Operations in Afghanistan - Defence Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 113-227)

  Chair: Good afternoon. Many thanks for coming to give evidence to our inquiry into operations in Afghanistan. You are most welcome here. I'm afraid it looks as though there may be interruptions caused by voting in the House of Commons. That's just part of our democratic duty. I am sure that we will get through this.

  We also have, I'm afraid, a huge number of questions that we want to ask you, a huge number of people asking the questions and a large number of witnesses, so we will all require a lot of discipline. It looks as though we're just about to come up to a vote. If I could ask you please to introduce yourselves smartly. Some of you have been before us before, some of you have not. Lindy Cameron, would you like to begin?

  Lindy Cameron: My name is Lindy Cameron. I was until recently the head of the Helmand PRT and the NATO Senior Civilian for RC South-West.

  Q113 Chair: You have now come back from the PRT. You have been replaced. Are you a DFID employee?

  Lindy Cameron: No. I'm currently working for the Foreign Office, so I'm still basically on leave, at the end of my Foreign Office posting in that job.

  Q114 Chair: And you've been replaced by another Foreign Office person.

  Lindy Cameron: That's right. Michael O'Neill.

  Major General Capewell: Good afternoon. Major General David Capewell. I am the Assistant Chief of Defence Staff for Operations.

    Air Marshal Peach: I am Air Marshal Stuart Peach. I am Chief of Joint Operations, holding operational command for Afghanistan.

  Chair: Thank you very much.

  Karen Pierce: Good afternoon. My name is Karen Pierce. I'm the Policy Director for South Asia and Afghanistan at the Foreign Office. I'm also the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

  Q115 Chair: You have taken over from Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles.

  Karen Pierce: In the latter capacity as Special Representative. I was already the Policy Director.

  Peter Watkins: Peter Watkins, Director of Operational Policy, Ministry of Defence, and responsible within the MoD for policy towards Afghanistan.

  Chair: Thank you all very much.

  Q116 Mr Dai Havard: Are you filling two roles, then?

  Karen Pierce: I'm double-hatted.

  Q117 Chair: Can we start with a series of questions to you, please, Lindy Cameron? From the perspective of the PRT, how would you say that the security situation in Helmand is? Would you say that things are improving, and if so, would you say that they are improving quickly enough?

  Lindy Cameron: I'd say that they are significantly improved. The way that Governor Mangal tends to describe this is that when he first arrived in the Province two and a half years ago, it was only possible for him to move in a fairly small area, and with air support. It is now possible for him and his staff to drive to most of the districts of central Helmand, and I think that's true for most Government officials. For example, he drives on a fairly regular basis to Nad-e-Ali and has also driven recently to Marjah. It is certainly true that security is significantly better in central Helmand than it was.

  Q118 Chair: How would you say that governance, as such, has changed? For the better or for the worse?

  Lindy Cameron: Again, significantly improved for the better. When Governor Mangal arrived, there were district governors in six of the 14 districts of Helmand. There are now district governors in 12. There are four district community councils. If you look at Nad-e-Ali as a case study, participation in governance has gone up significantly. People now engage with the district community council and the district governor in a way that is a significant change even from when I arrived last July for my recce visit. I remember sitting in Nad-e-Ali for a security shura, listening to gunfire on the perimeter that was being held. I contrast that with walking into the district governor's office now, looking at the row of offices where there are staff from various Government Ministries in a way that AREU described as something the like of which it had not seen in any other district in Afghanistan, let alone in Helmand. I think we've really helped Governor Mangal achieve the kind of district government and district community councils that have shown a significant improvement in governance in the last couple of years.

  Q119 Chair: And the role of women in Helmand? What has happened to that?

  Lindy Cameron: I think the key thing for women in Helmand, much like for everyone there, is the improvement of security. We also have two female MPs, two female provincial councillors and five councillors on the community council in Gereshk.

  Obviously there are still some big challenges, particularly in the justice area. One of the things that we have put a lot of effort into is helping women access the justice system. My rule of law team did a lot of work with the Department of Women's Affairs at provincial level, to help them work out what needed to be worked on. For example, a small team went up to Kabul to do a study visit to look at women's refuges and shelters up there, and understand what best practice they could bring back.

  Bob Stewart: I'm sorry, Chair, but I can't hear a word. I've only got one ear. Either you are speaking very fast, Ms Cameron, or I am totally bloody deaf. Could you speak up? I cannot hear a word you're saying.


  Q120 Chair: The volume will go up. Do those women MPs go both to Kabul and to Helmand?

  Lindy Cameron: Absolutely, yes. I've met Nasima Niazi in Lashkar Gah on a number of occasions. I would say that she is a pretty feisty lady.

  Q121 Mrs Moon: On a scale of one to 10, how much do you think the role of women has developed? If one is as it was under the Taliban, and 10 is that they have complete freedom of movement and independence, and a right to their own choices, where are we? What do you mean by, "Things have improved"? How much have we gone on that scale of one to 10?

  Lindy Cameron: It depends a little on what your expectations are about Afghanistan broadly. Helmand is a rural and quite conservative province in many ways, and it is hard to calibrate—say 4 out of 10, perhaps. There has been a significant improvement from Taliban times, in the sense that clearly women are participating in government, both as officials and as representatives, in a way that was totally unheard of. They are also able to have a public face. For example, I attended a meeting for international women's day last year, where 600 women got together in the provincial council building. I can't describe to you what a fantastic event it was. There were brightly coloured clothes everywhere—and relatively few burqas in sight, I have to say. There was a real sense of women being able to gather in a public forum and celebrate being women. I think there has been a significant improvement, but you have to recognise that this is in the context of a very conservative and rural society. It was also quite different in different parts of Helmand. The role that women play in Lashkar Gah, for example, is quite different from the public role that women will be able to play in somewhere like Musa Qala, which is a much more conservative and rural district.

  Chair: You have just come back from running the PRT. When the Defence Committee was there in January, General Rodriguez told us that the British PRT in Helmand was the model for the others, and he complimented us on its quality. Therefore, it would be right for us to say thank you for the obviously huge role that you played in that.

  Q122 Sandra Osborne: Also to Lindy Cameron, can you tell the Committee how effective the working relationship between civilians and the military is on the ground?

  Lindy Cameron: I have to say that it is extraordinary. I have never seen civilian-military co-operation work this well. I think that we've really got to a place where we've got the funding, staffing and the personal relationships right. I felt very supported by the whole range of Government Departments back here in Whitehall in my role inside the PRT, and equally by the military and civilians. We've evolved that relationship, so we have essentially gone from being a PRT that partners only a single British brigade to being a PRT that partners a divisional-level regional command led by General Mills. In a sense, the scale of the challenge has increased, but I think we've managed to maintain those excellent relationships. Fundamentally, if you look at how Operation Moshtarak played out, for example, I think that my military colleagues—I turn to them to comment—felt that they were able to rely on a PRT that was able to both plan and deliver the civilian side of that operation very effectively.

  Q123 Sandra Osborne: What restrictions did the different terms and conditions of service have on your ability to deliver the goods?

  Lindy Cameron: I would say that I don't think that they did. I have a PRT staffed by international staff from the UK, the US, Denmark and Estonia, and by both military and civilian staff. Effectively, we have a range of people who are able to do different things. For example, the system of military stabilisation support teams that the UK uses, which gives us a military team able to go out on the front line with patrols to very dangerous areas, allows me to have the eyes and ears of the PRT right up in the front line backed up by the resource at district level and resource at provincial level. That draws on the expertise of a wide range of UK, US, Danish and Estonian backgrounds.

  Q124 Sandra Osborne: I think you said that you had sufficient funding, is that right?

  Lindy Cameron: Yes.

  Q125 Sandra Osborne: If there was one extra resource or capability that you could have had, what would it have been?

  Lindy Cameron: To be honest, I got everything that I asked for in course of the year. Again, to give an example of Operation Moshtarak, just before Christmas, when it became clear that Helmand would be the focus of the main effort for the whole of ISAF in the early months of 2010, I wrote to Stuart Peach at PJHQ and to the Stabilisation Unit with a list of additional requirements I thought that we would need for that operation, which were delivered. When I needed extra resources—funding or staffing—and extra capabilities, I got them.

  Q126 Sandra Osborne: So everything in the garden was rosy.

  Lindy Cameron: The point is that what you're looking for is to ensure that the UK's funds are used in a good value-for-money way in the context of the operation. We are also very lucky in Helmand in that we have access to a broad range of international funds as well; for example, the US provides significant CERP funds and US AID provides significant funds too. We're not short of cash or funds in Helmand at this stage.

  Air Marshal Peach: Just to add the military side to Lindy's answer, with which I completely concur. Since the Committee last visited, 2010 has been marked by a series of changes and evolutions in how the military and civilian effort in Helmand has been integrated, and "integrated" is the key word. The arrival of the US Marine Corps; the integration of General Mills's headquarters alongside the UK; the civilian effort that the US brought with them; the effort that the US Marine Corps made within its own ranks to understand where it was and help to deliver; and the practical steps that we have taken to learn from each operation that stabilisation—what we might call "hot stabilisation"—straight after a military operation is a crucial part of the outcome; all of those lessons were learnt and applied this year, 2010.

  Q127 Chair: Yes, we had some helpful evidence from General Messenger. Was that last week or the week before? Peter Watkins, did you want to come in?

  Peter Watkins: I entirely agree with what has just been said.

  Q128 Mr Havard: We took evidence last week, and Professor Farrell had some interesting things to say about this area. Everyone recognises the quality and the effort, and the good work that the PRT has done and was doing. However, he questions the command, control and governance regimes of the input, in the sense that he is saying that there is now an American senior civilian in the area, but the marines have a different tradition and a different way of looking at these things. In a sense, throughout his evidence what he suggested was that these things are located in different places.

  I will just quote this to you: "Look at this from the marines' point of view. They see a PRT that is very cosy with the Task Force element and is very cosy with Governor Mangal. And yet the marines are supposed to be running the whole show. As far as the US military are concerned, the PRTs fall under military command because that's what happens with American PRTs"—and so on. So he raises a question about the continued arrangements and I asked him, "What price the PRT then"? I would just like to hear your views on whether or not he is right and on what those tensions are, because he ends up using this phrase:  "It will have to be resolved, but maybe resolved through creative management by the key players"—whatever that means.

  Lindy Cameron: I think that my view is, as has been said, this has evolved significantly in the last year and it will continue to evolve. There is a senior US civilian in Helmand now, but in fact the agreement between the UK and the US is that the UK head of the PRT is also the NATO Senior Civilian for RC South-West, and the US senior representative is his or her deputy for that role.

  So we worked through the way that we can use that US civilian surge most effectively, ensure that the US Marine Corps gets the US political advice that it obviously needs for its own purposes and use those resources effectively in Helmand.

  You are right. Obviously, from our experience it is much easier to work in close co-operation with a military unit that is co-located. But clearly one of the particular challenges of the last year in Helmand has been that there are now effectively four other—


2.51 pm

  Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.


3.2 pm

  On resuming—

  Q129 Chair: You were in full flood when we broke off to vote, Ms Cameron. Did you complete your general sentiments or would you like to say them again?

