Operations in Afghanistan - Defence Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 228-275)

  Q228 Chair: Let us begin. We are a minute early, but that is a good thing. May I welcome you to the Committee's inquiry into operations in Afghanistan? When the Committee of the last Parliament was in Afghanistan in January we met both of you there, and we are most grateful to you both for the help you gave us. In spite of having met you before, it would be helpful if you would kindly introduce yourselves, and tell us what you now do and what you were doing then.

  General Sir Nick Parker: I am Nick Parker. I was the Deputy Commander of ISAF based in Kabul, and I also had the role of the National Contingent Commander. I am now the Commander-in-Chief, Land Forces in Andover.

  Brigadier Levey: I was the Combined Training Advisory Group Commander, dealing with army training in Afghanistan under the NATO training mission there. I am now the Director of the Royal Armoured Corps.

  Q229 Chair: What would you say have been the key issues in Afghanistan over the last couple of years?

  General Sir Nick Parker: My experience of Afghanistan directly started about late October last year, so my sense probably covers the two years that you are talking about. The McChrystal review brought three fundamental changes: first, to the resourcing of the operation, which I will come back to; secondly, to the culture of the operation; and thirdly, to the structure—the way the operation was conducted. Those were the three principal military strategic changes that the McChrystal injection made. I am not criticising those who went before him; I am saying that this was a process of evolution that suffered a bit of a revolution when he came in and conducted a formal process of analysis.

  On the culture, having population-centric operations was essentially changing the emphasis. We were conducting counter-insurgency before then, but McChrystal focused people on the people that we were there to protect, emphasising the fact that if you poison them, you are never going to be able to win the security fight. He injected emphasis into that through the tactical directive that he issued in about August last year, and also through the process of partnering, which is a very big change. He realised that we had to partner ourselves with Afghans both to behave more in an Afghan way and to understand the culture that we were operating in.

  On the system, he introduced the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, the joint detention operation 435 and, importantly, the ISAF Joint Command. He broke the theatre-strategic and operational levels apart to give greater clarity to the command and control that was necessary. That was manifested in a much more directive command. He told people what to do and where they were to do it. He elected to undermine the insurgency in the South. His predecessors had only ever been able to co-ordinate and ask. That was absolutely nailed by the introduction of additional forces—the 30,000 that President Obama announced on 1 December last year and the additional NATO troops. If you add the 20,000 American Forces who had previously been allocated to Afghanistan, that gave General McChrystal the opportunity and the ability to operate in a more aggressive and forceful way in those areas where he wished to do so. That was when he started to undermine the insurgency in the South.

  Q230 Chair: Brigadier Levey—from your point of view?

  Brigadier Levey: By definition, my prism is far narrower than the General's. I can only cover the Afghan National Army training piece. The bit that I personally saw was the significant uplift in resource, of both men and money, to enable the growth of the Afghan National Army at pace. That was the biggest significant change from when I started in December '09, when it really picked up, until I left Afghanistan—the biggest single change.

  Q231 Chair: The issue that came up when we were watching the training of troops in Kabul was that more money and time spent on training in Kabul would pay dividends once they got to Helmand. Was that resolved by the British sending more people to do training?

  Brigadier Levey: In fact, all the other NATO countries sent a lot more people to do training. I had roughly 340 people when I started, and there are now some 1,400 trainers. The numbers increased exponentially, not only from NATO countries, but across the board. That made a significant difference to the quality of what we were able to do. That enabled us to put in place quantifiable, measurable tests to see that the quality of the training was improving. We knew that we were increasing the quantity significantly. The Afghan National Army has grown by 58% this year from November to November. That is a big growth, but it is the quality that has really improved with the advent of the NATO Training Mission, where the emphasis changed from just quantity to improving the quality. Those trainers and the money that went with it allowed us to improve the quality. I can give you lots of stats, if you want them, on how it improved.

  Q232 Sandra Osborne: With regard to the situation in Helmand, what are the particular challenges that the Coalition faces there?

  General Sir Nick Parker: That is probably one for me, isn't it? I speak very deliberately from the theatre-strategic perspective. It is terribly important for us to understand that Helmand is a part of a greater operation and that we risk, if we only look at what is happening in Helmand, possibly misrepresenting where the military security pressures are across the whole of the campaign. I absolutely understand that for UK Forces, the risks and the threats in Helmand are of prime importance. Our job was to look at this across the whole theatre. As an aside, just because we can win a battle in Helmand, it does not mean that ISAF success is guaranteed. We must ensure that we guarantee ISAF success from a security perspective.

  There are three big challenges in Helmand that I recognised when I arrived. First, we needed to make sure that the density of force was appropriate, to the people that we were trying to secure. There was need to continue the process of increasing force density. The second thing is that, as part of the McChrystal plan to get people to partner effectively with the Afghans, we began, before it was being talked about, the process of transition, because ultimately it is an Afghan solution. We had to start getting our Forces closely alongside the Afghans, building confidence and using them effectively. Thirdly, we had to connect people to give them better situational awareness. That is a rather military term, but we have to understand the environment that we are operating in, and Afghanistan is a very difficult country to operate in as a Westerner. We needed to continue to improve that so that our military judgments were based, as far as possible, on accurate assessments of what was going on around us.

  Q233 Sandra Osborne: Has the security situation improved since the increase in troop numbers?

