Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-65)
Q1 Chair: Welcome to the Committee's
inquiry into Operations in Afghanistan. The purpose of this particular
evidence session is mostly to look at the issue of strategic communications,
but could you begin by introducing yourselves. I say, "Welcome
back," to some of you; I am welcoming some of you to the
Defence Committee for the first time, and I hope that it won't
be too traumatic an experience.
Colonel Langton: I am Christopher
Langton, and I am an independent conflict research analyst, formerly
at IISS. I am formerly of the British Army.
Commander Tatham: Steve Tatham.
I am a Commander in the Royal Navy and former senior research
fellow and director of advanced communication research at the
UK Defence Academy's now defunct advanced research and assessment
Major General Messenger: Gordon
Messenger. I am CDS's Strategic Communication Officer with a dual
remit of being the principal media spokesman on Afghanistan and
other operations and also attempting to improve the awareness
of the British public of both the strategic rationale for our
engagement in Afghanistan and some of the realities of what is
happening over there.
Nick Gurr: Nick Gurr. I am the
Director of Media and Communications in the Ministry of Defence,
and I am responsible for the strategy and policy around all Defence
Matt Tee: Matt Tee. I am the Permanent
Secretary for Government Communications. I work at the Cabinet
Office co-ordinating issues, particularly those that are cross-Government
or cross-departmental, and I take a role on Afghanistan in that
Q2 Chair: May I begin with you,
Colonel Langton? What is the current state of operations in Afghanistan?
Colonel Langton: As an outsider
looking in, so to speak, not being on operations in Afghanistan
or in the MoD, it would seem as if British Forces are, in effect,
holding the line in order that Afghan National Security Force
capability can be built behind that line to enable us, at some
point, to exit and to stop fighting, but also, criticallywe
don't really hear much about thisso that the Afghan economy
can grow in some kind of space.
Q3 Chair: General Messenger, is
Major General Messenger: That's
at the heart of it. This is all about developing the Afghan Government
and the Afghan Security Forces to a point where they can take
over their own security challenges. The business of building the
capacity of the Afghan National Security Force and the Afghan
Government is utterly at the heart of it.
What we are seeing at the moment in theatre
is a more positive picture than we have seen for a while, which
is a result of the fact that, for the first time, we are seeing
enough resources in place that match the security and other challenges
that we face, and they have been there long enough to have an
effect. This isn't just about Helmand, it is about the whole of
Afghanistan, but in places like Helmand, which is as bad as it
gets in terms of security across Afghanistan, we are starting
to see far more positive indicators of progress at the tactical
We are seeing good Afghan governors getting
out and connecting with their people, which is starting to have
an effect on the allegiance of the population. We are starting
to see a much more impressive performance by the Afghan National
Army, and actually better than is often reported from the Afghan
National Police. Although no one would pretend that they are at
the same level as the National Army. That combination of resources,
both ISAF and ANSF, and time is having an effect at the tactical
and operational levels.
Q4 Chair: Colonel Langton, would
you agree with that?
Colonel Langton: I certainly wouldn't
disagree. The only thing to say is to point out that there have
been some fairly erudite commentators and organisations
that have questioned the metrics that noted the capabilities of
the Afghan National Army as being over-exaggerated. On the other
hand, General Messenger's point about the police is very relevant.
This is a very brave body of people who have suffered more casualties
than any other. It is a little bit of a mixed picture, but I would
raise the flag of caution over metrics.
Q5 Mr Brazier: Could you just
repeat that? You said "raise the flag of caution."
Colonel Langton: Over judging
capability using the metrics, which are used to judge capability
principally by the Americans, but also by NATO.
Q6 Mrs Moon: General Messenger, when
you were commanding the Forces in Afghanistan, did you identify
key areas where change was needed? If so, why were the changes
needed, what were they and were they actually implemented?
Major General Messenger: I came
back in April '09, so we're about 18 months since then. At the
time, insufficient resources were being allocated to the challenge
in Southern Afghanistan. I commanded a brigade, alongside an Afghan
brigade commander, that was stretched and not able to go to certain
key areas where we knew we would ultimately have to go to secure
the population. What has happened since has been an enormous inflow,
principally American but also from other NATO nations, and a huge
upsurge in the number of Afghan National Army and Afghan National
Police who are in the line providing that security.
We have a situation nowforgive me for
concentrating on Helmand, but it is something that is reflected
more widelyin which the key areas of population in Helmand
are now secured. They are at varying levels of security depending
on how long that security has been in place, but there is sufficient
force density allocated to the key areas of population, and we
are seeing things improving in a way in which we would have assumed
they would 18 months ago.
You asked about the things that I highlighted.
In no way was I the only one to highlight this. There are two
key areas in the preparation of our people. The first is the degree
to which we culturally attune our people, and the second is the
degree to which we concentrated on judgmental training of our
individuals rather than focusing simply on their ability to fight.
I would not suggest for a second that it was the reports from
me that generated a change, but what we have seen over the past
18 months is a real emphasis on improving the cultural awareness
of our people before they go, and building, down to the very lowest
level, an ability to understand the importance of the lethal force
that such people have at their disposal, and to understand the
dangers of miscalculation of the lethal force. That is something
that is inculcated at a much deeper and lower level than perhaps
it was in my time.
Q7 Chair: You said that 18 months
ago we were under-resourced. Do you remember telling us that?
Major General Messenger: I wouldn't
view this as a national issue. I think there was under-resourcing
more broadly in the South at that stage. This was pre US surge.
The fact that NATO commanders identified the need for a surge
and focused that surge into the South, and that a large proportion
of the uplift in Afghan National Security Forces has also been
directed to the South is an indication of a realisation that the
scale of the challenge was not matched at that time by the resources
allocated to it.
Chair: I'll tell you the problem that
I am trying to get to, which is that you are an immensely reassuring
man. You are being very reassuring today, and we are getting things
right now, but it would be more reassuring if you had told us
18 months ago that we were getting things wrong, and I cannot
remember your doing so.
Major General Messenger: I don't
remember when I last appeared in front of the Committee. I don't
recall being asked that question. If you are talking about my
post-tour report including the fact that the resourcing of the
campaign in the South did not match the challenge that was faced
Chair: Actually, it is not really about
you. It is about what we always have from you immensely reassuring
Major General Messenger: Okay,
let me try to put it in a slightly different way. I think it is
absolutely the business of military commanders on the ground to
look at the resources that they are allocated, prioritise those
resources and deliver the most important elements of the campaign.
That may mean that there are parts of the approach that we may
understand need to be done at some point, but we choose not to
do because we do not have the resources to do them. A good example
would be the area of Marjah, about which you have heard a lot.
We have known for some time that Marjah in Helmand was a bad area.
If we were going to go into that area, we would need to do so
with sufficient resource to clear it out, but critically with
enough resource to remain in place afterwards. That did not exist,
and, therefore, we did not go into Marjah. What I did in my time
in Marjah was deal with Marjah in a different way by trying to
contain the enemy in that area so that they did not feel inclined
to export violence into the key areas of Lashkar Gah, Gereshk
and elsewhere. Does that mean that I was under-resourced for the
totality of the challenge that was faced? Yes. Did that mean that
I was overstretched and putting my people in unnecessarily stretched
and dangerous positions? I am not sure I was.