  Lindy Cameron: Perhaps I should summarise them in a couple of sentences. The situation in Helmand has evolved significantly, as has been described. Therefore, naturally the relationships on the civilian side and the mil side are evolving to reflect that change. Basically, we have agreed a situation as I described with the UK and US senior representatives. Of course, naturally it is a challenge working with a headquarters based in Leatherneck rather than in Lashkar Gah but, for General Mills, Governor Mangal is as much a partner for him as he is for me, and the key thing is that, for both of us in the military in RC South-West, a region that has only two Provinces, the Helmand Government is in a sense the key counterpart and therefore quite a lot of—[Interruption.]—comes forward to Lashkar Gah and spends time at the PRT. It has set up a dedicated office in the PRT building to make sure that the civilian-military relationship is very much focused on supporting the Afghan Government.

  Q130 Chair: And that works?

  Lindy Cameron: Yes, it does.

  Air Marshal Peach: The word "cosy" was used in evidence previously. The fact is that, in order to understand governance in Helmand and the South-West part of Afghanistan, we do need to have that level of relationship with the Governor, and that is precisely what we have got. I know that General Mills is very grateful for all that Lindy has done to enable that depth of relationship.

  Q131 Mr Havard: I am sorry, I missed part of your answer, but I will look at it later. As for the point about governance, I spoke to Governor Mangal last week myself and your stories match. I checked the consistency. The question of governance in Helmand was very interesting. In fact, in fairness to Professor Farrell, he was contrasting the benefits there are in the Government process that is developing in Helmand as opposed to the difficulties there are in developing the same set of arrangements in Kandahar and around that area of the South-West.

  Lindy Cameron: To be honest, both the Afghan Government and also the Coalition partners learnt a lot from Helmand about what to do in Kandahar.

  Mr Havard: I hope so.

  Lindy Cameron: Absolutely. The point is that they actively learnt those lessons. For example, Minister Popal who runs the independent directorate of local governance literally had a sort of top-10 list of things that he thought worked in Helmand, which he wanted to apply in Kandahar. For example, the system of district community councils, which would roll out under the ASOP programme, and the way that we had supported district government by pushing forward the district delivery programme were both lessons that he took. He also took away the lesson that actually what you needed in order to get effective government at district level was a strong and capable provincial local government again. He went away with a number of "to-do's" to push his ministerial colleagues on to get them to support that proposal.

  Q132 Mr Havard: We wanted to know whether or not all the benefits of doing the PRT in the way that you were doing it will now be subsumed by a new dominance of Americans coming into the area, or whether there will be the synergies that you suggest.

  Lindy Cameron: The US marines have now been in Helmand for more than a year and have also been at the scale they are at for more than six months now. I am clear that basically for six months we have been operating a system which is working well, and which they recognise the strengths of as well.

  Q133 Chair: Karen Pierce, we are just about to move on to some questions about the consent of the Afghan people but, before we do, it would be right to give you the opportunity to comment on what Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles said yesterday in the Foreign Affairs Committee. He was reported in the Daily Mail as saying that, "Politicians were consistently deceived by the military over how well the campaign in Afghanistan was going". He said that the top brass were "misleadingly optimistic", and that if any official or minister cast doubt on them, they were attacked as "defeatist". Do you have a similar view?

  Karen Pierce: No, I don't, Mr. Chairman. I have been working on Afghanistan for just over a year, but I worked on it in 2001 immediately after 9/11. I have a lot of experience of working alongside the military. I think of myself as a politico-military expert and, in my view, that is not how the British Government, whatever the party of the day is in power, actually does its business. There is actually quite a healthy debate in Whitehall to share information and analyse it. You will obviously get different points of view, but I think that the advice that goes to Ministers is pretty heavily sifted to ensure that it is the best possible advice and balance of factors.

  Q134 Chair: Air Marshal Peach, we had General Messenger in front of us last week and he said that until about two years ago the operation in Helmand had been really under-resourced. We asked whether he had told us this at the time, and I think that the implication of his answer was that he didn't remember having been asked that question at the time. That may well be fair enough. But do you recognise that there is a worry about our being given the good news and not being given the bad news?

  Air Marshal Peach: I recognise the worry, but I don't recognise the phrase "consistently deceived". I think we are honest in our advice—certainly from my headquarters—into the process that Karen has described. I think we are in tune with events on the ground. We almost accept that there is an evolutionary process here of both understanding the environment in Helmand over the last five years, which has been a process of understanding both the tribal dynamic, the Taliban itself and its local factors as well as the Taliban factors more broadly. That evolution is what, I think, Gordon Messenger was trying to describe. I don't think there is any sense that I could think of where our advice, as Karen suggested, has been anything other than a healthy debate.

  Of course, the other point to make is very important. Throughout the process since 2006, the commander of the force has been an American General. We must always put the Helmand operation in that broader context of both the region and the whole of the country and there, of course, the debate takes place between capitals and between higher headquarters.

  Q135 Mr Hancock: You were Director General of Intelligence up to 2006. The Secretary of State at the time sat in this room just before our troops were deployed to Helmand telling us that, on the best evidence they had and all the intelligence that they had got together, this was going to be a pretty low-key, peaceful event. He didn't really expect many casualties. He certainly wasn't expecting to have the problems that pursued. Was he told the truth about that situation at the time or was it just lack of intelligence that prevailed upon him to give us such a misleading statement?

  Air Marshal Peach: I can't comment on the last point. I would say that we knew what we knew and we were working very hard to understand what I think the Committee would agree is a very complex tribal dynamic. It's a very complex part of Afghanistan. It's historically part that we didn't understand as much as we do now, because we've been there for a number of years.

  Q136 Mr Hancock: But we'd already been there for five years at that time.

  Air Marshal Peach: But we were not in Helmand.

  Mr Hancock: No, but we were in Afghanistan.

  Q137 Mr Brazier: Could I just come in on the edge from that? We had a presentation last night from Sir Graeme Lamb and Colonel Richard Williams, both of whom have spent some years not only serving there in a military capacity, but have been back many times since in a civilian one. One of their central points was the concern that your organisation at Northwood—it is not a personal criticism of you; park completely the moral dimension of the quote that we are discussing and just think about mechanics—tended to act as a barrier between the people on the ground who often needed rapid instructions from politicians as to what was needed. It is a rather strange system, looked at the from outside, in the era of instant communications, to have commanders on the ground and politicians who have to make decisions with the chiefs of staff advising them and then—one doesn't have to go into all the stories about the difficulties of getting anyone to answer the phone in the middle of a Twickenham match, and various other things—a group in the middle who are acting as the command structure. Why can't the command be done on the ground and the political reference, or reference for policy guidance, be directed back to the Ministry of Defence?

  Air Marshal Peach: Operational control of the force is delegated forward to Afghanistan, so command in that sense is exercised in Afghanistan through the national contingent. That is held, as I explained to the Committee on a visit to PJHQ, by a British three-star general forward in Kabul, who is also double-hatted as the deputy commander of the international force. Operational command sets the conditions and enables command. My headquarters is manned 24/7 and I'm not here to comment on what others may have said, which I have not seen.

  Chair: I don't want to spend time on this today, because I want to get back to the consent of the Afghan people now.

  Q138 Mr Hancock: May I direct some questions to you, Karen? Do you believe that the Afghans are convinced that we're going to stay for the long haul or are they convinced that we're all going to be gone by 2015, maybe leaving them in a difficult position?

  Karen Pierce: The Afghans worry that they will be abandoned again by the international community in general. One thing that they will quote to you is the fact that they see this as the third American engagement with Afghanistan and they consider that they were withdrawn from, or disengaged from, prematurely on earlier occasions. We are starting to explain—I think they do understand—that while British Forces will be out of combat by 2015, British engagement, military training, development and other assistance, alongside that of other western nations, will continue. I think that the NATO Lisbon summit will make some of that clear, by looking forward to a longer-term partnership between NATO countries and Afghanistan.

  Q139 Mr Hancock: Who are the Afghans you're talking about who are concerned about us not sticking around? Is it just the Karzai Government and the people who are propping him up, or is it much wider than that?

  Karen Pierce: You will hear it among the opinion formers. It's a view that they express privately. It's sometimes a view that appears in the Afghan papers and it's sometimes a view that you will hear on the seminar circuit, or reflected by other people in the region, such as the Pakistanis. But, as I said, it is gradually coming to be understood that western engagement as a whole will continue in Afghanistan for many years yet, partly because one of the objectives is to get Afghanistan on what I might call a more normal development trajectory, such that the more normal structures of the international community—the UN and so on—can take up a more regular role.

  Q140 Mr Hancock: Have you done any work in trying to analyse the counter-view to that from within Afghanistan? There are people in Afghanistan who would welcome the Coalition Forces leaving ASAP. What have you done on that issue?

  Karen Pierce: There has been a number of studies, some of them funded by DFID, that explore those questions. If you look at the most recent opinion poll on the subject, which I think came from the BBC, some 70% of Afghans say that they want ISAF to be in their country. Afghan formal consent has been given for ISAF to be there, and that is noted in the Security Council resolutions that endorse the ISAF mandate and mission.

  On whether Afghans want international forces to leave, I think there is a general view among Afghans that they do not much like foreigners. Lindy was pointing out earlier that this is a view that you get at the local level—they don't much like the people in the other district—and it is a view that you get at the provincial and national levels. To that extent it is not a society that automatically embraces foreigners but, in terms of working alongside ISAF, in practical terms, we see rather good co-operation from the Afghans.

  Q141 Mr Hancock: How do you judge people's reactions to the widespread corruption of the Afghan Government?

  Karen Pierce: It is something that has been covered in the two DFID studies, and it is also an issue that is covered in regular polling. The Committee may be aware of the Asia Foundation poll that has just been released—this is a poll that the Asia Foundation does annually. In that poll, there are two concerns cited by Afghans as governing their attitudes to the future: one is security, which Lindy mentioned, and the other is corruption. We are well aware of the importance of corruption not only in terms of helping to develop the Afghan economy, but also in terms of what you might think of as hearts and minds, and Afghans as a whole being comfortable with the level of service that they get from their Government.

  Q142 Mr Hancock: Do either of you—Ms Cameron as well as yourself—believe there is a genuine prospect of seeing the level of corruption reduced in any foreseeable time scale? That might give people more confidence.

  Karen Pierce: The two international conferences that were held this year—the London conference and the Kabul conference—set out mini action plans to help tackle corruption, and some progress has been made. It being the kind of society it is, where warlords have held sway for quite a long time over various districts, it will take a long time for corruption to fall. Transparency International has done some work on this, but we are already starting to see some of the mechanisms that were committed to at the Kabul conference bear fruit.

  Lindy Cameron: At a practical level in Helmand, it's clearly quite a challenge for the Government, and I think Governor Mangal would certainly say that it is something that he feels he needs to take consistent, repeated action on to make sure that people have increased confidence in the Government. He has been extremely tough on corruption, including, on a couple of occasions, actually having members of his staff arrested when there were allegations against them. He has taken quite tough action at some personal risk. That is now playing out in a very positive way, and people's confidence in the Government is beginning to improve.

  It also helps that people's confidence in the police force, at very local level, is improving in Helmand. You see that partly in people no longer insisting on having a police force from entirely outside their district or province but actually wanting the kind of local police force which, at times in times gone by, has been a generator rather than a preventer of corruption. Now they actually have enough confidence in the police force that they are starting to ask for well trained local police, because they think that they can have confidence in those government systems.

  Q143 Ms Stuart: This question is to both Karen and Lindy. Could you give me your definition of corruption? I am slightly puzzled because there is the non-transparent way in which money goes in but does not come out on the other end, but then there is the quite transparent way in which money is inappropriately used and given to groups that favour one side rather than another. What is your definition of corruption?