  General Sir Nick Parker: Yes, it has, but we want to be really careful about the messages that we send. I consider myself as having been guilty of being over-confident, or appearing to be over-confident, in February last year. Before Operation Moshtarak started, I deliberately said that it was going to go well. I was using the language of 60, 90 and 120 days for bringing in things such as governance in a box. With the benefit of hindsight, that raised expectations to an unreasonable level. I rationalised that by saying that I was doing it because our men and women were about to go into a very dangerous operation and we needed to be confident in their ability to do that. I think that the wider public message that we sent raised expectations of progress above what was achievable.

  Today, we have demonstrated in some really difficult parts of the South, both in Helmand and Kandahar, that we can deliver consistent security and that we can do it with our Afghan partners. That is beginning to send a powerful message to the insurgents, who are beginning to make a balance of judgment that says we—ISAF and the Afghans—are going to be around for a credible length of time, and their allegiance should start to change to us.

  Q234 Sandra Osborne: You have laid great store by the need to bring the Afghan people on board. Do the people in Helmand trust the Coalition Forces?

  General Sir Nick Parker: I think it has been and will always be qualified. They trust us by our actions, but they would wish to have their own armed forces providing security for them, like any country. Ultimately, they see us as a bridging force that should be able to transfer to their own people. But I don't think they mistrust our motives.

  Q235 Sandra Osborne: How much has governance improved in Helmand Provinces?

  General Sir Nick Parker: It has been slower than we would have wished. I am not sure whether Governor Mangal has spoken to you in any other forum. He has significantly increased the levels of governance inside Helmand over the last four to five months—12 governors out of 14 districts. Those sorts of statistics are bandied about. If you dive down into the detail, the district governors in Nad-e-Ali and Sangin are both building confidence, but it is a work in progress. Stepping back to what I said before, it is the governance of Kabul and governance at the provincial level and the district level that need to continue to develop. All three levels are challenging. My work was mostly in Kabul, working with President Karzai's immediate advisers.

  Q236 John Glen: We have a memorandum from the MoD that sets out the 47 countries represented in the Coalition—from the three personnel from Austria to 78,000 from the US. I would imagine there are considerable strains in trying to run a coalition. Could you tell us about how that works and what the issues are in making that coalition work when you have such a large number of participants from different countries?

  General Sir Nick Parker: It is important to recognise that in military terms the US is effectively the lead nation. Therefore, automatically, there is a deferral to them, because they bring the greatest amount to the operation. Having said that, because the military culture is pretty consistent across all those nations, people fit into that well. Provided they believe that they are reasonably represented, there is no great challenge in the military sense in managing the Coalition. However, it is something that one has to work on all the time.

  Working on behalf of both General McChrystal and General Petraeus, I have found that getting nations to reflect their grand strategic policy inside the theatre-strategic decision-making process was quite difficult. I would hold fortnightly meetings—I chose to—with the senior national representative of the eight principal nations, and it was sometimes difficult to get a dialogue going with them over things where we needed to understand what their capitals were thinking in order to be able to shape the military theatre decision making. It works much better than it might appear, because there is a lead nation. There are eight principal nations that we need to corral, but that is hard work and we need to do it better. I do not want this to sound at all derogatory, but they tend to come along because they respect the way the thing is organised.

  Q237 Mr Brazier: Let us move on from the change that the McChrystal strategy has made. Brigadier Levey, do you feel that the fall in the level of civilian casualties is helping recruiting for the Afghan National Security Forces?

  Brigadier Levey: Are you asking for a personal opinion?

  Mr Brazier: Yes.

  Brigadier Levey: To be honest, I don't know, but I do know that recruiting has remained pretty constant throughout. Ever since I was there and they ramped up the recruiting numbers, we have essentially been able to feed the training machine sufficiently to exceed the targets of the number of soldiers we needed to train. By October we had to be at 134 and I think we were at 138, so we are ahead of schedule. The recruiting has been consistently sufficient to meet the requirement—in fact, above.

  Q238 Mr Brazier: That is obviously welcome news. Do you think that we will be able to make more progress with getting Pashtuns from the South into the army and police?

  Brigadier Levey: I know that there is a big push to get more Pashtuns from the South into the army. Pashtuns are in the army in roughly the right sort of numbers, but not from the South, as you know. Post-Eid, which has just happened around now, there is a big drive going on right now to do more recruiting in the South. I think—this is a personal opinion based on professional knowledge—that with what has been going on in the South, where the secure zones have increased, it is likely to be more successful than it has been in the past.

  General Sir Nick Parker: I have two final remarks. First, it will be incredibly important to the credibility of the ANSF in the South to get more recruits from the South. They realise that, and this additional effort will help. There is an initiative called the Afghan Local Police Initiative, which we must be very careful about not over-emphasising, but it essentially creates a much better-disciplined locally recruited security force. It is working reasonably well, and I know that General Petraeus believes that it should be spread further. That would offer us an opportunity to get people out of the community into a bridging role—it shouldn't be permanent—to provide security inside communities.

  Q239 Mr Brazier: That is an interesting point. The Chair said that he feels that one of the questions has not yet been fully answered. How much difference do you think the McChrystal approach of courageous restraint has made? The impression obviously is that it has been very positive. Do you feel that it has made a real difference?