Q8 Mr Hancock: But General, that's
not really fair to us, because we've been told by successive Secretaries
of State that when the Commanders asked for it, they got what
they wanted, whether that was equipment or manpower. If what you
are saying is true, I can't understand why it took us so long
to realise that we were so badly off, personnel-wise and that
the only way we were going to deal with it was by having an enormous
surge from the Americans. Why was it that Secretaries of State
could come to Parliament and say, "Commanders have got everything
they've asked for" and yet you are telling us that that wasn't
Major General Messenger: I am
viewing this as a NATO Commander on the ground with a NATO command
chain above me. It was the decision and the assessment of NATO
Commanders that the area in Southern Afghanistan required more
resource and that is what has been forthcoming subsequently.
Q9 Mr Hancock: But it took a long
time for that realisation to sink in. You were there 18 months
ago and the General before you were saying virtually the same
thing. Why did it take so long for the NATO chain of command to
realise that we were not going to get anywhere in Helmand with
the present force levels that we had?
Major General Messenger: I don't
think I'm well placed to answer that. We have to place those decisions
in the context of the Iraq commitment, which was still large at
that time, and the ability of every nation to generate forces
in order to commit to Afghanistan. It is not for me to second-guess
the decision making that went on in Brussels or Washington, but
I do know that the subsequent surge was a result of an acknowledgment
of the need for more forces in the South if we were to go and
secure the key areas of population.
Q10 Mr Hancock: That is what we
were sent in for in the first place. When the Secretary of State
came here to tell us that we were going to Helmand, the idea was
that we were going there for that sole purpose.
Major General Messenger: To secure
key areas of population. Absolutely.
Mr Hancock: Yes,
and it was hopelessly under-resourced and that was on day one.
Can I ask you
Chair: Before you do, Julian Brazier
has a question.
Q11 Mr Brazier: I wondered whether
Colonel Langton had a comment on this.
Colonel Langton: This is an observation,
rather than a result of any direct experience of what General
Messenger is talking about. At the time General Messenger was
there and until quite recently, the NATO Command Structureor
NATO-led ISAF Command Structureacross Afghanistan was structured
in such a way that reinforcements within Afghanistan could not
be moved from one portion of the territory to the other due to
home-grown political limitations back in Europe, principally.
With the Iraq operations still going on, it was virtually impossible
at the time, from my academic point of view, to reinforce British
Forces in the way that perhaps you are indicating should have
Q12 Mr Hancock: Not even by the
Colonel Langton: The Americans
had their own operations. They were still heavily involved in
Iraq. Politically it would have been quite difficult for them
to say, "Right. We need to send more people to help the Brits,"
in an area where the Americans were already the only presence
before the Brits got there.
Q13 Mr Hancock: So you could say
that this is three years' lost opportunity.
Colonel Langton: Yes.
Chair: The purpose of my asking these
questions is to work out the extent to which we need to discount
perfectly proper military determination and optimism in the evidence
that we get. Now, let us move on to strategic communications.
Q14 Mr Hancock: This is to you,
General and to you Mr Gurr and possibly to your Cabinet colleague.
It is about the comprehensive communications strategy for Afghanistan.
Is there one? Has it been agreed through Government Departments
here? Has it been agreed with our NATO allies? How does it operate?
Nick Gurr: Shall I speak on behalf
of the Ministry of Defence? I think Mr Tee will cover the cross-Government
element. We do have such a strategy. There have been a few since
2006. The difference between the one that we're working to now
and those that went before it is that previously we looked at
communications very much in the context of what the military and
the Ministry of Defence were trying to do, particularly in Helmand.
More recently, with the current strategyI'd be very happy
to pass a copy to the Committeethis very much sits under
and supports a cross-HMG strategy, seeks to deliver what that
requires it to deliver, and also has been closely staffed in consultation,
as you say, with NATO and ISAF. The version that we're working
to at the moment was agreed by the Chief of the Defence Staff
and the Permanent Secretary in November last year. It's in the
process of being revised at the moment, but yes, we do have a
Matt Tee: If I might pick up on
that, I think one of the lessons for us on communications around
Afghanistan is the importance of recognising, in the communications
strategy, the overall strategy for the mission. That means not
only reflecting progress on the military mission but also looking
at the governance piece and at the development piece as well.
Part of what I look to do in the wider strategy is to bring together
the Ministry of Defence, Foreign Office and the Department for
International Development in order to get a rounded communications
strategy on the whole of the UK's mission in Afghanistan.
Q15 Mr Hancock: Do you think that
President Karzai is the biggest impediment you've got in dealing
with the public here and around the world?
Matt Tee: There are a number of
challenges in the communications strategy. I wouldn't single out
a particular one, but I think it is clearly important within the
success of the mission in Afghanistan that the Afghans are able
to take responsibility for their own security and their own governance.
That's the way that the ISAF mission runs. Within that, it is
clearly important that the governance mechanisms in Afghanistan,
including the national Government, are fit to take on those sorts
Q16 Mr Hancock: But if you hear
what's going on at the present time, how do you think the British
public react to knowing that, while their sons and daughters are
putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan, Iran is supplying
Karzai and his crew with bags of money one day, followed very
closely by the Americans turning up with plastic bags of money
the next day? To most reasonable people in the United Kingdom
and, I would suggest, throughout Europe, that's a pretty corrupt
way of doing business. We don't know where that money ends up,
but it could end up in the hands of the Taliban, arming them to
fight the very people whose lives are on the line and who are
out there on our behalf. What's the spin that you would have to
put on that to say that we are doing the right thing by supporting
such a regime?
Matt Tee: Others may wish to pick
up on this, but I wouldn't see putting spin on something as my
job. I think my job is to help the Government to communicate what
they are trying to achieve. To play into your point about the
British public, I don't think the British public think that the
mission in Afghanistan is an easy one. I also think the British
public don't believe that what we're trying to create in Afghanistan
is some sort of pure western democracy. I think the British people
have a sense of realism about what is achievable.
Q17 Mr Hancock: If you were advising
a senior Minister todaymaybe even the Prime Ministerwho
had to react to this, what would your advice be on somebody receiving
bags full of cash, especially coming from the Iranians, who haven't
been particularly helpful, while saying this is a transparent
way of doing business?
Matt Tee: What I would say to
the Prime Minister is that we have a clear strategy for what we're
trying to achieve in Afghanistan, and sometimes things happen
that make that strategy a bit more difficult to achieve. But the
strategy itself, I think, is the right strategy, and we should
persevere with it.
Q18 Mr Hancock: In that case,
can youmaybe all of youtell us your assessment of
how well the British population understand what's happening in
Afghanistan? How clearly do they know the reasons why the Armed
Forces are deployed there? Once again, drawing on the last two
days' experience, where it's common practice for the Iranians
to give bags of money, and the Americans have now had to admit
that they've done the same, that really doesn't go down well.
Nick Gurr: Let me have a go, Mr
Hancock. We have done some polling on this, going back to 2006,
asking questions about how aware people are of what we are doing
in Afghanistan, why we are there and whether they support it.
That polling has been done on behalf of the Ministry of Defence
by Ipsos MORI. It is not something we do directly ourselves. The
results are quite interesting and, in some respects, given what
one sees in the media at times, a little surprising.
In terms of the support for the Armed Forces
presence in Afghanistan, back in September 2006 this polling showed
that 43% of the British public were supportive. The last round
of polling that we did, albeit some months ago now, in March this
year, showed that 52% support it. So it's gone up during that
Q19 Chair: Are you able to say
what question was asked?