  Karen Pierce: We would tend to follow OECD standards on that. I can't cite what the definition would be, but when we help to set up things such as the Major Crimes Task Force and help with governance, it is certainly about making sure that money isn't diverted and that officials aren't improperly receiving funds that ought to go to legitimate sources.

  Q144 Ms Gisela Stuart: So it can be transparent but still go to groups favouring one side rather than another?

  Karen Pierce: I don't know if that was covered by the OECD definition, but certainly the way we run our funding and the things we look at, and that we want the Afghan institutions to look at, would cover that sort of thing. Afghans themselves sometimes have a rather different definition of corruption, which can mean people doing something inappropriate without necessarily the sense of financial gain.

  Q145 Mr Havard: I notice in the same poll from the Asia Foundation that you cited an interesting element relating to its concerns about unemployment as well as corruption, and I think that there is an interesting shift there. I note that Afghan Government structures have actually stopped 150 aid groups doing their work because they have not been transparent and put forward accounts. Is that right? I took that from The Times, but I don't normally believe what I read in it.

  Karen Pierce: I don't have access to any more precise information than that which you have just quoted, but it is the case that various bodies are being stricter about how money is spent and accounted for.

  Lindy Cameron: On the point about corruption, it is worth saying that in Helmand one of the big challenges is the funds from opium production. In a sense, therefore, not only are people focused on the Government funding, but there is an abuse of power issue that is quite important. One of the key things is that Government officials are trusted not to abuse power in order to allow access to ways of getting money from the drugs system, for example.

  Q146 Mr Hancock: How much of an impediment is President Karzai to getting a settlement in Afghanistan generally, and are we putting enough pressure on him and his Government to reform and reduce corruption? He made great play two weeks ago of saying that there was transparency when he received cash because it came in bags that allowed people to see the money. He felt that that was a good indication of the transparency of the operation. The Americans were upset about Iran giving money, but I would like to know whether the UK has ever paid large sums of cash over in the same way.

  Karen Pierce: I can assure you on the latter point that we don't pay cash over like that. DFID has very strict controls for tracking where its money has gone and what it has been spent on. That applies in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan. With regard to your first question on the settlement, President Karzai has launched a process to aid reconciliation. He has set out three conditions that may be familiar to the Committee: renounce al-Qaeda, give up the armed struggle, and work within the Afghan constitutional framework. He has inaugurated the higher peace council, the body that came out of the May Peace Jirga, which is intended to take reconciliation forward. He has set out the decree so that reintegration can happen. After that, the next step is for the detailed guidance to be elaborated and sent out to the provincial and district governors so that they can get on with that on the ground. President Karzai is making efforts to bring those people in the insurgency who want to reconcile into the fold.

  I think that there is a second aspect to what is sometimes thought of as a political settlement, and that is internal political processes within Afghanistan, of which things such as election reform becomes an important part. That is also being taken forward. We have seen already a marked improvement over the way the parliamentary elections were handled during the Presidential Elections last year. Those are, of course, things that the Afghans are running themselves, so there has been a learning curve. In terms of the way that parliamentary elections have been handled, they are climbing that learning curve reasonably successfully.

  Q147 Mr Hancock: How do we exercise pressure on President Karzai on corruption? What do you effectively do on that issue? It is one thing saying that we don't want corruption to go on, but what do we actually do? What is the stick that we've got to beat him with to get them to do something, or is it simply that we offer bigger and better carrots?

  Karen Pierce: I would not like to say it's a choice between carrots and sticks on an issue like corruption. The whole way the international community works with the Afghans is trying to help them learn how to run their country effectively. So, rather than pressure and sticks, it's more about tutoring, helping, and helping to build capacity.

  We have three main ways we do that. One is through planning and establishing commitments from both the Afghans as to what practically they are going to do on corruption and from the international community as to what assistance it will provide for that. The main vehicles for that have been the London and Kabul conference commitments. On a regular basis, the UN leads an effort inside Afghanistan to monitor where those commitments have got to, and anti-corruption is obviously part of that. The British Ambassador has a programme fund, some of which is devoted to anti-corruption measures. He provides political oversight of that, so that if there is a problem with such-and-such a ministry, for example, the ambassador will go to talk that through with the Minister or, as necessary, with President Karzai. Behind that, there stand Ministers, who take up such issues as and when they need to with President Karzai and his Ministers.

  Q148 Mr Hancock: We heard from Ms Cameron earlier about women in the regional and national Governments. Would the average Afghan woman be satisfied that we are doing enough to give her greater stability in her life and greater optimism for a better future, and to give greater protection to her and her children, particularly girls?

  Karen Pierce: It is an issue that the Government take very seriously. If it's helpful, Mr Chairman, I have figures relating to Mrs Moon's earlier question about how life has changed for women since the Taliban. I could read them out or write in with them.

  Chair: Could you write in with them, please, because that would be helpful.

  Karen Pierce: There is a long way to go, but the women's voice, in terms of internal affairs in Afghanistan, is getting stronger. Encouragingly, at the May Peace Jirga, a very high proportion of the delegates who were sent from the Provinces were women. The Provinces that submitted delegation lists that did not look representative were asked to rethink, which had a salutary effect. When the Peace Jirga started there was some tension, which the Afghans remarked on themselves, between the women and the mullahs. But by the second day of the Peace Jirga, those tensions were starting to dissipate, and the mullahs were relying on the women to act as secretaries and scribes for the committees. Most people think that that was a good start. The number of women parliamentary candidates has also been going up gradually. Again, that will be a slow process, but the voice is getting stronger.

  Chair: I don't know that that would be the reaction in this country.

  Q149 Mr Hancock: But are the women who get elected the sort of women who care enough about other women in the villages of Afghanistan who have been subjected to generations of abuse and mistreatment? Are they the sort of women who will carry forward a commitment to women generally, or are they just no different from men—they are in the political game for what they can get out of it?

  Karen Pierce: That is a bit of a caricature, if I may so. As in any political system, you will find both types of female politicians.

  Chair: I think you are right.

  Q150 Penny Mordaunt: I would like to ask Karen Pierce and Lindy Cameron what you think the impact of civilian casualties has been on the success of operations.

  Lindy Cameron: I am not sure that is for me to comment on. I would have thought that that is really for my military colleagues to comment on.

  Q151 Penny Mordaunt: I was thinking with particular reference to the policy of courageous restraint.

  Chair: The reason this is coming to you is that we asked General Messenger that question last month, so we feel we have had a military view. That was helpful, but we may ask the same question of General Capewell and Air Marshal Peach. That is why—you may have been able to see the civilian side.

  Lindy Cameron: If I can, perhaps I should reflect Governor Mangal's view, which was that he very much welcomed General McChrystal's increased focus on preventing civilian casualties. Certainly for him, every time there has been a casualty incident, he takes it extremely seriously. He looks to engage with and understand both what happened and the public's response to it. He very much welcomed the increased focus and the transparent relationship between the military and his Government on understanding incidents as they happened.

  Q152 Penny Mordaunt: On securing the consent of the local population, what would you say the impact of that has been?

  Lindy Cameron: Certainly that increased focus has been reflected in helping him have a more effective and credible relationship with his population.

  Air Marshal Peach: General Petraeus has continued the policy of General McChrystal. He has simplified the language in terms of the guidance given to soldiers. I can say, because I think the figures come from the United Nations, that the majority of casualties are caused by the Taliban, and the number of casualties caused by the international force has dropped by 30% in the last six months. Every alleged incident is taken very seriously, with immediate investigation, and there is a tendency for the facts to not quite bear out the initial report.

  Karen Pierce: I used to be in the UK Mission to the United Nations, and I can reinforce what Sir Stuart said about every civilian casualty that is caused by ISAF being taken very seriously, because we used to talk about it in the Security Council. I would make the point that any casualty caused by ISAF or the ANSF is accidental, and those caused by the insurgency are a deliberate targeting of civilians. That point isn't adequately understood in some parts of Afghanistan.

  Q153 Mr Brazier: May I ask the panel as a whole to briefly assess progress on the Afghan National Forces—the army and the police?

  Air Marshal Peach: The general sense of progress is very positive in terms of the target numbers being met—over 250,000 between the Afghan army and police. More importantly in many ways, it's positive in terms of capability. We are now regularly seeing—it is happening as we speak—operations being routinely led by the Afghan army at brigade level, brigade level being a sizeable force, and ISAF in a mentoring and supporting role. We are now working on the next steps around developing the specialist areas of the Afghan army, which I am sure your advisers can brief you on in terms of logistics, signals and so on. So the Afghan army is succeeding in both numbers and capability. Obviously, the Afghan police have been more of a challenge. I think the Committee is aware that we helped to create the Helmand police training centre in Lashkar Gar. It has been very successful. It has been used as an exemplar of how to change the dynamics for policing locally by the NATO training mission in Kabul.

  We are pushing out a lot of young and not so young men who have already been policemen in Afghanistan for some time, but who have not received any formal training. When you visit, you don't just see a stack of new recruits. There is a sort of age mix, so that we are catching up on the training. In addition, and it is quite an important point, there is a lot of work going on now, both in Kabul and locally, to train the leaders. The key to success is thickening the ability of the Afghan army—both the senior and non-commissioned officer level—and the ability of their officers to take the leadership role from ISAF. We are now trying to develop the same thing with the police. I must say we are aided extremely well by the central ministries in Kabul, which really understand the importance of developing Afghan Security Forces. That is an overview.

  Chair: May I interpose? Madeleine, do you want to ask Air Marshal Peach about that?

  Q154 Mrs Moon: You are painting a very positive picture, but we got rid of Abdul Wali Khan, the warlord-cum-police chief in Musa Qala. The British objected to his presence and his historic allegiance with the Taliban, and Karzai insisted that he was reinstated. When I asked Governor Mangal about the fact that he was still there and still causing problems, he said that he recognised that. What can we do when we remove those in the police whom we see as being corrupt, and then they are imposed back on to the community by Karzai? Are we making progress?

  Air Marshal Peach: That is one case, and I am not going to comment on a specific case. It is for the Governor to argue the point up to Kabul. Lindy explained earlier that we have the combination of a district governor, an army commander who understands the local conditions and a district policeman who is in tune with the local district governor, although he may not be from the same tribe. When we have those three actors, with international forces very much in support in the background, things move quickly on the security line. You are absolutely right that where there are examples of that not working, the Afghan officials, particularly in Kabul, have to do something about that.

  The overall sense in Helmand, in the three key districts where we are—in the centre—is that that triumvirate approach is working. Again, I am painting not an overly optimistic picture, but a picture of evolution, particularly this year, as we have been able to thicken the governance effect at the local level. We have enabled that through the creation of the Helmand Police Training Centre, which has now produced well over 1,000 policemen to do that local policing in Helmand.

  Major General Capewell: To go back to training, by any international standard, the training delivery process across Afghanistan has got to be seen as a success. I have been involved in training around the world for the last 30 years and the industrial scale of the effort by the NATO training mission is a substantial success story. It is patchy in areas and literacy is a problem, but I can read you the figures. We now have 138,000 in the ANA and 120,000 in the ANP. This is industrial. Of course, this is right at the heart of the issue of the transfer of lead security responsibility. We need that quantity and quality of people to be able to hand over eventually.