  General Sir Nick Parker: Yes, I think it has. Courageous restraint is a difficult label; we want to be very cautious of it. I think we went through a bit of a wave. We over-corrected in order to bring people back from what was on occasion a very aggressive approach, where the risk balance between protection and offensive action was a little out of kilter. McChrystal recognised that, and brought it back into line.

  We then experienced subordinates who were over-correcting, and who were losing their initiative in order to protect the population. There was a very clear sense, which I am sure you will have seen over the summer, when General Petraeus took over, that the American trooper needed to have more freedom to act so that he was not as vulnerable as I think it was felt in the American chain of command that he had become. General Petraeus reissued the tactical directive with exactly the same basic principles, but with greater emphasis that the chain of command was not to add to the conditions, and that we were not to be concerned to take action if the lives of our troops were at risk. The principle was right. It took us a bit too far and was over-corrected, but it is now operating in exactly the right way.

  Chair: I'm glad you answered that, because that is not a narrative that we have heard before in so helpful a way. I am grateful to you.

  Q240 Ms Stuart: I have come to Defence new. All my previous visits to Afghanistan have been with the Foreign Affairs Committee. Last week, this Committee went to Permanent Joint Headquarters. I am trying to understand how the chain of command works. It seemed to me that there was a duplication in it, but it may just be me coming to this new. I wonder what your perception is.

  General Sir Nick Parker: I think—

  Chair: Brigadier Levey is very much enjoying the fact that you have to answer this.

  General Sir Nick Parker: Can I defer to you, Brigadier Levey? Two contextual aspects before I answer the question. First, Coalition Operations are extremely complicated. There are 47 different nations, and in this case, a NATO chain of command, and therefore each one is different. Secondly, I think our approach is developing all the time. So every operation is different, and it morphs as it goes along, so there is a lot of change.

  My professional opinion is that we do not yet understand the theatre-strategic level clearly enough in the British Armed Forces. There needs to be a greater understanding of the importance of the decision making that takes place, in this case in Kabul. The linkages between Kabul and the grand strategic or military strategic decision making in London need to be clearer and better understood. I believe that that was a reflection of why I was sent out as the National Contingent Commander, although I don't believe I was given sufficient resource to do the job as actively as I needed to. There is a need for greater understanding of the critical nature of pulling levers in Kabul because you can pull as many levers as you like in Helmand, but it won't make any difference to the way that the campaign is being run by the big command level. That is very important.

  But I was not in a position to deploy, sustain and recover a very complicated British Force. There is no way that that could have been done effectively in Kabul. In my current job, where I am generating the land element of this force, I need to feed it through an organisation that can consolidate it, can ensure that what is being done is correct, and then deploy it and sustain it effectively. I firmly believe that there is a role for the Permanent Joint Headquarters to deploy, sustain and recover, and it needs to understand what's going on, but I think we should look carefully at its true pure command relationship because it cannot influence decisions that are made inside the Coalition in Kabul.

  Q241 Bob Stewart: General, hello. Did you have difficulty in establishing yourself as the National Contingent Commander? And when you used the word "London," did you actually mean PJHQ?

  General Sir Nick Parker: No. I had the normal challenge that you would have whenever you introduce a new element into any chain of command. So I had to educate myself, and those around me and up the chain of command where I felt that I could add real value. I had to demonstrate a bit of success in order to build confidence, and I quite understand that. By "London," I meant the Ministry of Defence.

  Bob Stewart: Not PJHQ?

  General Sir Nick Parker: No.

  Q242 Mr Havard: You talked about the training. Our experience and understanding of it is that, as far as the training of the ANA is concerned—the army component—you are teaching them the physical and conceptual components of military activity, but how do you train soldiers in the ground? One of the questions we want to ask you is about the moral component of an army and what the aspects of trying to deal with that in training the Afghan Army have been and how you are dealing with that.

  General Sir Nick Parker: Can I start at the top level and then get Simon to answer the question properly?

  Mr Havard: Sure.

  General Sir Nick Parker: The general loyalty of the Afghan National Security Forces is something that we need to help. We need to nurture it. The relationships that the Minister of Defence and the Minister of the Interior have with President Karzai and with that close-in group of people, the Cabinet, are something that we must not undermine. In my job, I was very conscious that one needed to sustain the confidence of the President and the Cabinet in his armed forces so that they felt that they were doing what was right for the country. We need to continue to do more to that so that the Security Forces have the confidence of the higher level of Government.

  Q243 Mr Havard: That presumably includes the issues about the laws of armed conflict, the Geneva Convention, the rules of engagement and the ways of doing, as well.

  Brigadier Levey: On the training side, the Afghans certainly have already incorporated into their training all of that element that you have just referred to. They have a thing called RCA—Religious and Cultural Affairs—which is a sort of combination, in our terms, of a padre and welfare officer and a few other bits and pieces put together. That branch school is already up and running in Kabul and training the people who then go out to the battalions and live with them. That is part of it.

  At the same time, all those soldiers going through their basic training and who come back for their courses with their officers, NCOs or not, get all the other bits that make up the moral components. They get taught the laws of armed conflict. They get taught in basic training about looking after civilians. All that element is covered in various parts of their training, just as we do in our army. So, it is covered.

  Q244 Mr Havard: We hear reports about absenteeism rates, the fact that people cannot work unsupervised and the low numbers, so the quality question comes in. But this is meant to be a people's army, looking after the people as opposed to something else; that is why we are asking the question. What is happening with that? We seem also to be training a lot of people who are then disappearing, and you are on a treadmill. Is that what is happening?