Nick Gurr: The question was whether
the people asked supported the presence of the British Armed Forces
Opposition has also gone up, it's fair to say,
from 37% in September 2006 to 41% in the March survey. It has
gone up, but not by as much. The number of people who feel they
know at least a fair amount about why we're in Afghanistan has
more or less doubledgoing from 29% in September 2006 to
50% in March. The number of people who agree with the proposition
that the UK Armed Forces presence in Afghanistan and stopping
the Taliban from returning to control helps to make the UK a safer
place has increased from 24%the first time we asked in
early 2007to 53% in the last poll. That's perhaps part
of the answer to the question you're putting to Mr Tee.
I would try and explain this by saying we're
there for our own national security interests rather than to support
a particular individual.
Q20 Mr Hancock: Have either of
you tried to find out today whether we've passed money over in
plastic bags? That would be a good journalist's question to ask
you two, wouldn't it? If the Americans and Iranians have done
it, have the British done it?
Nick Gurr: Certainly not that
I am aware of.
Q21 Mr Hancock: Have you had a
quick look round to see if that question's come in? I'm amazed
if you haven't been asked that question. Okay.
Would anyone like to add to that? You've both
had first-hand experience of talking to the public on this issue.
Major General Messenger: I think
that we have achieved a better awareness of what is happening
in Afghanistan and, perhaps to a lesser degree, why we're there.
I think that what should be seen as our main challenge as a Department,
and as a cross-governmental effort, is to allow people to make
up their minds by giving them better information, rather than
to have uneducated opinions.
In the same way that I never crow about good
polling, I certainly don't get too distracted by bad polling.
I'm not going to get over-obsessed with it, but it is important
that we do all we can, and continue to do so, to inform the public
better so they can make up their own minds.
Mr Hancock: You answered my second two
questions, which were about polling and what change there has
been. That's helpful. Is it possible for us to have that in detail
Major General Messenger: Yes.
Mr Hancock: Because other questions might
be of some interest.
Q22 Chair: Before you move off
that point, how often do you do this polling?
Nick Gurr: We were doing it twice
a year, Chairman, but we've just gone down to once a year of late.
There's also other polling done by the Cabinet Office. But I'm
sure there will be no difficulty giving it to you.
Q23 Mr Hancock: My final question
is to you, General, because your task now is to promote our activities
in Afghanistan to the British public, as well as elsewhere. What's
your current plan for communicating that?
Major General Messenger: Our current
plan is our plan and I am but one part of it, so on that point
I may lean heavily on the gentleman to my right. Our plan has
a variety of themes and channels. The key themes are that our
efforts there are seen very much in the context of the international
coalition. It's fair to say that in the past it has been portrayed
and viewed as too much of a national effort and the fact that
we are one of 47 nations has been underplayed. Also, to a degree,
using Helmand as the lens through which the British public look
at Afghanistan has not always been helpful. As we have said several
times, Helmand is the worst Province in Afghanistan in terms of
levels of insecurity and it is not representative of the vast
majority of the country, which has much lower levels of insecurity.
There are many areas that I would equate to south Asian normality.
Those are two key themes. Balanced against that, it is important
that we continue to show the British public what a strong, powerful,
good and sensitive job our soldiers and civilians are doing over
there. The British public are receptive to that and respond very
well to it.
Q24 Chair: One of the problems
with colourful issues, such as bags of money, is that they tend
to obscure that particular point.
Major General Messenger: That
is a really good point. I will expand on it and then hand over
to the gentleman on my right. It is easy to view Afghanistan through
one-off incidents, spotlights and the like, which are often not
always good news. I have to sayyou know this because many
of you have travelled therethat if you are looking for
bad news in Afghanistan, you do not have to look particularly
hard. There are examples of things that do not go as well as they
should in all aspects of what we do over there, but they tend
to be isolated incidents and they are not as representative as
they are portrayed to be. I hope that the point that I have madeI
hope that this is not viewed as blind military optimism, because
that is not what I feel it isis that the underlying trends
are going the right way. Of course there will be examples of ANP
inadequacy or corruption or an incident with Afghan governance
and corruption that might skew our perceptions, but we should
not allow it to do so to a great extent.
Q25 Mr Hancock: I do not think
it does, to be fair. I think that the Chairman is wrong to suggest
that. I do not think that anybody in this country has ever underplayed
the importance of the British Armed Forces. Certainly nobody in
Parliament has been critical of our soldiers and civilians there,
for the effort that has gone in. It is a perceptual problem, however,
that the ongoing problem with the Head of State and his clan is
seen as unchangeable. The Americans suggested last week that it
was impossible to change him and that you could not stop the in-bred
corruption within that organisation. That does not send out very
good signals, does it? It certainly does not go down well with
our European allies. You only have to read and understand what
Holland and Germany say about their wish to get out, because they
do not want to be sitting around with this guy virtually taking
the mickey out of them.
Major General Messenger: All I
would say is that at every levelI will just reiteratefor
every bad news story, for every event that might run counter to
what we would wish, I could present 10 that portray a more positive
Q26 Mr Hancock: From the Government
Major General Messenger: It is
as true in Kabul as it is in Helmand. I have rather hogged that
Nick Gurr: I want to say a little
more, briefly, about the sorts of thing that we are trying to
do to communicate with the British public.
Q27 Chair: You helpfully sent
us a memorandum beforehand, which contains what you are offering
us. There is no need to go into, for example, the cross-Government
approach in paragraph 28(1).
Nick Gurr: I was thinking more
in terms of it ranging from making sure that we have the right
people with the right training in jobs.
Q28 Chair: We will come back to
that issue later.
Nick Gurr: It runs right the way
through to having a single cross-Government narrative, to ensuring
that we do not start the clock again every time a new brigade
deploys. We are telling a story across a period of time. We are
making sure that we use a variety of channels. It is not only
about engaging with newspapersit is about engaging with
people making documentaries or writing books and so on. General
Messenger has mentioned looking beyond Helmand. Also, we are trying
to emphasise the international dimension of the mission. There
is also the regional dimensionthis is not just about Afghanistan;
it is about Afghanistan and Pakistan as well. Over time, we have
realised that those are the things that we have to do and have
to get better at, and that is now part of our approach.
Q29 Mrs Moon: I think the region
is much bigger than just Afghanistan and Pakistan. I would say
that you are missing a whole patch of the region, if that is your
How do you manage not to leave a level of distress
among the public, in relation to what the Chairman pointed out
in terms of General Messenger, and to your description of where
things were in 2009 and how they were described to the Committee
in, say, 2008? How do you create a feeling that the public are
getting not just an attempt to frame a picture that is strong,
powerful and good, but actually a picture of accuracy? How do
you ensure that when something like this happensthe bags
of moneythey understand it within the high tempo of the
operations that are taking place, the complexity of the politics
on the ground and the degree of corruption that is part of life
in Afghanistan? How do you make sure that the picture that you
are painting and are using to inform the public represents the
complexity of the situation, rather than that being an attempt
to news-manage a positive story for MoD plc?
Nick Gurr: I would certainly like
to think that when we put information in the public domain, we
do so in a manner that is straight, whether or not it is good
news for us. There is tension all the timethis is probably
the single most difficult issue that we facebetween trying
to get information into the public domain quickly, in a way that
can help to shape a story, or sometimes to knock a story down,
and getting information into the public domain accurately. It
is a complex situation in Afghanistan and there are numerous levels
of command involved, so getting information on what happened in
a particular incident can be very difficult. In the past, we have
been in the position where we have occasionally put out information
that we have later found was not right and that we have had to
correct. Trying to get that balance right between being speedy
and being accurate is very tough, and that is something on which
we have to make judgments every single day. But we are always
trying to get information out that is accurate and straight.