  Q155 Mr Brazier: May I come back to Sir Stuart for a moment? I have pressed him on this issue in the private briefings we get regularly from the MoD. What is the picture on recruiting Pashtuns, in particular those from the South, into the army and the police? Given that the Taliban are a Southern Pashtun organisation, the level of recruitment from that group must be crucial to credibility.

  Air Marshal Peach: It is improving. It is near to the targets that are set centrally.

  Peter Watkins: I can give you the figures either verbally or in written form. There is a series of targets, and the target for Pashtuns is 44%. The current figure is 43%. I know what you are going to say next—there are Pashtuns and Pashtuns. The number of Pashtuns from the South is considerably lower than we would wish.

  Q156 Chair: What does that mean in terms of numbers?

  Peter Watkins: I am afraid I don't have the figure with me. One reason for that—it is a vicious circle—is the insecurity that is still in the South. People are worried about serving in the army because they feel that their families may be targeted. As we improve security in the South—and we are doing so—we expect the number of Pashtuns from the South to increase.

  Lindy Cameron: If you look at it from the perspective of somebody in a district, clearly, what they will always see is a national army force, which is a balanced composition. What they would like to see are policemen from their local area. Part of the reason we put so much effort into the Helmand Police Training Centre is that people are increasingly asking, as they gain increased confidence in the police force, for policemen not just from their province, but from their district. They want local boys who recognise who the good guys and bad guys are, and who can really effectively do local community policing, as well as the more sophisticated end. They want to see a police force from their area, which would reflect that Southern Pashtun composition.

  Q157 Mr Brazier: You have anticipated my next question. You do then see a real difference in the behaviour of the police on the ground?

  Lindy Cameron: Yes, absolutely. To reinforce what Air Marshal Peach said, we are not going to be over-optimistic about this. We are starting from an extremely low base. Indeed, when I went to Helmand a year ago, one of my biggest concerns was actually the reputation of the police force at local level in areas like Marjah where, for example, the historic corruption of the police force was one of the reasons why that area turned to the Taliban in the first place.

  You are talking about a slow-building confidence, but the fact is that people now see a police force that they have confidence in. They have confidence that they have been drug tested. They can have confidence that they have been trained in how to hold their weapons and in how to man a guard post effectively. There was a visible difference in the way that police behave. You were talking about a police training centre both in Lashkar Gah and the one in Camp Shurabak in a way that is slowly building people's confidence. The reason why I am sure of that is, because when you talk to people in Marjah about what they want, they no longer say, "We want anybody but the local police force." They say, "We want you to recruit and train police from our area who understand us."

  Q158 Mr Havard: Some of that echoes the discussion we had with Governor Mangal himself, and how he can deal with some of the more recalcitrant district police chiefs that he needs to manage. The management would partly seem to be reducing its capacity by ejecting more of those trained policemen into these areas. It is quite clearly one way of helping to achieve that. He did make a plea about the business of the local police. I think that he is right. This is an area that should have been given attention years ago. His plea is that, whilst the training for the national army is such that the middle rank officer corps area needs attention, the same level of attention needs to be given to police officers. That is my understanding of it. He doesn't express it that way. My understanding is that a district governor would be like a police superintendent. It is inspector level. He is making a plea that we give more resources by putting particular emphases—perhaps bringing people here as well to train them.

  Air Marshal Peach: We are doing precisely that—not so much the last point, but we are doing exactly that right now. We are trying to develop the Helmand Police Training Centre into that level. It won't be called "inspector", but it will be that sort of level. We are working closely through officials with the Ministry of Interior because ultimately it is in charge of the police in Kabul. That is very positive, and a long way from where we were.

  Lindy Cameron: The first NCO training course in 30 years was run in Helmand Province this year at the Helmand Police Training Centre. One of the challenges for NCOs and the police force at Helmand is that they have to pass a literacy requirement, which is a very challenging issue for many people who want to join. There are some people who are filling policemen slots, who need to work on literacy in order to get those NCO slots, which is why part of the training course we run is actually on literacy.

  Q159 Ms Stuart: I have two things about the training of police. Visiting it, it also had a European component. Has not part of Europe gone there as well? The second thing is that the UK keeps saying that there are NATO partners who don't send any troops active on the ground. At least they could help us more with training. Is that making any progress?

  Peter Watkins: Perhaps I can pick up on the EUPOL point. EUPOL are active at national level mainly, developing national police capacity particularly in things like forensic skills. At the local level, we are providing about twenty Ministry of Defence police to assist with the training.

  Q160 Chair: Is it right to say that, until the London conference earlier this year, there was an expectation that the Germans would do the training of the police in the way that the allocation of responsibilities like narcotics to the United Kingdom was divided out? That has been dropped, hasn't it?

  Peter Watkins: Following the Bonn conference in 2001, there was an allocation of responsibilities across the G8. You are correct, Chairman, that Germany was allocated police training. Italy was developing the justice system. We got counter narcotics and the Americans got training the army. Since then, there has been a less rigorous segregation, and we have also been active in police training. But we don't regard police training as a major UK line of activity. We don't, for example, have a carabinieri-type force, which is ideal for training police in those circumstances. So we have focused more on niche activities by, for example, supporting the EUPOL mission in Kabul, and the training that I mentioned we are doing in Helmand.

  Q161 Mrs Moon: I want to raise some issues in relation to the Armed Forces, about whether we deployed enough people ourselves in 2006 and whether you feel there was an impact on our failure to deploy sufficient numbers of troops in that year.

  Peter Watkins: The context here—and perhaps I can focus on what has happened over the last two years as being important—is that we have been seeking to rebalance our contribution in Helmand. That has been by a combination of a series of force uplifts, which the Committee will have been following, from 8,300 in early 2008, to 9,500.

  Chair: Speak up, please.

  Peter Watkins: There has been a series of force uplifts, which the Committee will have been following, from 8,300 in early 2008 to 9,500 now. There has also been a reduction in our area of responsibility, so we have transferred a series of areas to the US Marine Corps.

  Q162 Chair: I am going to stop you, because I think that Madeleine Moon was talking about 2006.

  Peter Watkins: I can't comment on 2006 beyond saying what General Messenger said last week about the availability of resources influencing the range of tasks that could be carried out. There were certain tasks that, as he said, could not be carried out because there were not the resources. The obvious example is Marjah, which was not addressed before the beginning of this year.

  Q163 Mrs Moon: So did we have enough personnel to carry out the tasks that we had in 2006? What was the impact of not having enough personnel in that year on the tasks that were generated for the forces that we had then?

  Air Marshal Peach: Can we return to that in writing, because without seeing exactly what those tasks were and exactly what the forces were in 2006, it is hard to answer that?

  Q164 Mrs Moon: Do we have the correct force levels now, and what would you say if we offered another 5,000 troops?

  Air Marshal Peach: We have the correct force levels now in terms of what we call force density for the tasks that we are undertaking in central Helmand in three key districts, where the force level, as Peter has indicated, is around 9,500. Those tasks have evolved since 2006, when it was an initial deployment. As that deployment has developed, so has the geography. There has been a steady increase in the number of troops deployed; there has been a steady increase in the understanding of where we are and what the local conditions are; and there has been a steady increase in force density to understand what we need in that counter-insurgency for that part of Afghanistan. That assessment varies by district; it is quite different across the whole of Afghanistan.

  We can honestly say that we have the force density for the tasks that we now need, which is linked to the previous answers given to Mr Brazier. The task is now increasingly to bring this partnership—this integration—of not just civil and military effect, but of leadership of the Afghans. That has grown from mentoring at unit level, through support at battalion level, to support at brigade level in the past year. There has been a steady process of evolution since the Afghan Forces started to be developed a few years ago. I am very confident of that assessment. Of course, situations change, and the situation could change again in future, and we must be cognisant of that.

  The insurgent has definitely reacted to our progress on the ground. I think that we can be confident that we are now in a position where, in the three key districts where British Forces are deployed and in the Helmand Province where the majority of the forces are US Marine Corps, tactical progress is being made and, importantly, that progress is being sustained. That sustainment of security is what gives Governor Mangal the confidence to say what he said when he was in London last week and the confidence in the civil effect that follows up.

  Q165 Mrs Moon: It has been suggested that there are glossy, over-positive descriptions of the success and capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces and that, in fact, many of the operations in which they take the lead are small scale and are always backed up and that it is only the fact that they are backed up by British and American Forces that makes them successful. Is that an accurate description?

  Air Marshal Peach: In part. But, of course, for every one of those stories which is a negative, there are many unreported stories which are very positive. There have been many positive operations, at the tactical level, undertaken by the Afghan army, where UK, US, Danish or Estonian Forces have been very much in the background. I can think of a couple in the summer that were not widely reported, but were extremely successful and virtually led totally by the Afghans. I think that Lindy would agree that there have been a number of quite serious security challenges in the district capital of Lashkar Gah, which have been entirely handled by the Afghans. I would go as far as saying that when we have contacted them and said, "Do you need that back up? Do you need this or that support?", they have said, "No. We have the situation under control and we are dealing with it." I do not accept that that is over-positive. That is the reporting that we are getting from theatre.

  Q166 Mrs Moon: What has been the impact on the morale of UK Forces of the withdrawal from Sangin?

  Air Marshal Peach: The withdrawal from Sangin has to be seen in that process of evolution around the battle space, as we have concentrated, as required by NATO, on the three key districts in central Helmand. One of the obvious ways of achieving that force density was to concentrate, where we have ended up. This manoeuvre, this relief in place, is always one of the more—as I am sure Committee Members with military experience and your advisers would agree—complex tasks. It was achieved with great skill by both the UK and American Forces. It was a large-scale logistics effort. Of course, the fight in that area continues. We must be sensitive to that, and to our American friends and colleagues who are now suffering losses.

  I do not think that it is fair to say that it has had any effect on the UK Force morale. The soldiers who have now conducted that relief in place have returned to the UK. The new battalion or battle group which replaced them has moved to a new area and the operation, in an integrated fashion, between the UK and the US continues. What I am trying to say to the Committee is that it isn't really a story. It is normal, routine, military business. Sangin is a difficult place, I am not denying that. It remains a difficult place. The tribute that I freely offer is to the way in which, at a tactical level, both UK and US Forces have gone about their business in making that adjustment.

  Q167 Bob Stewart: Forgive me for returning to 2006 when you do not want to talk about it. You are, however, the resident experts. The question we asked was about what went wrong in 2006. I will be specific. You may not know the tactics in detail, but you will have heard and you will have been briefed on the strategy and the tactics at the time. Why did we put 3 Para in platoon houses—unprotected, unsupported and without helicopters? Who was responsible for that? Was that a military decision? Or was it a military and a political decision? Who gave that order to put our troops into isolated locations where they were taken out one at a time and we had to use massive airpower to save them? Who was responsible for that?

  Chair: Air Marshal Peach?

  Air Marshal Peach: We were not in our current positions—

  Q168 Bob Stewart: Of course you weren't in your current positions, but you have been briefed, Air Marshal, on what happened in 2006, because if you haven't, there is something wrong. What happened in 2006 that caused us here, back in this country, such heartache, particularly with 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment? Since then, the tactics have been such that we have lost of a heck of a lot of soldiers. You have concentrated our minds back on 2008-09, and dodged 2006. The purpose of the question was 2006.

  Chair: You are the military witnesses in front of this Committee. We would like to know what it was that caused these concerns to be raised with the British public. Those concerns remain.