  Brigadier Levey: I can talk to you about the absentee rates. The absenteeism is caused by a number of different factors, as in any army. One of the particular problems in the training base is that the soldiers have such a compressed time scale—going from basic training, through their specific branch training and through their collective training—and they do not get any leave during that. Therefore, if they want to get their pay home, sometimes they take themselves off, pay and come back. So we know that we get soldiers coming back eventually who have not really deserted; they have just been absent to go and pay their families.

  That side of life is being looked at to try to improve the way in which the soldiers are paid, but that is only one element of it. There certainly was an element of soldiers going absent if they were sent down south—that was definitely the case. There was a higher proportion of soldiers going absent from those battalions who were going to be sent down south. That particular issue was resolved by making sure that we topped up the battalions before they went.

  In the army as a whole, they are seeing how they can improve retention by having what you have probably heard referred to as the red-amber-green cycle—where they do a bit of training, have a bit of leave, and do a bit of operations—so that they do not all get consumed in the fight all the time. That has improved retention.

  General Sir Nick Parker: I agree with everything that Simon has said. The high-level point is that we have grown—we have done "growth"; what we have not done is "capacity". Are we doing sufficient to build capacity inside that growth? Yes, we are starting to, but we are doing it in phases. We have a lot of what they call attrition. Now we are starting to build better offices, better schools, and better cycles, so that people come off the front line. All those things are being built and they will take time. You can build the number to 137,000 in the year, but have you got the capabilities? No, that is thin and we need to continue to build that.

  Q245 Mr Havard: We have asked this question about ethnic mix, distribution and so on. In the end, the best of Kunduz is full and the best of Helmand is not so full—we have seen all that. That is why we are asking whether it is going to be a national army that is deployable across the whole of the nation of Afghanistan, or whether it is a large number of people, but not a sustainable quality group of people who stick.

  General Sir Nick Parker: It can be done, but it requires time. You can grow quickly, but the capability takes longer.

  Brigadier Levey: The year ending in October this year was all about building the infantry. That was the deliberate plan. October to October next year is all about the enablers—the logistics element and all the other bits and pieces that make an army complete. That is why the literacy programme has been expanded so dramatically, because there were not enough literate soldiers.

  All those things are contributing to building the other element, and even when that is done, you will not be there fully, because you will still need to keep the institutional training base supported to ensure that future generations are brought alongside.

  Mr Havard: You have been reading some of my questions; you have been looking over my shoulder.

  Q246 Mr Donaldson: Gentlemen, you will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that our Forces who are training the Afghan National Army are billeted side by side with them, whereas the Americans create some kind of a barrier between the two—they sleep in different quarters, and so on. I may be wrong about that. We had the recent incident when the three soldiers were killed by a member of the Afghan National Army, including Lieutenant Neal Turkington. I wonder about the wisdom in all circumstances of our soldiers being billeted alongside those of the Afghan National Army.

  General Sir Nick Parker: The circumstances that you are talking about are not in training; these are people who are conducting operations together. This is the concept of embedded partnering and at Patrol Base 3, where that incident took place, they slept in separate tents in similar parts—they were actually in slightly different compounds, but on the same FOB, defended by the same security force.

  The issue is: is the risk worth the benefit? The risk is that in a large armed force you are almost certain to have a few mavericks. If we are fighting an insurgency where we are battling for people's minds and wills, you will inevitably get some infiltration. Is our vetting sufficiently good? Are our biometrics sufficiently good? Those are the sorts of things that we have to continue to press on, to try to mitigate the risk of a maverick.

  But we must not forget the benefit, which is huge. It is about operating alongside people—even if they're Tajiks and they come from the North—who understand the place so much better than we do and who have very good low-level tactical fighting skills. When you partner our people alongside them, you get real synergies with our technical capability, our weapons systems and our training with good, natural soldiers who understand the environment they're operating in.

  The benefits that we've seen from this embedded partnering are huge. So I have to say that the risk still exists, but we should not just accept it; we should continue to try to mitigate it. What we shouldn't do is stop and lose sight of the benefits, which from a military perspective are very significant.

  Chair: It was interesting that when we were in Afghanistan in January, the British soldiers there told us that their greatest protection was the Afghan soldiers they were working alongside.

  Q247 Mr Havard: You've dealt with some of the stuff about partnering. Can I ask you a specific question about where women sit in relation to the Afghan National Army and about the women within it? How is that training done and how is that process developing?

  Brigadier Levey: In my time there, we had the first ever female officers' course. It was not my idea; it came from General Ameenullah Karim, who is the Afghan National Army Training Commander. He got the idea from his wife, who said to him, "This is a really good idea." He then proposed it and drove it through. There was considerable opposition among other Afghan army personnel.

  The key thing about this particular idea is to recognise that we are talking about Afghanistan, not Europe, and it has to be done at their pace. If we had tried to impose that on them, it would never have happened. The fact that the General was personally so keen and drove the idea is what made it succeed. They now have their first 29 female officers in the Afghan National Army, and another course is about to run. It is a small step, but it needs to be in keeping with their culture to make it succeed.

  Q248 Mr Havard: You said it is at officer level?

  Brigadier Levey: These are officers.

  Q249 Mr Havard: What sort of level is that?