Q30 Bob Stewart: There is a disparity
between the support of the public for our Armed Forces and support
for the mission, is there not? I am looking at it the other way
round, where communication has an impact on morale. Recently,
I went to the funeral of the 12th man in my old battalion to be
killed in Afghanistan; the battalion is returning now. The officers
were not just from my battalionsix Royal Marine officers
and several RAF officers were thereand they said to me,
"It's extremely difficult to explain to the people on the
ground that the British public support the Armed Forces, but don't
support the mission." We can nuance that here, and we are
good at doing that, but the point of view of the soldiers on the
ground is different. One of them said to me, using these words:
"The soldiers on the ground think you are smoking dope."
I wasn't actually, and I haven'tyet. But that is a difficult
change to make. How can you try to bring those two things together,
which I presume is the mission?
Nick Gurr: It's certainly true
that, generally speaking, the British public are supportive of
what the Armed Forces are doing, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq
or wherever. There is no doubt that that is one of the factors
that underpins the numbers that I gave you earlier. To me, it
is important that we give people within the Armed Forces the opportunity
to speak themselves about why they think they are there and the
progress they feel they are making. I have found that the most
upbeat assessments I get of progress in Afghanistan come from
soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who are in Afghanistan doing
the work on the ground. One of the things we are trying to do
is to allow them to have their voice through blogging, interviews
and all sorts of other ways.
Q31 Bob Stewart: So do you actually
think that the soldiers on the ground think we are making good
progress? Is that fair? Is that an answer to the question?
Nick Gurr: I think most do.
Major General Messenger: You'll
clearly get those who wouldn't agree with that but, to run the
risk of speaking on behalf of others, I think the majority of
people utterly recognise the value of what they do. They utterly
see the fact that where they have been operating is a better place
after their six, nine or 12 months of being there than it was
when they arrived.
Bob Stewart: I accept that.
Q32 John Glen: May I start with
the General on the issue of what has driven those changes? Following
the adoption of the McChrystal counter-insurgency strategy, could
you describe what you think has changed on the ground since then?
Major General Messenger: I don't
care what we call itwe can call it the McChrystal strategy.
I think this was a strategy that developed over time in Afghanistan.
I think that General McChrystal acted extremely helpfully as a
huge coalescing presence and an energising factor in developing
this strategy, and he should take a great deal of credit for that.
The principal theme was that the campaign would stop focusing
on the enemy and start focusing on the population. This is something
that has changed in that direction over time.
Focusing on the population has two aspects to
it. First, there is a geographical aspect. We will only secure
areas in depth, with adequate force densities, in areas where
the population are at their most dense. In Southern Afghanistan,
that is the Helmand river valleythe Highway A01 and the
river valley that runs east to west to Kandaharand the
vicinity of Kandahar. That is where the preponderance of our security
effort is. So to a degree it is driven by the geography, but it
is also driven by the nature and the utter acceptance that the
allegiance of the population to legitimate Afghan Government is
what this is all about. Everything that we do needs to be conditioned
against that essential fact. It is something that is much more
at the heart of everything that we do and the nature of what we
Q33 John Glen: Has it been effective?
Major General Messenger: In both
cases, I think it has been effective. We are now with some small
areas that still require investmentwhere we want to be
in terms of the lay-down of forces across Southern Afghanistan
in the key areas. I have talked about Marjah, but I can give you
any number of other districts where we have been in the last 18
months. We have cleared out the Taliban and, utterly critically,
we have stayed in sufficient numbers to provide enduring security.
So I think that piece has certainly moved on.
In terms of the allegiance of the population
and the nature of our dealings with the population, that is, again,
showing very positive signsless to do with us and more
to do with the emergence of capable Afghan governance at district
and below level. The population in these communities now have
a level of Afghan governance at district level through which they
can channel their concerns, make complaints, resolve disputes,
draw wheat seed and fertilizerthose sorts of things. That
is now recognisable in the key districts in Southern Afghanistan.
If I were to highlight one thing more than any other that has
created this positive feel, it would be that.
Q34 John Glen: May I ask Commander
Tatham about information? It has been said in the past that the
Taliban were winning the information war. Do you think that can
be said to be still the case now, or have things changed? Is it
a transient situation where it ebbs and flows?
Commander Tatham: I think they
had a very successful period between 2006 and 2008, when they
were very proactive with the media. They had embeds from Muslim
and Arab TV stations. They improved their web presence. There
was a whole host of other measures that saw their message resonating
more widely than it had before. However, looking back on that
now, it was probably a bit of a blip. I don't think their message
has much resonance in the international community at all. We're
well aware of the inaccuracy and, to be honest, the downright
lies that go into many of their press releases, certainly about
Coalition casualties. But it's important to distinguish between
those who support and those who sympathise, and there is undoubtedly
sympathy, particularly in the Muslim world, for some of the aspirations
of the Taliban, if not their methods. I think it's finely balanced.
I think we are much more persuasive in our information campaign
in the international community, but we have a cunning adversary
who may yet bounce back.
Q35 Bob Stewart: Commander Tatham,
following on from that, how well do you think the MoD's strategic
communications have done? You just outlined what happened between
2006 and 2008 on the other side, but how well has the MoD done
since 2006? What have we achieved in that time?
Commander Tatham: Do you mean
in the international community or in the United Kingdom?
Bob Stewart: Actually, I'm thinking internationally,
and particularly on the ground.
Commander Tatham: I think there's
been a slow but measurable change in our performance. Committee
members may have read some of my papers, where I was initially
fairly critical. We have certainly improved. We're much better
on the ground at getting our message across. We still have a way
to go. We still have to understand our audience better. We have
to understand how our message must resonate with themI
am thinking here particularly of Afghans. This is a very diverse
and very complex audience, and messages that are constructed here
in Whitehall mayindeed, experience suggests, willoften
not resonate particularly well in a poppy field in Helmand. However,
the broad objectives of the strategic communication campaign and
the broad objectives of ourselves and the international mission
in Afghanistan are much more widely understood than was the case.
Q36 Mrs Moon: I commend you, Commander
Tatham, on the work that you and General Mackay did in working
with the Arab media and ensuring that Arab journalists were embedded
with British forces. It appears that that was a positive step
forward in getting better and more accurate information out. Is
that your assessment of the success of that work? Is it still
going on? How far is it being taken?
Commander Tatham: The issue you
allude to is the extended embedding of three pan-Arab satellite
TV companies with British forces. We were able to measure the
effect of that in tandem with the TV companies themselves. They
have very active discussion forums and phone-insa whole
host of metrics could be applied. We know that that was extremely
successful. For example, al-Arabyia, which is al-Jazeera's major
competitor, as you're probably aware, provided three daily news
bulletins about British forces in Afghanistan for an extended
period. As you are probably aware, some of those are on YouTube.
You can see them, and they are an extremely positive and fair
reflection of the mission that was going on.
The second part of your question raises a more
difficult issue. Moving anything in theatre is always extremely
difficult. Moving members of the media is no different. There's
a balance to be struck in terms of whether we have British media,
Pakistan media, Afghan media or Arab media. I don't underestimate
the challenge that that presents the logistics organisation in
deciding who will go out, particularly when you're very focused
on UK public opinion as well. My personal view is that we can
and should do much more with that segment of society, but I suspect
that everybody would say that we would like to do more with the
BBC or Pakistan TV for example. I suspect the balance is probably
Q37 Mrs Moon: How critical is
having that accurate reporting going out into the Arab world in
terms of winning and moving the mission towards a successful conclusion?