  Peter Watkins: I don't think we are in a position to say precisely who took what decision in 2006. We have said already that this campaign evolved. We learnt a lot from, as it were, doing it. Our intelligence and our understanding of the area have steadily improved, and as our knowledge and experience have increased, we have learnt the lessons and applied them. I set out—I am sorry if it irritated the Committee—what we did from late 2008 onwards to rebalance our Forces and ensure that there was an equitable division of labour across Helmand, taking advantage of the large inflow of American Forces.

  Q169 Chair: Can I put it to you in a different way? Last week, I read out to General Messenger the following quotation: "the British have consistently dispersed their kinetic effects over time and space so that they never achieve the lasting dominance over any particular area necessary to neutralise Taliban influence there." One of the examples of that was the platoon houses strategy. I read it to General Messenger last week and asked him why this had happened. Are you able to answer that question?

  Air Marshal Peach: Not this afternoon. I will give you the answer in writing through the Ministry of Defence. I am not prepared to just extemporise over four years ago, when I was not in the operational chain of command.

  Mr Brazier: I am conscious of the fact that Colonel Stewart is a distinguished former regular soldier, but I think the thing that seems so very odd to very large numbers of people in the retired military community was that the strategy we adopted there was completely out of line with the way in which the British Army has historically operated. The idea that you put little penny packets of people dotted around the countryside without any support was something that we have never done before or since. It suggests to us that there may well be something wrong with the whole command structure that is applying, which goes beyond the responsibility of individuals. We obviously can sit here in safety and comfort in this room, but every ex-soldier I spoke to about it was just incredulous at what was going on.

  Chair: We are not asking these questions because we are trying to second-guess the military. I am not a person of military experience myself, but it would be quite helpful to have an explanation from the military as to what it was that happened and why. But we will now move on.

  Mr Hancock: I would hope that in doing that, we would reflect on what has been given in evidence to the Committee by people such as Butler and other generals, who have been there and come here subsequently to give evidence about what they were experiencing at the time.

  Q170 Mrs Moon: One of the things that I would like to put on record is that you, Air Marshal, made a comment about the withdrawal from Sangin being understandable to ex-military and to our advisers. It is important that those of us on this Committee who are not ex-military understand, because in explaining to us and making it clear to us who are not ex-military, hopefully you will also make it clear to our constituents, who are also largely not ex-military. There is a huge problem. There is an expectation that the military can explain themselves to the military, and it is this Committee that must be the filter that gets the explanation for our constituents and the British public, who are funding this and who are the people to whom, ultimately, we are all responsible. I would like to make that clear.

  How do you feel the image of UK Forces, in relation to NATO and the USA, has been affected by our withdrawal from Sangin?

  Air Marshal Peach: In terms of our relationship with the United States Marine Corps?

  Mrs Moon: Our relationship and our reputation.

  Air Marshal Peach: Our relationship and our reputation are undiminished. General Petraeus, General Rodriguez and General Mills are on record paying tribute to the tactical skill of the British Armed Forces and the British Army in the particular case of Sangin. In fact, we must remind ourselves that in the case of Sangin it was the Royal Marine Commandos, 40 Commando to be precise, who conducted the relief in place of the US Marine Corps, and all of the commanding generals in NATO have paid tribute to that. I deduce, therefore, that there has not been any effect on our reputation. It is important that we pay sufficient regard and tribute to the sacrifice that we have made in Sangin. As I have just indicated to the Chair, we will write to the Committee on how we ended up in Sangin in 2006.

  Q171 Chair: When we were in Lashkar Gah in January, we heard that the Americans were astonished by what we had managed to achieve with a very small density of troops. That perhaps describes the other side of the reputation coin to that presented by the question that has been asked. Let's now move on.

  Bob Stewart: I thought that Madeleine and I were going to talk about sustainment. I am worried by how we will sustain our operations with such small forces. For example, the battalion that I commanded returned last week. It had 12 dead, more than 100 wounded and seven triple amputees, who had two legs between them. How often are infantry or Royal Marine soldiers going back? I know what the answer is for units, but, given the way that the Armed Forces have trickle-posted their soldiers, what is the average tour interval between an individual going out to Afghanistan and returning again?

  Chair: Hold on, we are going to move on to tour intervals in a moment. We are talking about sustainment at the moment.

  Q172 Bob Stewart: How do we sustain that sort of thing? No one has ever mentioned battle casualty replacements. If you lose 100 from a 500-strong unit, you are pushed. Do we have effective battle casualty replacements? Are battle casualty replacements put into units in the middle of tours?

  Air Marshal Peach: Yes we do and yes they are. If you wish me to go into detail, I can do that in writing. That is a subject that we continually refine through lessons identified then learned. I, of course, join the tributes paid to your former regiment. We are, of course, dealing with the consequences of the severely wounded, as well as those lost.

  Tour intervals are managed by the single services through a process of harmony. We can, again, go into statistical detail on that. On the sensitivity—if I have properly used that phrase—of tour intervals, it is very much the job of the chiefs of the single services to monitor that. Where my headquarters plays a particular supporting role to that process is in ensuring that there are no elements in our force structure who are asked to go more often than others. Those are what we term "pinch-point trades."—

  Bob Stewart: I accept that that is not your—

  Chair: I want to move on to that issue. John Glen.

  Q173 John Glen: Looking at the harmony issue, I understand that there's been some progress in that respect, in terms of not breaching it so significantly. Could you give your view on when we get to a situation where that breach would not happen at all? Perhaps the Air Marshal and then the General could comment.

  Air Marshal Peach: It would be difficult to say that it would never happen because, as I just suggested to Mr Stewart, it depends. There will always be people who are in high demand and short supply, particularly as campaigns evolve; therefore, we have to manage that carefully. The percentages are actually falling at the moment for all three services, and we can provide the Committee with written detail.

  Q174 Chair: But the percentages of breaches of harmony are falling.

    Air Marshal Peach: The breaches of harmony are falling.

  The key point is to understand that with the word of evolution comes an evolution within the force—different skills and different types of unit mixes are required. For example, if a unit is deploying as a battle group to undertake partnering and training in support of the Afghan Forces, it requires a different mix of ranks and of skill sets to undertake that role, compared with forces deploying to do ground-holding, as we may have talked about in 2008 or 2009. As that structure evolves, so the skill set evolves. That is a complex process and requires a great deal of interaction within the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines or Royal Air Force where appropriate. In other words, the skill set looks different; for example, we've been discussing briefly 3 Para, and it would look very different now on the ground in a unit that's doing the mentoring and training that we talked about earlier.

  Major General Capewell: The figures at the moment are that less than 1% of the Royal Navy, 6% of the Army and 5% of the RAF are operating above harmony guidelines. I think that it's important to remark that each service has different harmony guidelines, and I couldn't comment on the detail of the intricacies of that arrangement. My judgment is that this is recognised as a key issue to ensure that the sustainability of the forces is delivered over time—we all recognise that in terms of the Afghan campaign, we have to apply this calculus to 2015.

  Q175 John Glen: Just thinking about the situations where individuals are deployed multiple times to Afghanistan and Iraq, do you have any data on that?

  Air Marshal Peach: It is very complex. May we write to the Committee on the data? The point that I would make is that people who have deployed multiple times won't necessarily be doing the same job or be in the same rank. Of course there is recognition and reward here as well; where people have been recognised both for their bravery and for their skill in the field, they may well return in a senior NCO rank as opposed to a junior NCO rank or in a senior officer rank as opposed to a junior officer rank. Those would count as multiple tours, but in different roles. I think that we all know examples of that.

  We can provide the Committee with more detail, but with so many thousands of people cycling through Afghanistan every year, it is an evolutionary thing and is moving very quickly. In certain skilled areas, there will be people who have done multiple tours, for example, pilots—whether Army, Navy or Air Force—will often do shorter tours because they have to sustain other skills otherwise they will be lost. Other people do longer tours in staff appointments where it is important to have that breadth of understanding from a longer tour; for example, for people supporting Lindy in the PRT. We are sensitive to the fact that those fighting need as short a tour as possible. One size doesn't fit all.

  Q176 John Glen: In recognising that diversity of experience and the fact that people go back in different roles, do either of you have a view about how many multiple tours it's reasonable to ask individuals to take, or does your previous answer mitigate against an absolute number?

  Major General Capewell: I think that is an entirely personal question. People very quickly recognise whether they can put another tour in. I think the general view among my colleagues would be that three six-month tours in five years is about as much as you would want to do.

  Chair: Whereas the Chinook pilots in my constituency do two-month tours, and many more than three.

  Q177 Sandra Osborne: Could I ask about the allowances given for tours? You talked about rewards. Is it the case that the allowances given for tours have been changed to the detriment of members of the Armed Forces and that that is causing a problem with morale?

  Major General Capewell: Not to my knowledge. I think the operational bonus package now is as good as it has ever been.

  Air Marshal Peach: The operational allowance package is as good as it has ever been, to my knowledge. We do everything we can—everything we can—to provide as much welfare as we can. It is not a cash constraint; the constraint is literally the environment, rather than anything else. We are providing as much welfare as we can, and I receive very few complaints about that. The operational welfare package has been publicised and is, I think, pretty generous. That's the feedback we get from the Forces who are deployed.

  Q178 Sandra Osborne: So people are not worse off now than they were, say, a couple of years ago?

  Air Marshal Peach: No, I think they are quite considerably better off.

  Q179 Mr Hancock: May I ask about the suitability of some troops to be redeployed after they've been on perhaps one or two tours? I don't want you to answer the question this afternoon, because I think you probably need to get the information, but I would be interested to know, when you reply to us on the question from John, how many service personnel have been deemed fit for service but not for further deployment to a combat area.

  Air Marshal Peach: That is a very interesting and very good question. As you know, the Secretary of State for Defence has launched a mental health initiative. Some very preliminary research is being undertaken. Again, it's a very rapidly evolving picture. Of course, there's a physical ability to deploy to do jobs, and then there's the other question you're asking. All I will say is that I have extremely high confidence—this is a very important point to me personally—in the medical support our Forces receive from the point of being wounded and the other medical support they receive in Afghanistan all the way through the clinical pathway to this country. I have very high confidence in that.

  Mr Hancock: If you could write to us on that, it would be very helpful.

  Air Marshal Peach: We will.

  Q180 Mr Hancock: The suitability of people to do tours and to go back into combat is an issue that the Committee has been conscious of, because of the letters we've received as individual MPs and other comments that have been made to us, so that would be helpful.

  May I direct these questions to you, Major General? We've gone through years of complaints about shortages of things that have been requested by commanders in the field, and newspaper stories etc. relating to everything from helicopters and proper armoured support vehicles to personal armour and so on. What's your assessment now of the situation, and what are the challenges with which you continue to be confronted?

  Major General Capewell: That is an important question. Perhaps I can make a general response to it and then dip down into some areas that you may wish to take a little further. I don't think there's any question now but that we see this campaign as set properly on a campaign footing, where we have resource streams that are agile, behind a pretty dynamic threat picture. The threat evolves; the Taliban techniques evolve, and in many ways we have to anticipate that, pre-empt it, and adjust our resources accordingly. My general remark is that the approach to the campaign in terms of a national effort to sustain it and to deliver the technology required to defeat the threat is in reasonable shape. It's never perfect because the position in theatre is dynamic. That's the nature of these things. Perhaps as an example, I can dip into the question of the counter-IED fight.