  Brigadier Levey: Well, it means they can come in as second lieutenants and lieutenants. They will not be used in a combat role; they will be used in administrative roles.

  Q250 Mr Havard: You were talking about logistical support and other things beyond basic manoeuvre warfare and teaching them about other components that make up a whole military. You say it has only just started, but how is that progressing? Is there a role and a function for women more in that area of activity as opposed to perhaps the infantry, as it were?

  Brigadier Levey: Female numbers are very small at the moment. The numbers going through could not keep up with the vast numbers we are putting through the logistics schools and all the other schools that are starting up. Those are the ones that have got to make the effort this year—the military police, the logistics, the engineers and all those bits and pieces. They are growing exponentially just as the infantry did the year before.

  That is why all those schools were put in place: to allow this growth to happen for this year. In addition, of course, they are establishing logistics bases around the country. They have established four in the last year. So the whole thing is happening in parallel. The real mark of success will be at the end of October next year, when we'll see if the growth has happened, as it did this year, with all those schools filling all those places. Based on what has happened currently, I see no reason why they should not succeed.

  Q251 Ms Stuart: Can we turn to the Afghan National Police? Could you, Brigadier, just give us a quick rundown on retention rates, literacy rates and problems on retention in relation to drug dependency—those kinds of figures? In your opening remarks, you said it was not just the quantity but the quality that was improving. Can you just give us a quick rundown of where we are?

  Brigadier Levey: On the police force?

  Ms Stuart: Yes.

  Brigadier Levey: I can only give you a very superficial view because my job was with the Afghan National Army, not the police.

  General Sir Nick Parker: You've got to be careful, Simon. If you want real fact—

  Q252 Ms Stuart: I was very conscious of the fact that the Afghans call their soldiers "warriors" and their police "soldiers." When we talk about the Afghan National Police Force, our nice distinction is that these aren't community support officers. Which one of you can give us an answer?

  General Sir Nick Parker: We can both give you a general answer, but I think we should offer you some real, clear statistics in writing, if we may.

  Chair: Real, clear statistics in writing would be helpful, but do please answer to the extent that you feel able to.

  Brigadier Levey: The Afghan National Police Force certainly had a problem with—I am talking about from the time I started until the time I left—retention, drugs and corruption—and recruitment, for that matter. All those things were acknowledged. The police force, not the army, became the main effort in my time there.

  All the key effort in terms of intellectual and physical resource started to be diverted into the police and it had an impact, without a shadow of a doubt. Drug testing across the board for everybody. They did biometrics of all the police. That meant that they could then get rid of those who said they were working and weren't, because they knew who, physically, was at work.

  Huge strides were made in the training of the police. Of course, a large proportion of the police had never been trained, so not only were they recruiting and training new ones, they were also training those who were in the police already. A huge amount of effort went into that and I know that the Brits, down in Helmand, have had their own involvement in that, doing a really good job training up the police forces.

  It has not been a good news story throughout, but huge strides have been made. As I was looking over the fence at the police, I was quite surprised at how well they had caught up, considering that they were starting at a much, much lower base than the army. They were starting at a really low level. They are not there yet, but they have done a good catch-up job.

  The Afghan National Civil Order Police, which is one particular part of the police, was very high-end and they put a lot of effort into improving their retention. The commandos is the other sort of model. The commandos had a 98% retention rate—really good. They did the cycle of red-amber-green, so they went on leave-training-operations. No matter what was going on in Afghanistan, they did that. They started bringing that in for the ANCOP, which then improved retention and you get this virtuous circle happening, so the good lessons from the army have been taken across to the police. That is, I am afraid, all I can give you, but it is really only a broad-brush perspective.

  Q253 Ms Stuart: Earlier, you mentioned the methods of payment of the Afghan National Army. The police occasionally did not get paid at all, never mind being paid and then having to take it back to their families. Can you say something on that? Also, do you know about the weapons going amiss after they had been issued?

  General Sir Nick Parker: The key area for development has to be the police force, and it is the most challenging one. It is going to take time. Even in an Afghan sense, a more sophisticated security organisation that is community-based is going to take us four or five years.

  A lot of the early steps with the police have been quite frustrating. There have been difficulties; two steps forward, one step back has been the feeling. The Petraeus Afghan Local Police Initiative is designed to produce a community-based security organisation that will bridge between now and the time when the ANP will become better trained and better led. Leadership was one of the key things that we were trying to build up, so that local leadership would be better.

  In any organisation that is not terribly well led and is being formed, you get—if I call it leakage that may appear to belittle the loss of ammunition and the loss of weapons—those sorts of things happening, and we were having to tighten up on that. We are having to tighten up on the discipline of the organisation, but it is an area that we watched very closely, because it is the area where improvement will have a very significant impact. The Afghan Local Police Initiative was designed to try and catch up on some of the areas where we were losing.

  Brigadier Levey: On the specific issue of pay, the army and the police are paid in the same sort of way. They are paid the same sort of wages. What the army does is get paid by phone. You have probably heard of that system where mobile phones are one of the ways to get paid. It should be improving, particularly with what they did with the biometrics and the registering of every single policemen, physically, to make sure that they were all there.

  On the weapons side, the army does not have the same problems. They all have NATO weapons. Therefore, we know how many weapons there were in the first place, because we issued them and they are all checked very regularly.

