Stabilisation Unit 18 speakers on the database 21 speakers on the database   
The FCO 5 members of staff trained and a further 4 in training 23 staff trained and 2 in training 36 staff trained and 7 in training
The Armed Forces and the MoD3 In 2005-06, 34 personnel attended courses in Pashto at intermediate or higher level In 2005-06, 39 attended courses in Farsi/Dari at intermediate or higher   
  In 2006-07, 38 at intermediate or higher and 108 at basic In 2006-07, 52 at intermediate or higher and 8 at basic   
  In 2007-08, 81 at intermediate or higher and 124 at basic In 2007-08, 27 at intermediate or higher and 3 at basic   
  In 2008-09, 59 at intermediate or higher and 116 at basic In 2008-09, 37 at intermediate or higher and 1 at basic   

Source: Memorandum from the MoD, DFID and the FCO[163]

1.As at 9 September 2009
2.DFID has access to local staff who speak Pashto and Dari in Kabul and Lashkar Gar
3. In addition to the courses above , there is a Basic Patrol Course in Pashto for 250 personnel per brigade—500 annually

158. We consider the ability to communicate directly with local nationals to be important. We recognise that there has been additional language training for deployment to Afghanistan since 2003 but progress, particularly within DFID and the FCO, has been unimpressive. The three Departments should give the matter higher priority both in current and future operations.

159. We asked to what extent witnesses thought that the various institutional players in a comprehensive approach could work successfully with local nationals. Professors Chalmers and Farrell recognised working with locals as key to the operation of the Comprehensive Approach.

    Professor Chalmers: The only hope for success in Afghanistan or Iraq is a situation in which local people, who have more stake in their security than we do, create a sustainable process. […] The key to that success is finding ways of helping to build a state. Some of the interesting dilemmas, for example in aid, and I think the UK has a relatively good record of channelling more money through the state, is in helping build up fragile local capacity rather than always going for an easy option of getting contractors and NGOs in to build things on behalf of Western donors but not actually connecting with local governments. [164]

160. Professor Farrell also told us that there was often a tension between what was needed by the Afghan government in terms of large scale projects and what was needed by the local population. He explained that one Brigade in Helmand had refined an American tool called the Tactical Conflict Assessment Framework for identifying local needs and had trialled it in Lashkar Gar successfully. The basis for the tool is engagement with local nations and key leaders in the area to ask what kind of services they required and who should deliver them. The methodology is not perfect and was subsequently dropped by the military.[165]

161. There are inevitable tensions between local and national priorities, in particular, when setting up the rule of law and governance and the military. We asked Professor Chalmers whether these tensions could be resolved or had to be worked through.

    I think it is the latter. It is certainly not resolved. We are in a very difficult situation in which we are inevitably major players and ISAF more generally are major players in Afghan politics, but Afghan politics, as in any country but even more so, is riven with tension and conflict and it is difficult for us to behave in ways which do not favour one actor over another, but in particular in Afghanistan there is a real issue and a debate about the extent of devolution of powers to provincial or sub-provincial levels. The provincial governors are appointed by the President.[166]

    In particular, in the case of Helmand, how far do you give weight to the views of local actors as distinct from national Afghan government actors? I do not think there is a simple answer to that.[167]

162. When asked about how well the international forces had been able to work with the Afghan people, General McColl told us that there had been some progress in areas such as health, education and economic growth but, in other areas such as governance and counter­narcotics, progress had not been satisfactory.

    If I take politics for the first example, when we first arrived there [in 2001-02], there was nothing in the ministries—no desks, no people, no middle-class—the politicians were people who had been at war with each other for the last God knows how many years; there was simply no governance at all. Since then we have gone through a series of Jirgas and elections and there is a proper sense of governance, of politics, although I absolutely take the point that the governance at the lower level is extremely corrupt and needs a great deal more work, but there has been political development there. If you go on to the areas of health, education, economic growth in terms of the percentage of growth annually since we arrived in 2002, in all of these areas there has been significant growth, and I think it needs to be taken within that context. You can hone down on areas, and security in the south of the country over recent times is certainly one, counter-narcotics is another where progress has not been satisfactory, and, indeed, just recently in the south there has been a significant increase in the number of incidents, so it is a patchwork, but I think if you are going to get a satisfactory picture of the work of the Comprehensive Approach you need to take it over a significant period of time to give yourself a coherent picture.[168]

163. Mr Williams also told us that local people would not notice the operation of the Comprehensive Approach but rather its results.