How important is it that there is an opportunity for a different
story to be told?
Commander Tatham: The director
of Abu Dhabi TV, when I took General Mackay out to meet him, said
that he welcomed that enormously because he thought that people
would see a different narrative that was not crusaders in wrap-around
sunglasses and Kevlar body armour. He was the first to say that
he would send a team out. That is enormously important, particularly
in that part of the world, because the prevailing narrative is,
if not anti-western, certainly critical. Although the news is
fairly balanced, there are certainly plenty of opinion and discussion
programmes that are not so balanced and that have very wide traction
in the Arab and Muslim world. I think that it was a vital step
in providing an adjustment to that, particularly in the Gulf region,
from where we know an awful lot of support for the Taliban, financial
and otherwise, emanates.
Q38 Mrs Moon: Should it be taken
further forward? Is enough being done now to ensure that that
message and that access are available? Furthermore, who does the
actual Afghan on the ground trust for accurate information and
an assessment of what is happening? Who do they trust?
Chair: Those are two completely different
Commander Tatham: Could you remind
me what the first question was?
Mrs Moon: Has the experience of embedding
Arab media been taken forward, and should we be doing more of
Commander Tatham: There is a balance
to be struck, given the resources and logistics available in theatre.
I have a special interest in the Arab media and in Muslim public
opinion, which has been my area of study for some years. I would
always campaign and lobby for more to be done in that particular
department. For example, the US Armed Forces placed two military
spokesmen directly in the heart of Media City in Dubai for an
extended period of timesome yearsto be always on
hand for the Arab media, because the Arab media don't find us
as accessible in Washington or here in London. I think that was
a very positive way forward. There is always more that we can
do, but I recognise the very real difficulties that the MoD has
in reaching those objectives.
Q39 Chair: Would you suggest that
it was a false economy to keep journalists, both UK and Arab journalists,
away from the embedding experiences? Is it a false economy to
do less of it than we could?
Commander Tatham: I'm not sure
that I understand the premise of the question. I don't think that
we do less, but I see more evidence that we are embedding more
and more people. Certainly, in my time as a spokesman for operations
in Iraq we had a huge number of journalists embedded with us.
The specific question is whether we could have more Arab or Muslim
organisations represented, and I think that there is a case to
be made for that. But again, there is a real balance to be struck.
Q40 Mrs Moon: Can I go back to
my second question? Who does the ordinary Afghan goes to? Who
do they trust and what is their source of information?
Commander Tatham: It's very difficult
to say who an ordinary Afghan is, of course, because they come
from such wide ethnic backgrounds and have such wide and diverse
levels of education and life experience. I can home in to the
community in Helmand, with which I am most familiar. There is
very little modern media penetration at all there. Radio is particularly
important, and certainly BBC Pashto, part of the World Service,
has tremendous attraction there, as do some of the radios in a
box, which are radio stations that we and our ISAF colleagues
run. They present the opportunity for local elders and people
who are known to individuals within discrete geographical locations
to present a wider view. That is hugely important, because they
are individuals local people know and trust. Those micro radio
stations, with a reach of perhaps only a few tens of kilometres,
are actually absolutely key opinion formers for the population
we are interested in. Certainly, TV and internet have almost zero
penetration down there. Mobile phones are becoming increasingly
popular, particularly Bluetooth mobile phones, so video can be
transferred. If I had to identify a single conduit, I would say
that it was radio.
Q41 Chair: Within that, would
you say that BBC World Service played an important part?
Commander Tatham: BBC World Service
is very popular. You can see that from some of the listening figures
for it, particularly some of its long-running drama series. But
I don't think it is as important for forming views and opinions
as the micro stationsthe radios in a box. There is Radio
Tamadoon and things like thatthe local ones.
Q42 Mrs Moon: May I ask one quick
further question? Who are you aiming those broadcasts at? Are
you aiming to reach out to people who might actually be thinking
of taking up arms, trying to reach out to people who might be
thinking about laying down their arms or are you trying to get
to key opinion informers? In addition, are you trying to communicate
with women at all?
Commander Tatham: If there is
an area where we could continue to improve, it is that of target
audience analysis. We have to understand the audience to know
what it is that will interest and appeal to them and how that
may affect their attitudes and behaviours. Typically, we look
for the broadest common denominator. We say that they all live
in a particular area, such as Lashkar Gah, or they are all Pashtun
or whatever, and we put out messages. In the future, we need to
be segmenting our audience a lot moreit is a very precise
science to undertake thatso that we know what will particularly
motivate people into particular opinions or views. At this stage,
it is also important to differentiate the idea of an attitudinal
and behavioural shift. Are we trying to make them love ISAF or
GIRoA (Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan), or are
we just trying to encourage them not to support the Taliban or
not to lay IEDs? My view is that we should be looking much more
at behavioural aspects, rather than attitudinal, because we don't
necessarily need somebody to fall in love with ISAF for them to
stop a particular course of unhelpful action to the Coalition.
Q43 Mr Brazier: To General Messenger
and Colonel Langton, how crucial is the impact of civilian casualtiesobviously
a very sad thingon the success of operations? The figures
we had been provided with by yourselves suggest that there has
been a steady rise in the number of civilian casualties owing
entirely to enemy action, whereas there has been a fall in casualties
brought about by our own forces. Is that right? Is it the enemy's
fault rather than ours and were fewer casualties caused by friendly
forces? Has that come out of the McChrystal strategy? We have
global figures here, but we've only got a comment on the trends
of how the friendly/enemy split lies.
Major General Messenger: This
was work done by the United Nations in Afghanistanthe human
rights element of it. You have summarised the key areas. First,
the number of civilian casualties has sadly gone up, but the proportion
of those that are caused by what are called pro-Government forcesin
other words, ISAF and ANAhas dropped considerably. For
the first six months of this year, it was about 12% of all casualtiescasualties
and fatalities, not simply fatalities. Of that, the most significant
drop was in those caused by air-delivered ordnance. There is no
doubt that the focus by General McChrystal and the degree of rigour
associated with the release of weapons such as that, as well as
the degree of scrutiny and oversight that can be applied, has
had an effect on reducing the number of civilians who are sadly
caught up in the contest.
Q44 Mr Brazier: Colonel Langton
do you have anything to add to that?
Colonel Langton: Just a small
nuance, if you like. General McChrystal's declared aim of protecting
the population, which is what he said, was welcomed by everybody.
As General Messenger said, he put in place some fairly stringent
rules of engagementcutting down on the air power being
used and so on. The trouble is that, in Afghanistan, a casualty
caused by somebody in a foreign uniform, which includes the Afghan
National Army, is 10 times worse than a suicide bomber from the
Taliban, who actually gets some credibility because he is a martyr.
Also, the Taliban are very quick to apologise when they get it
wrong. That was brought out in a web message at the time of one
particular disasterI think it was in Kunduzwhen
civilians were killed by the Taliban's own action. Basically,
the message, as I understand it implied, "You can see that
McChrystal's strategy is failing because he isn't protecting the
population." The message wasn't so crude as to say, "We
are still killing them," but you get my message. Civilian
casualties resonate in a much deeper way in Afghanistan, perhaps,
than in many other conflicts with which we may all be familiar.