  On the police side, it is a bit more difficult. There are so many AK47s around, we don't know how many there are, so it is a bit of a trickier problem. With the army, I knew in my time that we lost one pistol and one rifle. The rifle was recovered and the pistol took a little longer. We know exactly how many NATO ones there are; it is the other ones that are trickier. The police are now bringing in systems to do what the army does. The problem is that there is such a proliferation of that particular type of weapon that it is harder to control.

  General Sir Nick Parker: Our hope was that the Afghan local police would bring their own weapons, so you would start to regularise or legitimise the AK that was under the bed.

  Q254 Ms Stuart: The Afghan National Army recruits across Afghanistan and tries to create a national force. The Afghan National Police attempts that, too, but it's less successful, isn't it?

  Brigadier Levey: No.

  Ms Stuart: I thought that the aim was that we move to a national police force—

  Brigadier Levey: In different sorts of police forces, you have one sort that is recruited locally—

  Ms Stuart: Is that what the Americans are funding? I am trying to understand.

  Brigadier Levey: I am not sure about the funding aspect. One sort is recruited locally and works locally. Another sort is recruited nationally, so it depends which police force it is and what role it is going to play. So there are different types of police forces that do different things. Some are local and some, which I refer to as being like the commandos, go in to do a particular job.

  General Sir Nick Parker: We can send you the details. There are five pillars of the police force. The criminal investigation—what I suppose we would call the specialists—are nationally recruited. The uniformed police are recruited by provinces, so they are locally recruited. The ANCOP that Simon was talking about are recruited nationally, too.

  Q255 Ms Stuart: I have one final question on prisons and on building a criminal justice system and law enforcement. When Governor Mangal came to a briefing, he gave us a good view as to where we are going to be, but I didn't really get a sense of what we have at the moment. Could you update us on how many secure places we have?

  General Sir Nick Parker: I can't give you the exact details. I would commend Task Force 435 to you. It is the detention's taskforce and is run by an American three-star. From a Helmand perspective, the NDS in Lashkar Gah has a facility with, I think, about 100 beds. There is also a prison in Lashkar Gah, which is different. It is not run by the NDS, but by the prison service, and it has greater capacity, but needs some serious development. That was being introduced.

  Lindy Cameron and those sorts of people will be able to talk about that. On the statistics for the Pul-e-Charkhi prison for the new facility that the Americans are working at, we would give you those things in detail.

  Q256 Bob Stewart: I want to look at what happened in 2006. We have heard from General Messenger, who said he didn't have enough personnel to carry out the tasks in Helmand in 2006. Would you like to comment on the lack of personnel for the tasks allocated to us in 2006?

  General Sir Nick Parker: I hope you won't think I'm being rather wet.

  Bob Stewart: I know what you are about to say, actually.

  General Sir Nick Parker: Because, in this and my previous position, I had no direct military responsibility for what was going on in 2006. I start from a real understanding of what was occurring in 2009. All I can say is that my experience has been of a very dynamic insurgency and, as I said earlier, an insurgency where our understanding of the environment was extremely challenging.

  Q257 Bob Stewart: I will let you off, because I think that you had to say that. What about the number of troops that we have now? Do we have it about right?

  General Sir Nick Parker: Yes. From an ISAF perspective, the South has just about got it right, but we mustn't be complacent. The effective growth of the ANSF is critical to start to complement what we have. As far as the British are concerned, exactly the same philosophy applies: we must continue to grow an effective ANSF. I could not commend highly enough the Afghan National Police training organisation in Helmand. These are really important to continue to put as much high-quality Afghans among our people as we can.

  I feel very strongly about the need to apply normal military judgments to the tactical operation. We must allow our commanders, at the appropriate level, to be able to use reserves in an effective and dynamic way. We must have sufficient force and capability to be proactive and to stay in front of the insurgent. At the moment, we have, but it is a dynamic insurgency, and we must stay on the balls of our feet.

  Q258 Bob Stewart: Withdrawing from Sangin, was there an impact on morale in any way? What about our relationships with the US Forces? Did our reputation suffer a loss?

  General Sir Nick Parker: I consider the withdrawal from Musa Qala, Kajaki and Sangin as absolutely essential ISAF military moves in order to concentrate forces properly in the population centres of central Helmand where they were needed. Again, you are going to think that I am being rather naive, but the transfer in Sangin was no more than the Royal Welsh handing over to the Royal Irish. This was a straightforward RIP where a UK Force was being relieved by a US Force, because they had the resource to do it, and we put 3 Para into central Helmand, which was where it was necessary to be. It was a very straightforward military move.

  Q259 Bob Stewart: I understand that, but I was really quite concerned that it was perceived, in some quarters, that we were actually cutting and running a little bit. I would like to hear your counter to that comment.

  General Sir Nick Parker: It could be seen like that if you view it from a very particular perspective. It was absolutely the right military thing to do. If you talk to somebody from 40 Commando, they don't feel that they were being abandoned. The US Marines were in there for six weeks before the RIP took place. It was a really carefully conducted handover.

  Where I think we have a potentially subjective issue is that the lives that were lost were British lives, and the people who are there now are American, but, from my perspective, we're all ISAF. This is a very challenging area, and both the British and the American commitment to that particular part of the country have been extraordinary. You will have seen the statistics of the battalion that took over from us, and it is a very challenging area. Now, 3 Para will be having a very challenging time in Nahri Sarraj. So it is the label of Sangin, if you view it from a very particular perspective, which, I have to say, us military men must not do.