    Comprehensive means that all the organisations and players, including to some extent NGOs, are working towards a common idea of what has to be achieved according to strategies which, after a number of years, are now in place across a range of development goals. So the man by the side of the river may not notice whether NATO, or the EU, or the UN is delivering something, but the overall effect should be that what is delivered should increasingly be part of a consistent, coherent strategy which has been developed by the Afghan Government with the support of the various international actors.[169]

164. Mr Cooper explained the position from the EU perspective.

    I am aware of only one part of the picture, but I know that the European Union aid programmes over the years have actually been building up an Afghan NGO to do election monitoring. There will be European monitors out there as well, but the bulk of the monitoring will actually be done by Afghans, which is the best way to do it.[170]

165. Mr Mollett explained that Care International worked closely with local nationals in Afghanistan in order to make the aid sustainable in the long term.

    Certainly within Care we have had some really interesting experiences in working both with traditional shuras and then establishing community development committees or councils in Afghanistan, also partly as an implementing partner of the National Solidarity Programme. In a way it goes back to the point I was making in my previous response […] where I drew the contrast between private sector contractors that may be hired to work to deliver a project to meet a short-term objective set by the military or a political actor at the international level, or agencies that are trying to work with communities on the basis of the needs and the interests that they articulate, and that is the basis on which we work.[171]

166. Polls by the BBC and others reported in 2009 that the opinions of local nationals about their own safety and their views about foreign forces had worsened in recent years, particularly in those areas where security was still poor such as the south of Afghanistan.[172] However, the most recent poll by the BBC and others highlighted greater optimism from local Afghan people although many of the poll's results were not as high as those in 2005 and 2006. Seventy per cent of those interviewed said they believed that Afghanistan was going in the right direction compared with 40% a year before. Seventy-one per cent said they were optimistic about how the situation would be in 12 months compared with 5% who said it would be worse.[173]

167. The MoD, the FCO and DFID together with the Stabilisation Unit should provide training and education on the culture, history and politics of areas where their staff will be deployed on the Comprehensive Approach. For instance, training could draw upon the knowledge and expertise of personnel, including those of other countries and in particular the USA, who have served in Afghanistan, in some cases on more than one occasion. This training should be in addition to appropriate language training.


168. In many areas requiring post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation, there are specific issues relating to women, in particular, where there has been a significant period of conflict or oppression of women. The use of the Comprehensive Approach must take into account the particular needs of women over and above those of the rest of the local population.

169. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, particularly Article 8(c), calls on all actors negotiating and implementing peace agreements to adopt a gender perspective ensuring the respect for the human rights of women and girls, particularly as they relate to the constitution, the electoral system, the police and the judiciary. Dr Shafik told us that the UK was one of the first countries to have a national action plan for implementing UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 which is led by the FCO. She also described their approach generally and, more particularly, in Afghanistan where they had had success in some areas but less so in getting women involved in the political process and reconciliation.

    The Stabilisation Unit includes training on UNSCR 1325 in all of its training programmes as part of pre-deployment, so before we deploy people we train them and sensitise them to these issues. We have gender expertise in our civilian database. We do lesson-learning on working with women in countries in conflict like Iraq, like Afghanistan, like Sudan, and we share that around. Clearly, in Afghanistan we have to adapt the way we work. Probably the biggest impact we have had is getting two million Afghan girls into schools, although, as you know, that is a struggle because the Taliban consistently target teachers of girls and have assassinated dozens of them in the last couple of years. However, we also do other things. For example, we have a micro finance programme in Afghanistan which we have been running for many years, the vast majority of the beneficiaries of which are Afghan women who have proved to be incredibly creditworthy and repay their loans and have developed small businesses as a result of that, but clearly we have adapted that programme by having female loan officers who go out and collect the payments. We have found ways to work with women in Afghanistan. We have probably been less successful at having them participate in the political reconciliation and political process. They have probably been less visible. We have been more successful in other countries, like Sudan, where we supported making sure that women were at the table in the Darfur peace talks. We had more room to manoeuvre in that context.[174]

170. The FCO told us that it was responsible for the UK's Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 and that it had undertaken the following activities in Afghanistan:

    To encourage the Afghan Government to implement 1325 we are funding various programmes—including a £500,000 women's empowerment programme—to promote women's equal participation in governance and to build awareness of women's rights among civil society and policy makers. It is positive that because of a constitutional quota, over a quarter of the MPs in the Lower House of the Afghan Parliament are women.

