The UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

10  Learning lessons for the future

236. We have focused in this Report on a selection of current issues of UK foreign policy concern in Afghanistan. However, we have been struck by the number of witnesses and Afghans who have indicated the extent to which the international community still, after nearly 10 years in Afghanistan, seems unable to learn from some of its past mistakes. Witnesses were adamant that these must be taken on board in the future. Many spoke of the need to ensure a co-ordinated approach within Government where the FCO takes a firm lead in making clear the strategy and objectives for any foreign operation of this kind, "to avoid lack of continuity and operational disconnect".[384] Some witnesses also suggested that a review of the merits of the Comprehensive Approach may be advisable. Continuing lack of co-ordination at an international level, too, was cited as an ongoing problem which the Government must be mindful of in any future multinational intervention.

237. Others spoke of the importance of ensuring that missions are properly resourced from the outset and that, in multinational ventures, objectives are clear and burden sharing is equitable.[385] We also heard about the need for more modesty about the international community's ability to build governance structures. Gerard Russell's written evidence states that the UK's "post imperial capacities and inclinations" are more suited to encouraging slow and gradual reform and "avoid[ing] the ironic dilemma we face in Afghanistan—where the scale of our political investment has made the Afghan government feel that its international allies need it more than it needs them".[386] Finally, we heard about the importance of the UK's relationship with the US and how it must continue to be seen as an effective and dependable, but not slavish, partner.[387]

238. The Government states it is committed to learning lessons from its experience in Afghanistan. In the last year, a Conflict Lessons Working Group has been created to identify lessons from a number of conflicts, including Asia and the Balkans, and to disseminate information as appropriate. This Working Group is chaired and supported by the Stabilisation Unit, and is attended by DFID, FCO and MOD, with additional representation from the military. The FCO states that there has been a "significant increase in civil-military co-operation around lessons, an increase in joint de-briefing of officers and officials returning from the field, and an increase in joint investigations of themes of further interest". Recent examples of joint lessons work include: a Joint Civil-Military Doctrine Note on Security Transitions, Joint Civil-Military investigation of the use of Money for Security Effect, and Lessons from the Pakistan Post Crisis Needs Assessment (PCNA). There are currently plans to carry out further investigation into community engagement, informal justice and dispute resolution and the factors which enable or impede stability at district level in Helmand. The Stabilisation Unit is developing its "Top Ten Lessons on Stabilisation", and is developing both public and restricted access repositories where lessons and key documents can be easily accessed.[388]

239. We asked the Foreign Secretary what lessons from Afghanistan could be learned to improve British foreign policy in the future. He told us that he was certain that there will be many lessons to be learned and that some of them "will require the wisdom of being able to look back on all this in the future". He added:

    To start with the lessons at the highest level, this country needs to put as many resources as possible into conflict prevention around the world, since we can see how expensive it is and how it costs us dear, in human life as well as in financial terms, to engage in long-term, substantial conflict. [...] There will no doubt be other lessons about how a military intervention should be handled, if it has to take place. There will be lessons from Iraq, which the Chilcot inquiry is looking into at the moment. I am sure there will be lessons about Helmand as well, about the initial deployment and about many decisions taken since then. We have to concentrate in Government on finding out ways of success in this situation, and that has to be our prime concern.[389]

240. We recommend that in its response to this Report, the FCO sets out what specific lessons it has learnt thus far from its engagement in Afghanistan.

241. We conclude that there are numerous lessons that must be learned from the intervention in Afghanistan which are beyond the immediate scope of this Report. We recommend that, at an appropriate point in the future, when British combat operations have ceased, a full and comprehensive public inquiry into the Government's policy towards Afghanistan be conducted. It should include, but not be limited to, the decision to deploy to Afghanistan in 2001, and Helmand in 2006, civil-military relations both in Whitehall and on the ground, the efficacy of the comprehensive approach, the appropriateness of the counter-insurgency doctrines deployed, the adequacy of resources provided, the decision to set a timetable for withdrawal, and what conditions should apply in the future before the UK enters into a multinational military effort.

384   Ev w2  Back

385   Ev w2 Back

386   Ev 58 Back

387   Ev w5 Back

388   Ev 4 Back

389   Q 170 Back

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