Q45 Mr Brazier: Just before we
move on to the polling datathis question might be slightly
off piste, but the change in strategy stands out, although you
may feel that you don't want to answeryou specifically
said that the big four had been among the air-launched casualties.
It seems extraordinary from the outside thatcorrect me
if I'm wronga shift from the use of very expensive, or
mostly very expensive, fixed-wing aircraft delivering very smart
technology to the use of comparatively cheap helicopters carrying
the 21st-century equivalent of sharpshooters has both led to such
a big increase in effectiveness and such a marked reduction in
civilian casualties. That seems to suggest some rather odd lessons
for the SDSR, does it not?
Major General Messenger: You are
right, but I won't go into that. In an earlier question, which
I inadequately answered, you asked about the importance of civilian
casualties in this. In a campaign that is all about taking the
trust, the loyalty and the allegiance of the population away from
the Taliban and towards the broader, more legitimate side, it
is absolutely critical that we do all we can to reduce the risk
of civilian casualties. Where such casualties have occurred, and
we accept that there have been occasions when ISAF has been to
blame, investigations have taken place and apologies have been
made. There is a real balance, and Nick touched on it earlier,
between the need to be accurate in what we say we've done and
what has occurred, and the need to respond in a timely fashion.
When you are up against an enemy who isn't bothered about accuracy,
that can appear to be one-sided, but we do try to investigate
allegations as quickly as possible. Where we seem to be at fault,
we do what we can to minimise the repercussions.
Mr Brazier: The trouble is that, and
this is the old Jim Callaghan point, a lie can get round the world
before truth has got its boots on.
Q46 Chair: Before you move on,
I have a quick question on courageous restraint and the number
of civilian casualties that it has prevented. Is it possible to
measure the extent to which courageous restraint has increased
the danger in which our troops find themselves?
Major General Messenger: It is
impossible to quantify that. For all the very sensible exhortations
to use judgment when faced with the decision whether or not to
deliver lethal force, there is absolutely no suggestion that we
should reduce the right to self-defence. When an individual or
individuals feel that their life is threatened, or that the lives
of others are threatened, as a result of action by an insurgent,
they have at their disposal a graduated array of weaponry that
can get them out of trouble. No one is trying to undermine the
fundamental right to self-defence. This is about making a judgment
call based on the threat faced by an individual, or others alongside
that individual, and accordingly calibrating a response, with
the local population very much at the heart of that decision.
Mr Brazier: I just had a feeling for
a moment that Commander Tatham might want to add something.
Commander Tatham: No.
Q47 Mr Brazier: Okay. Can we move
on to the polling data? Polling data from early 2010 show that
more Afghan nationals thought that Afghanistan was going in the
right direction in January 2010 than in the previous year. That
said, the picture, if you go back as far as 2004-05, was that
it got progressively worse and recently it got steadily better.
What is rather sad is that the underlying figuresthe actual
practical questions about things such as freedom of movement and
personal questions on security, where there is just a comment
rather than figuresdo not show any progress. How would
you describe the current view of the Afghan people on the security
Major General Messenger: Again,
it is dangerous to try to give the view of an average Afghan,
because there is no such thing. It would depend very much on where
that individual lived and what they experienced on a day-to-day
Mr Brazier: Let me
stop you for a momentlet's say the view of an Afghan in
Major General Messenger: There
are any number of different types of Afghans in Helmand. It depends
on where they liveif they live inside one of the many and
growing secure areas, which are centred where population is densest,
they will see a reduction in incidents; a fundamental reduction
in Taliban intimidation; a greater presence and profile of a government
whom they can trust and lean on; and they will have an ability
to go about their business and develop their own economic opportunities.
That is inside what I would characterise as the protected areas.
The predominant contest with the Taliban is
going on around those protected areas and, often, in areas of
lower density population. That contestat its hearthas
an objective of keeping as much trouble out of the populated areas
as it can. If you are an unfortunate individual who lives in that
area, I accept that your daily diet consists rather more of the
fight between international and Afghan forces and the Taliban
than you would feel comfortable with, and your security levels
would not be high.
The intent is continually to push out the secure
areas so that more and more people fall within them, and fewer
and fewer fall within the contested zone. We have seen some dramatic
shifts in that over the past 18 months.
Q48 Mr Brazier:
Colonel Langton, do you have something to add to that?
Colonel Langton: No. I could not
possibly add anything to that, particularly on Helmand.
Q49 Mr Brazier: I
have one more question for you, General Messenger. I should ask
if there is any more recent polling information, but, presumably,
you would have provided it if there was. Can you give us, in round
terms, a feel for the two proportions? You say that the ink blot
is spreadinghas it moved from 50:50 to 70:30? Can you give
us a rough feel for secure versus insecure areas now? It seems
odd that there is an improvement, although these are national
figures, so perhaps they are not helpful. Can you give us a rough
feel for how that is moving?
Major General Messenger: In Helmand,
more than 70% of the population are in areas where there is adequate
force density for the population, and where there is an improving
Q50 Mr Brazier: How does that
compare to a couple of years ago?
Major General Messenger: It was
Mr Brazier: Gosh.
Commander Tatham: Can I make a
comment about the issue of polling? I do not know whether the
Committee is aware, but Afghanistan is the most polled country
on earth. You have only to do a casual search on Google to find
out how many international organisationsNGOs et alare
busy polling. This is a source of some concern, because it means
that it is difficult to understand the audience properly. General
McChrystal commissioned the "Rich Contextual Understanding"that
was the name of the projectlate last year, early this year.
That was the first proper understanding, with a proper target
audience analysis, of a large proportion of the population of
I can go along with all that the General has
said, but I would caveat that by saying: don't be too hamstrung
by polls, because Afghans are pragmatists. They have learnt to
answer the question in whichever way will benefit them the most.
Q51 Chair: What proportion of
the polls on which you rely are of women?
Nick Gurr: I can't answer that
Chair: Could you let us have a note about
Q52 John Glen: We talked a little
about corruption and the perception of corruption, but following
the elections, how has the sense that there is corruption in the
Government impacted on operations and the communications strategy
that you've adopted? I acknowledge what you are saying in terms
of pursuing something and there being difficulties along the way.
What impact has it had on communications strategy?
Major General Messenger: The credibility
of the capacity of the Government at every level is obviously
a key part, not only of the communications strategy but, frankly,
the strategy. Their ability ultimately to take the baton and run
the country and its security themselves is at the heart of this.
Those in theatre are ever watchful for things that undermine that.
John Glen: I had the elections
Major General Messenger: There
is corruption and there are elections, which is a slightly different
thing. Most people would accept that corruption needs to be reduced
as much as possible, but probably to a level rather than to zero.
On the elections, there was a lot of negative reporting of the
Presidential Elections last year, and we had the Parliamentary
Elections most recently. Going back to your previous point, I
am not saying that those were entirely without mishap and incident,
but the elections and the process itself were planned and delivered
by the Afghans. The security was planned and delivered by the
Afghans, with the international community completely on the back
seat ready to deploy should it be required, but it was not. Despite
their best intentions, the Taliban were unable to influence the
elections to any degree. If you talk to Richard Felton, the Commander
at the time, there were a greater number of incidents on the day
of the elections, but they took place some distance away from
the polling, and were unable to affect the conduct of the elections
on the day. I am not saying that it was a perfectly delivered
democratic event, but the view on the ground, of the Afghans,
the international forces there and the independent international
observers, was that there were positive things that came out of
it and considerable grounds for optimism.