  Chair: I was going to ask Madeleine Moon to ask a question about that.

  Q181 Mrs Moon: The counter-IED fight is the area on which most of our constituents are particularly focused, because they see the role that those play in a large number of deaths. Can you give us the latest position on that and also, how will the additional money you were promised in June be used and will it actually help tackle the problem?

  Major General Capewell: On the counter-IED fight, it is fair to say that the IED is the weapon of choice for terrorists and insurgents globally. I think it is also fair to say that it's only in the last four or five years that we have institutionalised an approach to this internationally. I can give you an example; there is a counter-IED Task Force in NATO now. Each nation has a counter-IED Task Force. It is institutionalised across NATO and, particularly in the US and the UK, we have very regular sharing of expertise and technological exchange, which deals with this not only in a technological sense, but in an upstream threat sense—the intelligence required to deliver against this—as well as the defensive techniques required in theatre.

  The Prime Minister announced £67 million in June for the counter-IED piece. £40 million of that has gone to EOD teams and the Mastiff vehicles. £11 million has gone to remote control vehicles and some of the residue has gone to military working dogs.

  I spend every day thinking about this problem because of the obvious force protection requirement. There is no question but that the technological advances to defeat some of these devices are very advanced now, but you cannot just see this fight in terms of the technological approach. You have got to look at techniques and practices in theatre. As the Taliban, the enemy, develop their techniques against us we have to respond. We have stratified our effort into both a technological approach, which has many upstream requirements outside theatre looking at different intelligence streams and also, as a defensive method, inside theatre, whether that is improvement in vehicles, improvement in individual equipment or the way we deal with it as a whole force, rather than just as individual nations.

  When you look at the institution of the counter-IED fight, while it is not perfect, Fort Halstead, our research establishment, is full square behind this. This is a main effort requirement not only because of the cost to blood and treasure in theatre, but because we recognise this as a long-term issue that will extend beyond any campaign in Afghanistan—as I said in my opening remarks, they are the weapon of choice for terrorists and insurgents.

  Q182 Mr Donaldson: You have mentioned technological improvements. I have a firm in my constituency who recently put forward proposals to the MoD to help bomb disposal operatives in Afghanistan. I won't go into the detail of it for obvious reasons, but they have found getting through the procurement procedures in the MoD to be an absolute nightmare, with delay after delay, even when those technologies have been tested and approved by people who are operationally competent. Do you get frustrated at times with the pace that these things move at?

    Major General Capewell: No, because I genuinely think and have no question in my mind that, while I don't know what technology you're talking about, there are novel approaches to this problem out there that need to be harnessed. Without going into too much detail, the fight against Taliban bombs that have a low metal content and so are hard to detect is a very important technological question. In terms of this enemy development, we watch it carefully and do the best that we can. If you would like to give me more detail about the firm that you are concerned with, I will take it up immediately to see if there is anything to offer to us.

  Chair: It would be helpful if this could be an issue that could also be looked at in the reform of acquisition process review that is currently going on.

  Q183 Mr Donaldson: Just briefly can I go back to the issue of sustainment? Are you satisfied that the current six-month and 24-month length and tour intervals are correct? Can you confirm that 3 Commando Brigade use this 6:24 ratio for their deployments in Afghanistan?

  Major General Capewell: I cannot speak for 3 Commando Brigade, believe it or not, because I don't look after them. It might sound strange. Bearing in mind what the Air Marshal has said about the individual dynamic, which is right in the middle of this because it changes on each tour for each person, I am generally satisfied that the tour interval management is within generally agreed management norms for these sorts of difficult operations.

  Mr Donaldson: Would it be possible to have a written confirmation of the position with reference to 3 Commando Brigade?

  Chair: That would be helpful.

  Q184 Mr Hancock: I would like to take you back to new equipment questions, particularly three or four individual issues. One is the helicopters. What restrictions, if any, are still being placed on the day-to-day operations by the current level of helicopter availability? Of the 12 helicopters that SDSR announced, only three will be in theatre in a reasonable amount of time. What is your opinion of the current state?

  Major General Capewell: Eight Chinook Mark 3 are being delivered. Seven of those are being delivered for training purposes and the remaining aircraft will be delivered by the end of this year. That is Chinook.

  Q185 Mr Hancock: How many will then be deployed direct to Afghanistan?

  Major General Capewell: Twelve.

  Q186 Mr Hancock: Is that 12 new helicopters for Afghanistan only?

  Chair: Hold on, are we not mixing up the 12 new ones and the eight old ones?

  Air Marshal Peach: We do not normally go into the numbers of individual aircraft because it changes according to the campaign. But from my perspective as the operation commander, I need the aeroplanes in training here to prepare the crews to give the sort of relief that the Chair was talking about to his Chinook pilot constituents, because we have to have sufficient pilots and crews to cycle them through. And we need more aeroplanes in the home base.

  Q187 Mr Hancock: Air Marshal, the question really is about the number of helicopters available on the ground in Afghanistan to allow proper operations to be carried out and the proper protection of our troops.

  Major General Capewell: If you spoke to any commander today on the ground they would say the same as I am about to say. There are sufficient aviation assets across the whole range of helicopter requirements to deliver the mission in terms of their force density and the campaign progress that the Air Marshal has described.

  Q188 Mr Hancock: And to transport our deployed troops safely around the country rather than have them trek across land in vehicles that may be unsuitable?

  Major General Capewell: You have to recognise that the calculation between whether to go by air or by land is a commander's decision at the time based on a range of issues to do with enemy threat requirement and mission demands.

  Q189 Mr Hancock: When do you expect the Warthog to be in theatre and properly deployed?

  Major General Capewell: We can write to you on the profile of Warthog.

  Mr Hancock: No. When you expect it be in the field?

  Air Marshal Peach: I think it is very soon.

  Q190 Mr Hancock: Within six months?

  Major General Capewell: I think so.

  Air Marshal Peach: I think we will have to reply in writing.

  Mr Hancock: Would both of you say—

  Air Marshal Peach: Warthog is in theatre, and the numbers will increase over the next six months.

  Q191 Mr Hancock: When is it there as an effective vehicle that is available to all who need it? That is the question, isn't it?

  Air Marshal Peach: Yes, but it is not the only vehicle, Mr Hancock.

  Q192 Mr Hancock: I understand that, Air Marshal. Are you then satisfied, with this responsibility—particularly you, General—that we now have enough of the right type of vehicles available in Afghanistan?

  Major General Capewell: If your question is, "Is the balance right?" that is entirely contingent upon the threat at the time. Am I satisfied that we are making all our efforts to ensure that there is a sufficiency? I am satisfied.

  Mr Hancock: A sufficiency.

  Air Marshal Peach: As the type of skill set for the soldier changes, so the type of vehicle required for different roles and missions, as they evolve, also changes. We are doing a lot of work on that. The bigger vehicles—the Mastiffs and Ridgebacks—are performing extremely well. The reconnaissance vehicle—Jackal—is performing extremely well. Warthog is deploying as we speak. Other vehicles are being modified and/or extended for different purposes. I am confident, as the operational commander, that, not only in terms of sufficiency, but in terms of flexibility to apply different vehicles to different missions, we are paying great attention to that.

  The same applies in an answer on helicopters. The Chinook is not always the answer to every problem, so, again, there is flexibility in approach there. I would add that, of course, with the US Marine Corps present on the ground, we are integrating our aviation with theirs, so we get more together from their Ospreys and their Chinooks as well as ours.

  Q193 Chair: Can I make a point? Air Marshal, you are the Chief of Joint Operations, and we also have the Assistant Chief of Defence Staff Operations in front of us. You said just now that Mike Hancock's question was implying some knowledge of when Warthog would deploy. We would rather hope that there would be, among the two of you, some knowledge on that issue.

  Air Marshal Peach: I don't have the numbers, Mr Chairman. Warthog is in theatre. We can get to the numbers very quickly.

  Q194 Chair: You may not have the numbers, but it would have been helpful if you hadn't withdrawn the Head of Joint Capability, who could have answered these questions, from giving evidence to us. These are the issues that we interested in, so if you could give us some answers on it—

  Mr Hancock: It looks like that decision might have been above their pay grade, Chairman, because none of them seem to be aware of why that happened. We're not absolutely sure, are we?

  Peter Watkins: You mean the presence of the Head of Joint Capability?

  Chair: It was the Head of Joint Capability, Air Commodore Stuart Atha.

  Peter Watkins: Yes. I can give you a very precise answer on that. We were asked to reduce the size of the MoD witness panel from four to three, and, I'm afraid, he was the one that we pushed off.

  Chair: I see. I apologise for attacking you in a totally unfair way.

  Air Marshal Peach: The point that I would make is that, going back to Mr Donaldon's point about individual companies being addressed separately, the protective patrol vehicle mix has evolved very quickly. We have continued to develop those vehicles to meet the requirement. We are doing exactly the same with helicopters. Very few of our helicopters now fly, for example, with the same type of rotor blade or engine as they did three or four years ago. We have adapted our equipment, whether by need of the responses that David has made clear to the enemy threat or, indeed, to get more out of them in terms of performance.

  Q195 Mr Hancock: I would like to ask two further questions, because we are going to be short of time. One is about Close Air Support. How does it compare now to how it did, say, three years ago? As that really only affects fast jets, what use are we making of the Apache helicopters for close support attack?

  Air Marshal Peach: Close Air Support by aeroplanes and Close Air Support by aviation helicopters are complementary. The Close Air Support delivered by the Apache helicopter in an integrated fashion with the US Marine Corps—with their own helicopter gunships—is important, as is air. The UK air contribution is delivered by the Tornado. The Tornado has a range of options of weapons; I won't go into types and performance of those weapons, but I can assure the Committee that the Close Air Support delivered by Tornado has been singled out a number of times for its accuracy and discretion. I mean discretion in the sense of being able to discern what is going on on the ground before lethal force is applied. I know both of those statements would be supported by NATO commanders.

  The way in which air and aviation have been integrated in 2010 by the UK Armed Forces, the Royal Air Force, the Army Air Corps and the Fleet Air Arm with the US Marine Corps has been exemplary. I know that General Mills would absolutely endorse that. So, it is a team effort; it gets better all the time; and it is applied with discernment, not only in the sense of rules of engagement, but in the sense of understanding what is going on on the ground before lethal force is applied. In other words, there is courageous restraint being applied from the air to the ground. I think the UK's contribution can be compared to any in that regard.

  Q196 Bob Stewart: Do you accept the supply of ammunition for attack helicopters in 2007 ran out?

  Chair: That is a completely different thing.

  Q197 Mr Hancock: My final question is about the sustainability and the robustness of the strategic airbridge. How will you fill the gap between the VC10s and TriStars being taken out of service in 2013 and the other planes coming into service? There is a gap, isn't there? How will that be achieved?

  Major General Capewell: There is a gap. Perhaps I will make a remark first about the effectiveness of the airbridge. The joint commander has just conducted a major relief in place between two brigades; you will have seen that. In broad terms, if the judgment of whether this airbridge is successful is the achievement of the transfer of military authority at the right time and the right place, that mission was a success.

  In so far as the downstream replacement of VC10 and increasingly obsolete Hercules aircraft, there is SDSR work in place now to address the spending round requirements to look at that gap. Some of that gap is to do with the delivery from commercial contracts of new aircraft, which can be solved by spending. Some of that gap is to do with the retrofitting of theatre-entry standard defensive aids suites, which I am not prepared to go into. Some of that gap is simply to do with the management of the fleet across the national requirement, so it is being looked at.

