Operations in Afghanistan - Defence Committee Contents

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 group.

  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 communications.

  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 way.

  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, critically—we don't really hear much about this—so that the Afghan economy can grow in some kind of space.

  Q3 Chair: General Messenger, is that fair?

  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 level.

  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[1] 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.[2]

  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 now—forgive me for concentrating on Helmand, but it is something that is reflected more widely—in 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 military chaps.

  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 the case?

  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 Structure—or NATO-led ISAF Command Structure—across 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 happened.

  Q12 Mr Hancock: Not even by the Americans?

  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 strategy—I'd be very happy to pass a copy to the Committee—this 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 comprehensive strategy.

  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 of roles.

  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 today—maybe even the Prime Minister—who 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 you—maybe all of you—tell 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 period.

  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 in Afghanistan.

  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 doubled—going 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 2007—to 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 say—you know this because many of you have travelled there—that 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 made—I hope that this is not viewed as blind military optimism, because that is not what I feel it is—is 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 level—I will just reiterate—for 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 story.

  Q26 Mr Hancock: From the Government of Afghanistan?

  Major General Messenger: It is as true in Kabul as it is in Helmand. I have rather hogged that question.

  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 newspapers—it 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 dimension—this 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 only focus.

  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 happens—the bags of money—they 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 time—this is probably the single most difficult issue that we face—between 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 battalion—six Royal Marine officers and several RAF officers were there—and 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't—yet. 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 it—we 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 valley—the Highway A01 and the river valley that runs east to west to Kandahar—and 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 do.

  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 investment—where 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 signs—less 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 fertilizer—those 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 them—I am thinking here particularly of Afghans. This is a very diverse and very complex audience, and messages that are constructed here in Whitehall may—indeed, experience suggests, will—often 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-ins—a 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 being struck.

  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 questions.

  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 that?

  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 time—some years—to 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 stations—the radios in a box. There is Radio Tamadoon and things like that—the 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 more—it is a very precise science to undertake that—so 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 casualties—obviously a very sad thing—on 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 Afghanistan—the 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 forces—in other words, ISAF and ANA—has dropped considerably. For the first six months of this year, it was about 12% of all casualties—casualties 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 engagement—cutting 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 disaster—I think it was in Kunduz—when 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 data—this question might be slightly off piste, but the change in strategy stands out, although you may feel that you don't want to answer—you specifically said that the big four had been among the air-launched casualties. It seems extraordinary from the outside that—correct me if I'm wrong—a 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 figures—the actual practical questions about things such as freedom of movement and personal questions on security, where there is just a comment rather than figures—do not show any progress. How would you describe the current view of the Afghan people on the security position?

  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 basis.

  Mr Brazier: Let me stop you for a moment—let's say the view of an Afghan in Helmand.

  Major General Messenger: There are any number of different types of Afghans in Helmand. It depends on where they live—if 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 contest—at its heart—has 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 spreading—has 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 security situation.

  Q50 Mr Brazier: How does that compare to a couple of years ago?

  Major General Messenger: It was about 35%.

  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 organisations—NGOs et al—are 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 project—late 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 Afghanistan.

  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 question.

  Chair: Could you let us have a note about that please?

  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 leaking them.

  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 cycle—that 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 things—media 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 awareness—understanding 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 work—rather 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 environment—we'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 actually—and I've discovered this quite recently—don'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.[3] This is a wasted asset. It's not easy to train people to speak languages for every operation, but my observation—I hope it's a fair one—is 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.

  Q60 Chair: 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 Force—advanced, 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 attention—that is happening at the moment with the Land Warfare Development Group in Warminster—it 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 speakers—at 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 do—you mentioned the Canadians using people—for 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 level.

  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 ANP—to 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.[4]

  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 saying—we 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

2   Note by witness: The metrics are known as Capability Milestones (CM). Back

3   Note by witness: I have spoken to the two individuals concerned and find they have since been approached. Back

4   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

previous page contents

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 17 July 2011