  Q260 Bob Stewart: I'll keep going, because I will be corrected very quickly by the Chairman. Intelligence in Helmand was nowhere near good enough in 2006. You probably won't be able to answer the question as to why, but is it that much better now in 2010?

  General Sir Nick Parker: It is hugely challenging. I think this is very close to the critical capability that we need to continue to develop. Our situational awareness and our understanding in a very strange cultural environment with a very dynamic insurgency have got to be absolutely cutting edge. I think we're learning all the time. I think we're a heck of a sight better than we were when I got there—not me—but the process is constantly evolving, and it must continue to do so.

  Bob Stewart: I am not going to ask the last question.

  Q261 Mr Havard: There is a question about lessons learned here, and there are questions about 2006 and so on. We withdrew from Basra. We ended up putting more of a component into Afghanistan. We are just wondering whether, having taken troops out of Iraq earlier, perhaps, in order to train them up, that caused us some risks in one theatre in order to invest in another. Whether we invested enough because we didn't know enough and didn't have enough to send is a question I think we are struggling with. It is not a case of blaming an individual; it is about learning from that process. Is that a fair assessment of the general situation that we saw ourselves in from 2006 up to 2009?

  General Sir Nick Parker: I can't—I'm pathetic.

  Mr Havard: You can say no.

  General Sir Nick Parker: My professional observation is that we misunderstand the importance of hierarchy. I am concerned that we may have allowed brigadiers to make decisions that are beyond their capacity or capability. I feel very strongly that, when we operate in a coalition environment, we must still make sure that there is a hierarchy of wisdom within the UK commitment that ensures that the right decisions are made. We did not have such clarity at the two-star level in the chain of command during our early days in Afghanistan. That would make me quite nervous today. I think that it is very important that we support the perspective that allows us to make really difficult military judgments about capability and tasks.

  Q262 Mr Havard: That is interesting. Could I put a proposition to you that has been put to me? Essentially, all we managed to do between 2006 and 2009 was maintain the situation. We've learned lessons since then. In the South—I take the point that it's an ISAF operation with the involvement of lots of countries, and that it is the whole country, not just Helmand—it is essentially no longer a NATO mission, it is a coalition of the willing dominated by the United States of America, although there are thousands of Danes, and so on. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but there is a set of policy questions that come from that, particularly for NATO, in terms of how we form the various components. The Brits put their hand up and said, "We'll go," but perhaps there's a better way of doing such things.

  The reality of the situation is that it's only America's volume and capacity that can do it. As far as NATO is concerned, the proposition that has been put to me is that, in situations such as this, there are limits to NATO, as has been demonstrated by this activity, and it's important that defence policy makers in the UK are aware of that. The egalitarian multinationalism of the NATO axis attempted in the South doesn't work with such risky military aspects of the overall command. What lessons are there about who decides to deploy what and where have we learned from that process?

  General Sir Nick Parker: The lesson is properly to empower the ISAF chain of command, and in this case it is, as I said right at the beginning, effectively American led, because they are the people who have the major physical stake in it. I think that our interpretation of coalition, NATO, or whatever type of operation it is, has to take account of those who provide the largest amount of resource.

  Q263 Mr Havard: We are going into a risky area, and when you go into a risky bit, it's really a coalition of the willing with the Americans, because it's not really the rest of NATO.

  General Sir Nick Parker: Well, yes—

  Mr Havard: The other bits are fine, because there's less of a risk up there, and there's less fighting.

  General Sir Nick Parker: They may not be. Georgia, Denmark, Estonia, Canada—

  Mr Havard: There are some others with us, yes.

  General Sir Nick Parker: And the Dutch. There are significant numbers.

  Q264 Mr Havard: We don't want to diminish their contributions by any stretch of the imagination.

  General Sir Nick Parker: But they are relatively small stakeholders, and therefore one has to rely on those ISAF mechanisms, which are designed to take account of those national interests, and the German Chief of Staff and I are involved with that. That comes back to my point about the importance of investing in decision making at the theatre strategic level. That is the interface between the national interests and military decision making, which is where we must apply our influence.

  Q265 Mr Havard: Those decisions in 2006 weren't British decisions in isolation.

  General Sir Nick Parker: I can't answer that.

  Q266 Mr Havard: Well, they weren't. They were NATO's.

  General Sir Nick Parker: I can't answer that.

  Chair: You were in Northern Ireland at the time. We don't think you're pathetic.

  Bob Stewart: From the answers we've heard, not from you, but from others, we might imply that the chain of command wasn't right in 2006.

  Chair: I think we can now move on.

  Q267 John Glen: Over the past four years, concern has been expressed at various times and in various degrees about the shortages facing UK Forces in terms of the lack of helicopters, Close-Air Support and counter-IED capability. How do you see the Armed Forces now in terms of having sufficient quantities of what they need? Are there any gaps remaining?

  General Sir Nick Parker: It is a balance between capability, tactics and the plan. Those three interrelate. If your tactics go wobbly you'll start to lose the initiative; if you either don't have sufficient capability or employ it incorrectly you'll start to lose the initiative; and clearly, if the plan is wrong you'll start to lose the initiative. My judgment when I left, speaking as the British National Contingent Commander, was that we had those things broadly in balance. You have to keep watching them all the time and there are two very important things that I think we should recognise. First, we need to ensure that we generate continuity so you don't have six-month chunks of ideas. You must allow those ideas to flow so that you can react to things in a considered way. Secondly, we have to accept that the insurgent is very dynamic and therefore what looks great today will have to be adjusted when he changes his tactic. As a military man, I think we have force densities that allow us real flexibility now. When you have insufficient force density and your capability is stretched, your flexibility is reduced. We are not in that position at the moment.