  Q198 Mr Hancock: But you have in place contingencies to fill that gap to your satisfaction.

  Major General Capewell: Yes, because we have recognised—again, I deal with this on a daily basis—that as you look at this campaign, although the air fleet is fragile it is being managed intimately on a daily basis. To date, it has not failed us. The only time it failed us was when the volcano went off. This is a real question about delivering the mission capability on time and at the right place. If we don't do that, we will not meet the harmony requirements.

  Air Marshal Peach: Even when the volcano went off, in my 24/7 headquarters we came up with some very imaginative solutions very quickly. We deployed ships to get the boys back as fast as possible, and very few people were delayed despite the volcano. It is important that we base the analysis of the airbridge on fact, not on rumour. It is important that we recognise the contribution—with old aeroplanes, freely acknowledged—that the crews make, which is phenomenal, to keep the old aeroplanes running 24/7 to keep the airbridge sustained. We have done a lot to try to understand the complaint side of life, and a lot is done to try to make the journey to and from theatre as comfortable as possible.

  Chair: Thank you. Moving on to intelligence and surveillance issues, Madeleine Moon.

  Q199 Mrs Moon: There is a reluctance to deal with whether you had enough personnel back in 2006. Can I take you to 2006 and intelligence? Intelligence is collected in a variety of ways, both human and ISTAR. In 2006, was our intelligence robust and comprehensive enough before we deployed? If it was not, why not, and are we in a stronger position now?

  Major General Capewell: I really do believe this—I cannot comment on 2006 because I was not handling intelligence or operations in theatre at that time, but let me attempt to answer what I think you need to know. It is fair to say that, until the event, you never know whether you have the right intelligence. It is very easy to look at the intelligence business as monochrome and linear, but it simply is not. It is just too chaotic and dynamic ever to predict whether you have the right systems in place to answer the right questions at the time. That is my opening remark.

  Today, we are making substantial efforts to ensure that the ISTAR requirement—the intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance effort—is properly resourced, and my judgment is that it is improving all the time. If you look at the wider area of intelligence-gathering technological equipment, you only have to look at the way that drone technology has improved over the past three to five years. If you look at the stuff in theatre now—I do not want to go into too much detail—I think everybody would realise that there has been a quantum change in how we look into the battlefield. There have also been improvements in the human intelligence domain.

  Q200 Chair: Before you move to that, the gathering issue is only a small part.

  Major General Capewell: It is. In the intelligence cycle, there is a collection effort and a fusion effort, and then an analysis and distribution effort to ensure that people get what they need. Part of that—I think this might address some of your concerns—is that the networks required to handle the quantum increase in information and intelligence are also improving. They are not perfect because bandwidth always remains a problem. You cannot have everything you want, so you have to get the best you can.

  So where does that leave me in my general judgment about the ISTAR and intelligence effort? You have to look at how the theatre is put together today. There is very clearly now an architecture that is properly centralised and controlled by the big American effort that is right at the heart of intelligence collection. That is not to belittle other nations' contributions, but I think it is widely recognised that the US capacity to collect information—to get it—with all its technology is substantially greater than the sum of that of individual nations.

  Was that the case in 2006? I suspect not. These things are dynamic, and technology has come on substantially. Can I answer whether we had the right intelligence in 2006? I cannot.

  Air Marshal Peach: I was in intelligence in 2006, and we did our best with the knowledge we had. I am not allowed at this level of classification to go into the knowledge that we had at the strategic level, but it was fused with what we knew at the tactical level. There are national strengths here in terms of imagery exploitation and mapping which we used to the maximum extent possible. I think even those deployed in 2006 would recognise that.

  Inevitably, though, a fact of life in military campaigns is that you understand the complexity on the ground when you are there but understanding it from afar is very difficult. It's particularly difficult somewhere like Helmand Province or Afghanistan, where the tribal dispensation and the arrangements through which authority and influence were traditionally brought to bear had been reduced by narcotics to an extent that we did not then know. I am prepared to say that. Details beyond that on the intelligence picture in 2006 would have to be undertaken, Chair, in a classified session.

  Chair: Have you finished your questions? I'm not sure you have.

  Q201 Mrs Moon: Where was the lack of intelligence coming from? Should there have been further intelligence provided to us before we went in in 2006, perhaps from the Americans?

  Chair: We have done this issue.

  Q202 Mrs Moon: Okay. Then I want to go back to bandwidth, because that's the other area where we have a considerable amount of concern. Do we have enough bandwidth? If we haven't got enough bandwidth, what are we going to do about ensuring we have it? Is it an asset that we ought to be pursuing? If we're not pursuing it, is it because of cost? Who's preventing us from doing it?

  Major General Capewell: I think you have to look at bandwidth in a systems sense in two ways. First of all, there is the bandwidth inside the NATO command structure. That matures all the time as the totality of the campaign system to collect intelligence gets better. From a national perspective, we have a range of improvements moving into theatre—Projects Kestrel, Falcon and Swift—the details of which I cannot give you.

  But it's also fair to say that in the way this campaign has evolved, we are now moving towards a single intelligence network that is getting better as people get more used to sharing information and data across a large number of nations where hitherto, there have been very small communities of intelligence sharers. So breaking out of that to make sure that it works was also a challenge in the past. It is not now.

  My final remark on this is that the bandwidth is increasing. You will never have enough bandwidth—it's just the nature of this—but it is increasing and improving. It is not today—certainly to my knowledge—a block to mission development and progress in theatre, particularly in the force protection arena.

  Q203 Mrs Moon: Are we over-reliant on the Americans for bandwidth, and what if they refuse us access?

  Major General Capewell: I don't think in a NATO sense—I'm only talking in terms of the ISAF structures—we are over-reliant on the US.

  Air Marshal Peach: No. It is a NATO campaign, and NATO does provide a great deal of communications support to the campaign. We are in a partnership with the Americans at the tactical level, and we look after each other. There's no question of people turning things on and off, whether it's helicopter support, bandwidth, medical support or whatever.

  Q204 Chair: Is our equipment compatible with the Americans'?

  Air Marshal Peach: Most of the time, yes.

  Q205 Mr Brazier: I appreciate we don't have your capabilities, colleague—that's our fault and not yours—but I am, frankly, a little astonished at what I've just heard. To give two completely opposite ends of the spectrum, the American company Amphenol, in my constituency, is the world's top manufacturer of the connectors for a whole range of military avionic signalling systems. Staff there told me they were astounded by how undemanding our bandwidth requirements were for the various systems that went through them.

  At the other end of the scale, I've heard from a very decorated and gallant officer who was in uniform until very recently—in the last 24 hours—the constant problems of having to borrow American bandwidth. All the great systems we've been hearing about—we don't have the means to get the information to the people who need it without borrowing bandwidth from the Americans all the time. Although the Americans certainly are excellent allies and do try to help, they've got their own priorities, and they can't always pick the pieces up for us. Are we moving into the information age or not?

  Air Marshal Peach: The systems that David has outlined do give us a quantum increase in bandwidth. Do our bandwidth requirements, historically, compare to the United States'? I think that that was one of your comments. While the requirement probably does, the means of getting there probably didn't, but is improving rapidly. Therefore, there have been occasions where we've cobbled things together, as I would put it, but they've been cobbled together for the right reasons and have achieved the right outcomes.

  Chair: I suspect this is an issue that we will be returning to.

  Q206 Sandra Osborne: Your memo states that the transition will be conditions-based. Can you outline what these conditions are?

  Peter Watkins: Broadly, the work on conditions is under way at the moment. It's being undertaken between NATO and the Afghans. The precise conditions will vary from province to province and district to district. But in broad terms the conditions that we are looking at are as follows: the Afghan National Security Forces should be capable of shouldering additional security tasks as ISAF reduces; security should be at a level that the population can go about their normal lives; local governance should be sufficiently strong that it underpins security, as ISAF begins to draw down; and ISAF itself should be properly postured so that—to use General Petraeus's phrase—it can "thin out" and provide a different sort of support to the Afghans as they become more capable. Those are the broad conditions, but, as I said, how they will look in each province and district will vary, because each one is different.

  Q207 Sandra Osborne: This question is for Air Marshal Stuart Peach. When will the PJHQ review of the transition arrangements be complete?

  Air Marshal Peach: We're working closely with our friends and colleagues in the Ministry of Defence on that. Obviously, we have to wait for the Lisbon summit and then we'll be looking at what that means on the ground. We're doing some work for the National Security Council on that, so when would it be complete? Probably by the end of the year, to look forward to 2011 and beyond.

  Q208 Sandra Osborne: Your memo also talks about reinvesting troops as required. What does this mean for troop levels and capabilities?

  Peter Watkins: Again, this is part of the detailed work that Air Marshal Peach referred to. Basically, in conjunction with his headquarters, we are trying to work out what this transition will look like on the ground, in terms of what does it mean for the balance of roles and capabilities that we have. But in terms of reinvestment, obviously one of the options that is available to us is to put additional effort into training. Air Marshal Peach mentioned earlier that there are some areas of Afghan National Army capability that we think need to be strengthened, now that we have the basic numbers much higher than was the case. That is one option. But we can't, at this stage, until we've done the detailed analysis, say precisely where or in what number that reinvestment will take place.

  Q209 Sandra Osborne: So it's a tight time scale. If you've a date of 2015, that's very tight.

  Peter Watkins: I don't think it is such a tight time scale. The Afghan Government have set a target of the end of 2014 to achieve a situation where the Afghan National Security Forces have the security lead across Afghanistan. That's another four years, so I don't think we think it's too tight.

  Q210 Sandra Osborne: Can I ask, Karen, what plans do the UK Government have, over and above the military effort, for transition?

  Karen Pierce: Specifically related to transition, the main conditions for transition are security based, rather than governance or development, although those are factors. We would interpret that, for example, as follows. If you want the Afghan army to be consistently capable in a particular province, then you would need a certain level of governance to ensure that operations carried out by the army were not then allowed to dissipate. So we and DFID do some work to support that, but primarily it's a security issue and the detailed work on transition at that level will be done by NATO and the Afghans together, there's a joint framework—a joint board—in Kabul that will look at this province by province. NATO and ISAF have a consultation mechanism whereby they can consult member states and the UN, and other people who are relevant to the development of that particular province. The Foreign Office would be involved in that, but it would be something started on in theatre.

  Where we have a major role is in the political process—if you like—beyond that. What does it mean to bring forward certain Afghan governance capabilities? The main vehicle for that is the Kabul process that I referred to earlier—commitments coming out of the Kabul conference monitored by the UN, that is, both monitoring how the Afghans approach that and how the international community approaches it, and trying to identify gaps.

  In terms of even longer-term political processes, obviously reconciliation and the political settlement is coming to be high on the agenda. We have supported President Karzai in his conditions for reconciliation and we have given practical assistance to the Peace Jirga and now to the High Peace Council, which will go into more detail about how to take forward reconciliation. We would be involved in institution building and capacity building to try to make internal governance in Afghanistan more effective. We take part in those various levels.

  Q211 Thomas Docherty: Can I ask Karen and the Major General first, how confident are you that UK and Coalition Forces can withdraw successfully at the transition period?

  Karen Pierce: I was going to say that we expect transition to start in early 2011 and finish in 2014. As explained earlier, that is the target date that Karzai has—

  Q212 Thomas Docherty: For the UK or the UK and Coalition Forces?