    Across Afghanistan, the UK supports the representation of women in our justice projects and programmes. For example, the proportion of female judges at the Criminal Justice Task Force, which investigates and prosecutes narcotics cases, is far above the national estimated figure of 3% women in the judiciary.

    In Helmand, UK advisers are supporting the development of justice systems that can provide access for women. UK supported legal education initiatives are raising awareness of human rights, including rights and access to justice for women. Advisers with gender expertise are ensuring that gender issues are an important element of all our capacity-building work with the justice sector.

    The UK programme in Helmand recognises the specific challenges faced by women working in the justice sector, including the Afghan National Police and the prison service. For example, Military Defence Police officers are mentoring female officers through firearms training and 10 week literacy training has been delivered to female officers.

    The UK has also assisted in developing a provincial women's group, focusing particularly on the rights of women and their children. One of the first elements to their work has been to provide literacy and vocational training to women in Lashkar Gah prison. Female prisoners there are also accessing legal representation for the first time, following the UK's support to the Independent Legal Foundation-Afghanistan.

    We will continue to lobby the current, and any future, Afghan government on women's rights issues—as we did with the Shia Family Law. That law has not come into force and we welcome President Karzai's announcement that the law will be changed to bring it in line with the Afghan Constitution; which guarantees equal rights for women.[175]

171. We asked, in terms of developing and promoting the Comprehensive Approach, how essential it was to focus on some of the more entrenched cultural views on the role of women in civil society in Afghanistan, and whether this was crucial to achieving peace and reconciliation or a luxury on the way to having a military, stable and secure region. Mr Teuten replied:

    It is neither a luxury nor the single most important thing. It plays a role. Certainly, the attempts that have been made in one of the districts that Gordon Messenger mentioned to involve women in the bottom-up governance arrangements through the shura offer the potential for contributing significantly to promoting better governance and greater stability. So efforts are being made, but it is not the number one priority. But equally, as I say, it is not a luxury.[176]

172. Mr Howard told us that the implementation of UNSCR 1325 was high on NATO's agenda.

    In addition to that, going beyond Afghan, the NATO military chain of command have also tried to embed the concepts of UNSCR 1325 into their planning. I know that my military counterpart, the Director of the International Military Staff, has been working very hard on that. […] On the ground there are various statistics which are brought out about the number of girls that are going to school in Afghanistan. I know it is at a much lower level, but that, I think, is evidence of progress, and the other thing I would draw attention to was a very specific criticism made by the international community, including at the NATO summit in Strasbourg, of President Karzai when there was an attempt to introduce a new law, the pro-Shia law, which you have probably heard about, and that has had impact, because the President has said, "Hold fire. We will not do that." So I am not suggesting that there is not much more to do, but both the particular issue of UNSCR 1325 and the position of women in Afghanistan and in zones of conflict more generally, I think, are quite high on NATO's agenda.[177]

Mr Cooper explained from an EU perspective.

    I just wanted to say that we have specific directives on 1325 and 1820 in the European Union. I think there may be a couple of exceptions, but each of our missions has a human rights and/or gender adviser. In some cases I find that I get continual pleas from the heads of the mission: can they have more women in the mission. For example, we were running the border crossing; we were monitoring the border crossing at Rafah, between Gaza and Egypt. It was essential that we had some women officers there as well to handle the women who were crossing. There are many cases in the Congo where we are dealing with sexual violence, in which we need more women than we have at the moment, and they are vital in what you try to do.[178]

173. DFID emphasised to us how work in Afghanistan had resulted in significant numbers of girls being allowed to go to school.[179] The Department later told us that enrolled pupil numbers in Afghanistan had grown from one million in 2001 to 6.6 million in 2009, 36% of whom were girls. No girls had been allowed to go to school under the Taliban.[180]

174. We endorse the Government's intentions with regard to the support of women, in line with UNSCR 1325, within the Comprehensive Approach and expect to see explicit reference to this in the Comprehensive Approach policy and doctrine that we call for earlier in this Report.