Nick Gurr: As with so many other
things, this comes back to managing expectations and giving people
in the UK, and perhaps elsewhere in the West, a sense of what
an election in Afghanistan is like and what it is reasonable to
expect the outcome to be, in terms of security, fraud, corruption
or whatever. We feel that we did not get that right for the Presidential
Elections last year; it was much closer to being right for the
elections this year. As General Messenger was saying, the extent
to which the Afghans themselves were responsible for the process
and the security of the elections isn't sufficiently understood,
perhaps even now.
Q53 John Glen: To be clear, going
back to the Presidential Elections, are you saying that you don't
think you conveyed a reasonable sense of what was possible, given
the operating constraints of Afghanistan?
Nick Gurr: Yes. I think expectations
were too high and people thought too much that it would be like
a western election. We hadn't prepared the ground sufficiently.
Q54 John Glen: Colonel Langton,
do you have anything to add on that subject?
Colonel Langton: I think we can
take some heart from the fact that they took place. They weren't
heavily criticised, they weren't as fraudulent as last year's
presidential elections and the Independent Electoral Commission,
albeit appointed by the President, was also praised for its activities.
Of course, there is some doubt about how much effect these sort
of elections have in the Pashtun heartlands of the South and the
East. Nevertheless, Afghans do not have electoral fatigue as some
people have suggested, and that is worth taking note of.
Q55 Chair: What about WikiLeaks,
which in July this year published many documents? Did that have
an effect on the Afghan population? Did it have an effect on the
UK Armed Forces and operations? Did we learn any lessons from
that? Who would like to take that?
Major General Messenger: In terms
of the impact on the Afghans, I strongly suspect that it had very
little impact on local communities, largely because international
media penetration in those areas is very limited. For those Afghans
who were named and whose locations were given in the documents,
their life would have changed fundamentally, and I think that
that, more than anything, highlighted the irresponsibility of
In terms of the impact on our soldiers, other
than profound disapproval as to how the documents found their
way into the public domain, I do not think that there would have
been any radical change in approach. We are constantly looking
at how we do things and constantly learning from incidents, events
and changing circumstances in order to improve what we are doing.
I do not think that this was something that would have fundamentally
altered how we conduct our business.
I can say with confidence that there is no conspiracy
among those who operate on the ground. There is a very strong
sense of self-policing, whereby those who operate alongside each
other are key regulators of the behaviour of others, and that
is something that is absolutely predominant in small teams and
all the way up to large teams in Afghanistan. I do not think that
the leaks would have had an impact on how we conduct business.
Nick Gurr: I do not think that
there have been any particular lessons for the way that we communicate.
The leaks underlined once again the need for rigorous communications
discipline, but they are just another one of those unexpected
things that we have had to deal with, and there have been many
of them over the past few years. The important thing is that we
keep emphasising the reason we are there, what progress is like
and how we are moving towards that, rather than being buffeted
by things such as that.
Q56 Chair: I said earlier that
we would come back to the issue of the training of the Armed Forces
that are working in Afghanistan. Have we got the right level and
the right kind of training for our Armed Forces? It is extremely
complicated, and the cultural aspects of it are very complicated
as well. Have we got the right level of training?
Nick Gurr: Do you mean cultural
training, media operations training, or both?
Q57 Chair: I would say, first,
working on counter-insurgency issues; secondly, cultural; and,
thirdly, media training. Let's start with those three, shall we?
Major General Messenger: I don't
think we can ever say that we've got it right. I think that the
training and preparation of our people has to be seen as a constantly
evolving thing, and we are getting pretty adept at learning lessons,
turning them around and changing how we prepare for theatre within
one six-month cyclethat is, one Herrick tour. The preparation
of Herrick 14 will be very different from the preparation of Herrick
12 and will be fed by the lessons of predecessors.
I think that that agility is very important,
but we are much more attuned in our training to the nuance and
the complexity of operating in a counter-insurgency environment.
I sweep up all those thingsmedia training, cultural awareness,
and judgmental ability when faced with tough choices. Those are
things that our people at the lowest level are experiencing on
a daily basis out there, and the training recognises that and
is configured to try, as much as possible, to replicate it before
they deploy. I don't think that it is perfect. If we were to say
that it is perfect, we would be wrong the following day. I think
this is something that needs to keep evolving, but I can reassure
you that the agility of the process certainly exists.
Nick Gurr: On media operations
training we've come a long way, but there is still quite a long
way to go. The emphasis has in the past, if you go back a few
years, tended to be on media awarenessunderstanding how
the media operate, rather than on techniques that help you to
deliver a story or look for the sort of information that would
be of interest to the public or the media. We have tried to move
much more, over the last couple of years, towards teaching techniques
rather than just a broad awareness of how the media work. I think
we have made some progress on that, but I would certainly acknowledge
that there's much more to be done. Also, where people have demonstrated
an aptitude for this type of workrather than them coming
into it once and then going off and doing other things in a military
career, so we may never see them again in a media environmentwe've
tried to ensure that their experience is reinvested and that we
recycle them at various stages of their career in media-related
jobs. I hope that that combination of things has led to an improvement.
I think it has, but really the best judges are the people who
deal with them from the media.
Q58 Chair: Commander Tatham or
Colonel Langton, do you want to add anything to what either General
Messenger or Mr Gurr have said?
Colonel Langton: Yes, I would
like to add something. I would actually much rather, having looked
for some time at troops in the field, in Afghanistan and previously,
see the sort of comment on expertise being built in media ops
that has come from my media colleagues on my right be invested
in language training, which is a very low-cost, battle-winning
skill; but our language training levels in Afghanistan have been
very low indeed, and it's no good working through indigenous interpreters,
because a low-level commander doesn't necessarily know what's
being said, and so on. I don't need to go over that ground.
We actuallyand I've discovered this quite
recentlydon't have a proper way of tracking our linguists
within the British Army sufficiently well. We can always say,
"Well, it's on our documents," and all this sort of
thing; but I've discovered two young officers recently who speak
the languages of Afghanistan. Neither of them has been approached
because of the language that they speak.
This is a wasted asset. It's not easy to train people to speak
languages for every operation, but my observationI hope
it's a fair oneis that we have not put enough effort into
that one thing. If we're putting this sort of effort into tracking
media specialists, I'd say it's much more important to look at
other skills, which are useful on the ground, frankly.
Q59 Chair: So two issues arise
out of that: first, language training could be increased, and
secondly that there be a proper tracking process.
Colonel Langton: Yes.
I think that is an extremely helpful pair of suggestions. General
Messenger, would you agree with that?
Major General Messenger: Firstly,
I think very quickly we could give you a feel for the level of
linguistic ability that exists in the Task Forceadvanced,
intermediate and basic speakers. I think you'd be surprised at
how many there are.
Chair: I know there are several hundred
Major General Messenger: We have
had this conversation.
Chair: We keep having this conversation
and I keep being astonished that the Department for International
Development has, I think, two people who speak Pashto, or something.
That, I'm sure, will have gone up now dramatically; but this is
a very important issue, and if Colonel Langton feels that language
training is insufficient, do you agree with him?