  Karen Pierce: Transition will be nationwide in Afghanistan. It will be about handing all the provinces and districts eventually over to Afghan lead control on security. Whether that enables such and such a country to reinvest its forces, put them into training in a particular area at a particular time, is one thing that we have to work out. The NATO-Afghan board will look at which provinces and districts are ready and in what order. Should there be pilot projects? What might be needed to get them ready? Beyond that, it is not possible to give you greater clarity. If you're saying, can we successfully withdraw by 2015, as the Prime Minister said, we are obviously putting all our energies into ensuring a robust and effective Afghan security capability so that we can successfully withdraw by 2015.

  Peter Watkins: The 2015 date is a logical consequence of the target set by the Afghan Government, with the full support of the international community, that states that the Afghans should be able to take the lead by the end of 2014. We think that that is a reasonable and respectable aim, based upon our growing knowledge and experience.

  Q213 Thomas Docherty: I was going to come on to the rights and wrongs of the date, but specifically on whether you can successfully withdraw—

  Peter Watkins: The precursor to that is, will there be an Afghan National Security Force at the end of 2014 that can take the lead for security across Afghanistan? Based upon the evidence that we have, we think that there can be.

  Karen Pierce: This is about withdrawing from combat; there would still be military assistance there and possibly some support functions, not necessarily delivered by the UK, but by the Americans and others. It isn't as if the whole ISAF Force would completely come out of Afghanistan by 2015. There will be training, assistance and support missions. How exactly we phase and elaborate them will be the subject of detailed work, probably starting next year.

  Major General Capewell: My view of all this is that underneath all that policy, which is absolutely right in terms of setting the conditions, there is a sequence of sound military planning in the MoD and particularly in PJHQ to deliver that. The real question on all this is synchronisation across the whole country, which is an ISAF responsibility.

  Air Marshal Peach: In terms of detailed planning, that is what we do. If you wish, you can look back in history at an exemplar: we planned and executed withdrawal from Iraq in 2009, and I know that that has been through the Committee and the NAO, so we know how to do this; we have a plan.

  Q214 Mr Brazier: Forgive me, Air Marshal Peach, but surely our withdrawal from Iraq is not seen as a successful role model, given the end state there.

  Air Marshal Peach: If I may say so, Mr Brazier, the question was how to withdraw, and that was what I was referring to. I wasn't referring to the whole campaign. The question was about how we tidy up, how we sort things out and, as Karen suggested, how we change from role to role, and so on. We do that through normal military planning. I was not making an observation on the wider aspects of the campaign.

  Q215 Thomas Docherty: I want to follow up on the planning element. I guess this question is largely for the gentlemen, but obviously it may involve others as well. What do you see as the dangers in the Government announcing their intention to withdraw as you try to do the planning?

  Peter Watkins: There are both benefits and risks in doing that. One of the benefits has been that it has been quite widely welcomed by the Afghans themselves. They want to take over the lead role for security in their own country and have reacted quite positively to the 2015 date. As I said, that is simply the year after the end of 2014, which is the date that they themselves were intimately involved in agreeing. That's the benefit, and I think we're seeing that benefit already.

  The risk is, of course, that that date might be misinterpreted by the Taliban and they might imagine that it means that the international community will leave, but of course that is not the case. As the Prime Minister, President Obama and the Secretary-General of NATO have said, we are not just going to leave. ISAF will retain—the countries of the Coalition will retain—Forces and other capabilities in Afghanistan to support the Afghans.

  Major General Capewell: I think it's widely recognised that the next four years are about many things, but one of them is that none of us wants to go back, so whatever we do, this has to be seen as irreversible in many ways. I don't think there's any question that there'll be a very low level of violence, as is normal in that part of the world. The trick is to make sure that the Afghan Security Forces can deal with that. That is the beauty of the transition plan: it gradually delivers to the Afghan Security Forces increasing responsibility for the management of that violence. It will take fine judgment and some patience, but that's what we all want to happen.

  Q216 Thomas Docherty: My concern is this, and correct me if I'm wrong. The United States has said that its ambition is to withdraw at the end of 2014, but it is not set in stone in the way that ours is. The French have said they intend to withdraw, but in effect have said it will be after their allies—after the United Kingdom. The Germans have said—correct me if I'm wrong, Chairman—that they will do it as conditions are met. So I'm slightly puzzled as to how you can say we have synchronisation of ISAF Forces when we have four other major players that are each setting different time scales and goals for their withdrawal from one another. We also have this question: what if President Karzai turns round at some point between now and the end of 2014 and says, "We are making tremendous progress, but we aren't going to be there at the end of 2014"? The United Kingdom has given an explicit guarantee that combat troops will be out, whereas the Americans have given themselves more wiggle room.

  Peter Watkins: I think it's an international goal. As I said, the objective of the end of 2014 was agreed—I think it's been agreed twice by the international community—at the London and Kabul conferences. This is a shared goal. In terms of the steps by which we get there, that will be conditions-based. I set out the process earlier. The entire alliance is quite clear that the process by which we get from here to there is a conditions-based process.

  Q217 Thomas Docherty: My feeling is that come what may, in 2014, UK combat troops are out of Afghanistan. Is that correct?

  Peter Watkins: The Government have said that British troops will not be in combat roles beyond 2015.

  Q218 Thomas Docherty: So when you say it is conditions-based, it is until the end of 2014, and then it is an absolute date?

  Karen Pierce: It's the date that the Prime Minister has set for Britain. ISAF as a whole has not set a date. It is conceivable that we would not be in combat but that another ally would be. It's possible. That's not anyone's intention. The intention, as Peter explained, is to back this commitment of Karzai's, which the international community's now endorsed and the NATO summit in Lisbon will further endorse, to have created a successful transition to Afghan Forces by the end of 2014. So in that sense, the question whether anyone will be in combat from the international community after 2014 becomes a moot point. But at the moment, we're all focused on standing up the conditions to meet that 2014 date.

  Q219 Thomas Docherty: In your best assessment, are we on target to hit, by the end of 2014, all the conditions necessary so that ISAF Forces will be able to hand over control?

  Karen Pierce: I would say that we are on target. There's a lot of work that needs to be done, and we now must factor into that the detailed planning on transition, so that district by district and province by province can be handed over to the Afghans. It won't be a big bang; it will be a gradual process of handing some provinces and districts over.

  Peter Watkins: As Karen has said, one of the key criteria—the leading criterion—is security. From that perspective, it is the growth in the numbers and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces that is crucial, and that certainly appears to be on track.

  Q220 Mr Havard: You have a particular understanding, and—it's like a lot of things—I have an understanding as well, because I have a degree of experience and knowledge in it. I think it is one of these things where Josephine and Joseph Public don't understand it in quite the same way. After the Lisbon summit, I hope the quality of the narrative is improved in order to improve their understanding of it.

  Karen Pierce: May I respond to that? There should be a declaration issued by NATO specifically on Afghanistan, which hopefully will help with that.

  Q221 Mr Havard: Yes, but plain English means—what you've just said could have a very variable geometry. It could be districts within a province that are transitioned, and then it looks very different in another province. It could be a whole province gone over. There's a whole variable geometry that you and I understand, because there's a level of assumed knowledge here that the public do not have. All I'm saying to you is that it can be explained much more simply and better than it's been up until now.

  Q222 Chair: Karen Pierce, can I clarify in my own mind what it is you have just said? Because of the Prime Minister's statement, we will leave, come hell or high water, in our combat role by 2015, and if there is still a need for combat troops to be there, we will essentially leave it to the rest of ISAF, which, as we know, means the Americans. Is that the position if there is still a need for combat troops to be in Helmand?

  Karen Pierce: No, Mr Chairman. I was speaking in a hypothetical way.

  Q223 Chair: So was I.

  Karen Pierce: I think the way you've put it is rather more concrete. It would be for Ministers, not for me, to answer what might happen in the event of a situation being X or Y in 2015. What I was trying to do—I apologise if I've been misleading—is simply say that it is conceivable that there is one scenario in which a part of Afghanistan still requires ISAF combat assistance, and that that assistance would be provided. It does not automatically mean it has to be provided by Britain, but this is really a question that Ministers could only properly consider at the point at which it was a live question. I don't want to give the impression that we would withdraw and leave our allies in the lurch. That's not what I'm trying to do.

  Peter Watkins: May I go back to what Karen said? It is conceivable, but it is unlikely, because we've all recognised that our Forces are in one of the most difficult parts of Afghanistan. As the Defence Secretary has said, Helmand will be one of the last provinces to transition.

  Q224 Thomas Docherty: To clarify, have you just told us that you aren't actually planning, in case you get to 2014 and discover you're not ready, that there is a problem? I think what you've just told us is that yes, it's conceivable, but it's politicians' responsibility to deal with that issue, and that you're not planning for the horrible eventuality, which no one in this Committee would want, that there is a need for combat troops in parts of Afghanistan.

  Karen Pierce: No, I'm not saying that. We undertake a range of contingency planning on a range of different scenarios, and in that respect, Afghanistan is no different from any other place where we have Armed Forces serving or have had them serving.

  Q225 John Glen: My understanding is that the Prime Minister hasn't said that the pull-out of combat troops by 2015 is contingent on any analysis of what's actually happening in various provinces on the ground. He said that that is absolutely going to happen at the end of 2014.

  Chair: The words used were "make no mistake about it".

  John Glen: So if there were circumstances where at the end of 2014 there was a need for combat troops in Afghanistan, and given the absolute commitment made by the Prime Minister, then we would be in the circumstances that the Chairman described. There would be a need for those combat troops to be provided by other allies on the ground. Surely that's unavoidable, given the nature of the Prime Minister's statement. It wasn't ambiguous; it wasn't contingent on any planning activity; it was an absolute hard stop.

  Peter Watkins: As I said earlier, we are talking about a situation that's four years away. The priority for our planning is, obviously, to ensure that the Afghans are in the situation that they want to be in.

  Q226 John Glen: Sure. I'm not disputing that. But the Chairman put the point that if, in those circumstances, there were a need for combat troops in 2015, given the statement of our Prime Minister, we wouldn't be in a position to provide them. Therefore, it follows that our allies would have to carry on without us in 2015. That's a reasonable conclusion from what he said and what you've said.

  Peter Watkins: I would say that that would be a logical deduction that is extremely unlikely, for the reasons that I've said. There are four years in which to develop the capability of the Afghan Forces, and that work, as I said, is on track.

  Karen Pierce: As the Foreign Secretary explained on the Floor of the House, all our energy is going into creating the conditions so that that 2014 transition is met.

  Q227 John Glen: I understand that. That's absolutely clear; nobody disputes that. What we're talking about is the very real possibility that there will be no flexibility from a British point of view as we understand it from the Prime Minister's decision.

  Karen Pierce: We would say it isn't a very real possibility.[1] That, I think, is the difference between us.

  Chair: I think we're reasonably clear on this, and I think it's time to draw this session to an end. Thank you very much indeed to the witnesses. I'm afraid it's been a slightly scratchy session in some respects, and to the extent to which that is our fault, I apologise. No doubt to the extent to which that is yours, you do too. Thank you for your evidence, which has been most helpful in our inquiry. Quite what our report will say, I'm not sure yet, but time will tell.

1   Note by witness: This refers to the issue of combat troops still being needed after transition. Back

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