175. The MoD and the Armed Forces, the FCO and DFID all recognise that engagement in future conflicts is likely to require the use of the Comprehensive Approach. It is, therefore essential that a shared understanding exists across Government and, in particular, within the MoD, the FCO and DFID about what the Comprehensive Approach is. This must be underpinned by joint policy and doctrine. In recent years, the UK has always operated in coalition with allies and international organisations making a common understanding of methods and desired outcomes and of the Comprehensive Approach crucial. The UK has been at the forefront of thinking on and the development of the Comprehensive Approach, and it must continue to work with allies to embed its use in the major international organisations—the UN, NATO and the EU.

176. The forthcoming Strategic Defence Review should form part of a wider and more comprehensive security review looking at the UK's desire and ability to participate in operations requiring the use of the Comprehensive Approach. The Review presents an opportunity to ensure that the Comprehensive Approach is embedded in future Government policy and that the Armed Forces are designed, trained and equipped to perform their role in such operations.

177. It is crucial that, in all situations requiring the Comprehensive Approach, certain elements should be agreed at the very earliest stage based on a thorough and all-embracing assessment of the situation. These elements include leadership, objectives, a defined end state, strategy, tactics and the nature of personnel required. This assessment may need to be amended in response to changing threats and other circumstances but this should not prevent an early assessment taking place which reflects the needs and expectations of local nationals. Communication is a key component of any strategy and needs to include plans for conveying the strategic intent of the mission to local nationals and also to the British public in an informative but fair and balanced way.

178. There is evidence that the Comprehensive Approach is beginning to work in Afghanistan and elsewhere but there is still much to develop especially in Whitehall and in working multi-nationally with allies and international organisations. We have heard a lot said about the importance of the Approach but if it is to continue to work in Afghanistan and in future areas of conflict, then the policy must be given the leadership, political clout and resources it needs. In responding to this Report, the MoD must set out how the Comprehensive Approach is being addressed in the Strategic Defence Review.

129   Qq 88, 217-218, 282 Back

130   Q 88 Back

131   Ev 85  Back

132   Q 14 Back

133   Ev 85  Back

134   Q 167 Back

135   Q 175 Back

136   Q 179 Back

137   Q 140 Back

138   Q 106 Back

139   Qq 38, 78, 182-183, 271 Back

140   Qq 28, 29 Back

141   Q 195 Back

142   Qq 142-143 Back

143   Q 402 Back

144   Q 403 Back

145   Q 155 Back

146   David Mansfield, Sustaining the Decline?: Understanding the Changes in Opium Poppy Cultivation in the 2008/09 Growing Season, May 2009, Back

147   Q 155 Back

148   Ev 85  Back

149   Ev 93-95 Back

150   Ev 93 Back

151   Ev 93-95  Back

152   Q 66 Back

153   Q 194 Back

154   Q 242 Back

155   ibid. Back

156   Q 243 Back

157   Q 383 Back

158   Q 42 Back

159   General McChrystal address at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1 October2009, Back

160   Qq 168-171, 180-181, 188-191, 356-360 and 364-368 Back

161   Q 172 Back

162   Q 180 Back

163   Ev 158-159 Back

164   Q 42 Back

165   ibid. Back

166   Q 44 Back

167   Q 45 Back

168   Q 236 Back

169   Q 237 Back

170   Q 238 Back

171   Q 290 Back

172   BBC/ABC/ARD poll reported in 2009,  Back

173   BBC/ABC/ARD poll of 1,534 Afghan nationals from all 34 provinces in Afghanistan, 11-23 December 2009, Back

174   Qq 196-197 Back

175   Ev 160 Back

176   Q 400 Back

177   Q 239 Back

178   Q 240 Back

179   Qq 108, 197, 392 Back

180   Ev 160  Back

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