  Q268 John Glen: To give us some detail, could you comment on how well ISAF and UK Forces are dealing with the IED threat at the moment?

  General Sir Nick Parker: Yes. The IED has clearly gained considerable interest because of the numbers of casualties that have been caused by it. The effort that has been put into it across all ISAF nations has been extraordinary and considerable but we must not kid ourselves: what we call the counter-IED fight is not against the IED, it is against the system that it is operating in. If you can defeat the insurgency, if you can eject the insurgent from the community, the IED goes away with no technical assistance at all. So we need to continue to improve our situational awareness; improve our intelligence; improve our tactics; make sure that our soldiers remain really brave and are prepared to do offensive operations and don't become defensive; keep the proactive edge; and we need our technicians to keep watching developments because as sure as night follows day, once we get on top of one capability, it will morph into something else.

  Q269 John Glen: Is your assessment that we are on top of it at the moment? You have spoken in general terms about the moving nature of the target and being appraised of the need to have more resources pumped in. I am really keen to get the explicit view from you now about how well that is going and whether there are sufficient resources to deal with the nature of the threat at the moment.

  General Sir Nick Parker: I'm going to give you an answer which I worry about because I think it will give you the wrong impression. The statistics show that we are on top of it and that it is getting better. I think that when you get into that position you start to become complacent and you start to think you are winning. So this conversation worries me, partly because it is an open session and partly because I think there are positives and there is a danger that they could be misinterpreted. But if you look at the statistics and you look at the trends, you're going to see something positive, but for God's sake don't let that make us complacent.

  Q270 John Glen: Last week we took some evidence about bandwidth and communications infrastructure. There seemed to be some different views about what the UK Armed Forces had compared with the Americans. Do you think that the UK Armed Forces have access to enough bandwidth to use their communications systems in the best possible way? What is your view on that at the moment?

  General Sir Nick Parker: There have been some remarkable advances. In 2009, when I came in, it was poor. I think we have shown a capacity to increase our bandwidth, thank goodness, which allows us to operate in a much more effective way. Fusing information in order to stay on top of it is critical. I believe that the culture of communication in my part of the Armed Forces is wrong. We have to take a very different approach to communication—the flat information environment—and it is in that culture and that attitude, the willingness to use the sorts of technology that are available to allow us to communicate today, that we have to change the way we do our business.

  Q271 John Glen: It is much improved, but there is a long way to go.

  General Sir Nick Parker: A long way to go, and culture, not necessarily stuff, is critical.

  Q272 Sandra Osborne: You have referred to the loss of British lives, and that of course is one of the major concerns of all our constituents. Many of them wonder what the purpose is and what is actually being achieved. The Prime Minister has said that we will withdraw by 2015, "make no mistake about it." How confident are you that that can be successfully done?

  General Sir Nick Parker: I think that is an entirely reasonable order to give to the military. The resources and the plan are there. We will have to manage a whole series of risks, and we should be planning to do so, but we should stay on the balls of our feet to deal with the unexpected.

  Q273 Sandra Osborne: But given everything that you have said today about the difficulties of training the army, particularly in relation to the police and the whole scenario of the culture of the area, none of these things are new. They have been going on since we first went into Afghanistan. The culture is well known, for a start. How can you be so sure that this will work?

  General Sir Nick Parker: Because I feel that with the plan that McChrystal brought in, that catalyst for progress injected something into this campaign that is starting to develop momentum and cautious optimism. It is entirely reasonable for our political masters to turn round to the Coalition and say, "Do it by 2015." I think that time frame is entirely reasonable, even with those challenges that you talk about. I am talking about out-of-combat operations, because that is what I read in the instruction.

  There is still a debate to be had about how much we will need to be helping in the institutional capacity of the Armed Forces to sustain this. Dealing with the Afghans and making sure that they are content with what we are doing is another serious area that we need to consider.

  Q274 Sandra Osborne: When will ISAF be able to withdraw?

  General Sir Nick Parker: That I can't answer. I am saying as a military man that it is entirely reasonable to be told to plan to get out of combat operations by 2014 or 2015. That is an entirely reasonable ask, and if we cannot do so we should pull our finger out. The situation is very dynamic, however, and we need to stay prepared to react. We need to continue to plan for contingencies that are unforeseen now.

  Q275 Sandra Osborne: But you have talked a great deal about the need to keep the Afghan people on board, and you have also said that things might look good today but situations can change. How do you convince the Afghan people that we are not just going to cut and run in 2015, no matter what the circumstances?

  General Sir Nick Parker: At our level, by honest relationships, by trust and by showing them the blood that we are spilling on their behalf. I work with all the principal advisers and the Ministers in the Government. They understand the degree of commitment at our level. I am not in a position to answer the question of how much political commitment there is from the Coalition nations.

  Chair: General Parker and Brigadier Levey, thank you both very much indeed. That was really worthwhile evidence, and we are most grateful. We will now take evidence from General Lamb, but not at the same time as you.

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Prepared 17 July 2011