Major General Messenger: I don't
think this is an absolute thing, but it's a really quite difficult
thing to train someone in Pashto, and it's as difficult to maintain
their currency. I'm surprised at the fact that there are Pashto
or Dari speakers out there who haven't been tracked. We'd need
to know more about who they are. We have got, now, a Cultural
Specialist Unit that is formed in the Ministry of Defence, and
its principal task is to act as the sort of co-ordinating point
for all individuals who have either a cultural or linguistics
speciality, which would be relevant to expeditionary operations,
with a big slant towards Dari and Pashto and general Afghan culture
at the moment. That is something which has been up and running
now for about six months, and I would hope it would answer some
of the concerns that Colonel Langton has.
Q61 Chair: This Committee was
delighted when we heard that was being set up, but I think we
would like to visit it at some stage to see how it's going. That
is angling for an invitation.
Major General Messenger: It is
an invitation which I shall take back.
Commander Tatham: Can I make two
observations? The first one is on the language issue. It takes
13 months to train a Pashto speaker. I think we could make far
greater use of the Afghan diaspora in this country, as the Canadians
do in the way that they deploy Canadian Afghans out to theatre
to assist. That would perhaps help with the slight dilemma of
the long training pipeline.
The second point is that two years ago, we produced
JDP-340, a doctrine publication looking at our role in complex
instabilities and stabilisation. In chapter 4, we reinforced the
centrality of influence. That was articulated very clearly. This
has now become a key issue in all deployments to Afghanistan.
Influence is built into the operational design. We appoint officers
to influence appointments. The difficulty is that we don't currently
have quite the right training to support that. It's a difficult
issue, because there's no doctrine to adequately explain what
influence is. It's a very rapidly evolving issue. If there is
an area where we need to perhaps turn our attentionthat
is happening at the moment with the Land Warfare Development Group
in Warminsterit is the idea of influence and the practitioners
of it. It's very difficult to say to somebody, "Congratulations,
you are the colonel in charge of influence." The first question
is, "What's influence?"
Q62 Mr Brazier: Two observations.
First, you said a lot about languages in theatre, but going back
to the middle part of this afternoon's discussion in terms of
the Arab networks, although I know al-Jazeera has an English service,
the bulk of it is in Arabic. That, surely, is also a very important
factor, given that the bulk of the opinion formers in the Islamic
world are Arabic speakersat least the weight, if not the
numerical numbers, in terms of finance, positions and so on.
The second point I'd like to throw in, particularly
given the point on influence, is that this surely is an area where
you should be making much more use of Reserve Forces, as indeed
the Americans doyou mentioned the Canadians using peoplefor
three different reasons, all of them very obvious. The first is
that ethnic minorities are much more likely to join Reserve Forces
than regular forces. They're more likely to join the cadets than
the Reserve Forces, but get them into the cadets and you get them
into the Reserve Forces. Secondly, you've got lots of people with
language skills for business and so on, particularly if you come
back to Arabic and try to hit that. Thirdly, influence is a civilian
skill, with lots of people who do it for a living. One of the
top men in the City is a former submariner, for example. I asked
him whether the Navy had ever approached him for assistance with
all the various battles going on, with SDSR and all the rest of
it, and the answer, of course, was no. Would you care to comment?
Major General Messenger: No one,
I think, gets the importance of influence more than I do. I am
wary, though, of generating it as an additional or peripheral
strand to our business. To my mind, influence in counter-insurgency
is what we do. It's what everyone does. Whether you are deploying
a troop of Danish tanks or playing an Afghan soap opera over your
radio in a box, you're influencing. It's about the cognitive behaviour
of the population. That is command business. I quite agree that
we need to have a group of specialists who understand the potential
of some of the tools and mechanics of influence, but what I wouldn't
want to happen is for it to be in any way sidelined: "Right,
we've got our plan; now let's look at influence." Influence
is what the commander does, and it's what all his decisions need
to be about.
Nick Gurr: I think it is right,
though, what Commander Tatham says about there being an absence
of doctrine on this. That is something that is currently being
addressed by Shrivenham.
Chair: Okay. Final question.
Q63 Bob Stewart: If we define
success in terms of Afghanistan being in a position to govern
itself properly, to look after its people and not to be a threat
to the rest of the world, and if we can get out, what more does
the Ministry of Defence need to do to ensure that we do that as
soon as possible? Of course, we have a 2015 deadline, but what
more should we be doing to help our Armed Forces and other agencies
to achieve success as I have defined it, which is ensuring that
the place is not a danger to the rest of us and that it governs
its people properly?
Major General Messenger: The first
thing that I would do is to put that into an international context
and point out that the bits that we have been entrusted with militarily
Bob Stewart: Okay, within our remit.
Major General Messenger: What
we need to do, militarily, is to deliver those three districts
and play a strong role in developing the capacity of the Afghan
National Security Forces across Afghanistan.
We are where we want to be in central Helmand
in terms of the allocation of Afghan National Security Forces
and of ISAF Forces. I know it sounds unimaginative, but it will
take time and more of the same. The progress that I hope that
I put over earlier will continue.
The key is the capacity building piece, which
has importance at every level. I think it is very strong and getting
stronger, at the provincial level downward. The key is to ensure
that the apparatus in Kabul connects appropriately to the provincial
Q64 Bob Stewart: By 2015?
Major General Messenger: If your
point is whether we can transfer the combat role to Afghans in
Helmand, which is the most challenging Province in Afghanistan,
by 2015, I would say yes.
Q65 Chair: Would you like to add
anything to that, Commander Tatham or Colonel Langton?
Commander Tatham: I think we need
to think carefully in our strategic communications in the future
about whether we are interested in attitude, behaviour or a combination
of both. I would suggest that, increasingly, we need to be looking
in discrete areas to build capacity, as the General has mentioned,
for example in the ANA and the ANPto look at behavioural
change as opposed to attitudinal change. In order for us to accomplish
that, we need to have a more granular understanding of the audiences.
We are getting there very slowly, but this is a difficult, complex
scientific process, so I would like to see a greater target audience
analysis capability built in. That might be something that we
have to go for external help on.
Chair: May I say thank you very much
indeed to all of you for coming to give evidence today?
I should say that it is not usual for the witnesses
to outnumber the Committee. I apologise, but it is not actually
our fault. The trouble has been that we have lost nearly half
the Committee to Front-Bench appointments, so it is a matter of
vacancies on the Committee, which will be sorted out in the next
few days. So, we are not uninterested in what you are sayingwe
have been very interested, and it has been a most valuable session
to start off our inquiry into Afghanistan. Many thanks indeed.
1 Note by witness: Such as
the International Crisis Group. Back
Note by witness: The metrics are known as Capability Milestones
Note by witness: I have spoken to the two individuals concerned
and find they have since been approached. Back
Note by witness: Our exit from Afghanistan is predicated on the
ability of ANA/ANP and GIRoA to 'take up the slack'. We therefore
need a much more focussed strategic communications campaign (based
on behavioural change not attitude. i.e. how do we increase ANA
retention, how to reduce ANP corruption, instead of 'let's make
Afghans love ISAF' or 'love Karzai'). To undertake this we must
stop undirected attitudinal messaging (the type of message 'fired'
out to Afghanistan) and instead focus on targeted behavioural
messaging (i.e. find what factors influence ANA to leave or ANP
to be corrupt). To do this we must undertake Target Audience Analysis
(TAA) which the military have no organic capability for, therefore
we must buy it in and then use it properly. I gave the example
of the Rich Contextual Understanding Study (RCU) commissioned
for General McCrystal that challenged prevailing wisdom (i.e.
the Taliban are against schools) and properly explained why particular
views held traction and then how they could be ameliorated. I
have provided an example of a detailed TAA to the Committee. Back