Operations in Afghanistan - Defence Committee Contents


Examination of Witness (Questions 276-308)

  Q276 Chair: Welcome to the Committee. You come here on a regular basis, and we are most grateful to you for coming in again so soon. Because you have been here so recently, I don't think it's necessary for us to ask you to introduce yourself. As you have recently returned from helping the Americans in Afghanistan, do you mind telling us what you think the key issues have been in Afghanistan as a whole and in Helmand over the past two years?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: The reality is that I came out at the beginning of July, so I'm already four months out of date and in a collapsing circuit, one might say, by way of an informed position. At the time I was in Afghanistan I was principally driving towards the reintegration programme in support of General McChrystal's adjustments in the campaign, but I was obviously privy to a host of conversations and had access to how they were developing their thinking and approach.

  I think it's quite important not to see Afghanistan as we tend to, which is to clump it into an act that started in 2001—and I recall that only too well—with the removal of the Taliban and how it is now, saying, "Well, it's been a long campaign and look at where we are now." It has been a long, bloody and difficult campaign and it was always going to be that. However, one has to see the wave pattern of the initial removal of the Taliban, most of whom just went to ground and/or disappeared, because the Afghan people had dismissed them and they had lost their authority. They recognised retribution as, sort of, "That's entirely understandable," on the basis of what had happened in the United States. There was that period when our eye was taken off the ball and we somehow thought it would be an easy ride.

  Q277 Chair: Our eye was taken off the ball by Iraq?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: I think Iraq, obviously, was a large factor, but it was also, in many ways, a sense that these things somehow have a beginning, middle and end. It's a never-ending story. Savage wars of peace continue well beyond—well, I'll be long dead by the time Afghanistan plays out and through. We are still engaged with Kenya. We don't have any combat troops there, and we left it a long time ago, but the truth is that there is a continuation of policies, diplomacy, force and use of military force, training, training individuals, good governance, building capacity and so on. That has gone through.

  The interesting thing with Afghanistan, in particular, was this cold realisation, which came about in the period towards the end of 2008 and in early 2009, that the situation was really very serious, to borrow a line from General McChrystal's assessment. A lot of the expectation—you know, hope is not a plan—was that it was going in the right way, but in this case, there was a realisation that it was not, and that it was going in the wrong way.

  You have heard me before, referring to what I saw when I turned up in 2009, which was a sense of perceived and real intimidation that had taken a grip across the country. It was very persuasive and intrusive across areas where we had no people, or in areas where we did have people but were not actually connected to them—that sense was there. Therefore, the campaign, in many ways, took a clear and new direction with the assessment that General McChrystal wrote. It took him three months to write it, and it took four months of contested consideration in Washington before the force or the resource that was needed to execute it was agreed—the President made his decision, as I recall, in the early part of December—because it was such a change.

  In many ways, what we are seeing is a change in direction, and we should not view the campaign today as being from 2001. We should see it from 23 August 2009, as we understand how that began to change. I think I have put on record that in the first meeting that General McChrystal had with President Karzai, he arrived in his dress greens. That was not to impress the President with how many medals he had or who he was, or because he was a very swish dresser. It was not the case; it was to show due respect to the sovereign President. I sensed that President Karzai had not enjoyed that level of respect, and that level of understanding that here was a sovereign nation, over the previous years. There was a sense of him being given responsibility.

  A number of campaigns were running concurrently, which were independent of the sovereignty of the nation. Sovereignty is important to the Afghan. General Mattis and General Petraeus created the counter-insurgency doctrine, which I call an extraordinarily good piece of work. They changed the direction, and brought in, in many ways, the embracing of what we had seen from Afghanistan, understanding, living with and going in and among the people; that was being drawn through. I recall—in fact, I think that it is recorded in a Bob Woodward book—General McChrystal saying that it was not either counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency. It is both, in the sense that both have to be brought to bear, which is important. The campaign that we are seeing is one that has been drawn from that period of 2009, when the change in direction was set by General McChrystal in that first year, and it is now being delivered by General Petraeus.

  Q278 Chair: Yet we were told earlier today by General Parker, and last week by others and General Messenger, that the McChrystal doctrine was not a new thing. It was a development of a process. Do you think that that is wrong, in view of what you have said?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: Yes, I would. I am a straight-talking individual.

  Q279 Chair: Ah, it's wonderful when you have retired.

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: I was pretty straight-talking when I was serving, actually. Everyone in uniform would sit there listening, waiting for the comment. When I turned up in Kabul in 2009, I looked at an organisation—a structure—and a relationship with the embassy and with the Afghans, as well as the civ-mil connection, which was not fit for purpose. You can dress it any way you want and put lipstick on it, but it was not fit for purpose. In that short space of time, General McChrystal turned all that. He restructured, reconnected and re-engaged. He drew the pieces together and changed the overall culture.

  Q280 Mr Havard: You say that there was the counter-terrorism operation, Operation Enduring Freedom, the ISAF thing and all that stuff going on, but this is a much more joined-up operation. You have counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism in a unified package, with support and so on. It is not just a simple change, saying, "Let's end the separate mission that the US were conducting and integrate it with the rest of the ISAF mission." Or was it? You seem to be saying that this is something conceptually different to that and much greater than that. As I understand it, there is four times more SF activity going on than there was during Operation Enduring Freedom, but that does not matter, because it is part of a more unified process. Is that right?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: Correct, sir. The term "unified" is exactly the right one. There is a way to go yet, so the idea that the civ-mil peace is tidy would misrepresent the reality. It is a lot better. The relationship between ISAF and the United States—between the different approaches—has been brought together. Chains of command have been improved, and they needed to be, because they were pretty ineffective. They were operating in single lines of operation. I sense that time will draw out the legacy of the McChrystal year, in terms of the change of culture and the change of force command control, as well as the sense, whether it was in Europe, Washington, or even Westminster, that this was do-able from a military point of view. The campaign began to conform and respond to that. That was a new draw.

  America would not have sacked Dave McKiernan—he is a fine officer whom I worked with in 2003, when we went into Iraq, and has a good track record—if he had been able to embrace the change that was seen to be necessary and that was then brought about by General McChrystal. At that time, there was a range of relationships between NATO, ISAF, America and Karzai, who was going through the difficult period of an election. All that occurred at the same time that he was building relationships that, in many ways, General Petraeus is now able to fuel off so as to proceed on a course that was set in that earlier period of change. The movement in that period was a Herculean effort by all those involved. At that time, it was driven and the course was set in a quiet and unassuming way, but with his inevitable delivery, by McChrystal. That included both counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, and it brought those together, because they had been parallel activities or divergent activities, and they had not been inclusive of the population per se.

  Chair: I regret saying that it is wonderful when you retire, because I remember from what you told us in Iraq that you did not seem to mind speaking most controversially, even when you were not retired.

  Q281 Mr Brazier: General Lamb, would you like to share with us your views on the effectiveness of the PJHQ, which figures heavily in the pamphlet that you recently co-authored, and particularly on its general effectiveness and on the specific issue of overlap with the Operations Directorate in the MoD?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: My views on the PJHQ are partly expressed in the paper that we pushed out for the Policy Exchange. I had the good fortune to sit at the back and listen to General Parker—I have a huge amount of respect for him—and his observations were right on the money. He talked about the need for such an organisation, when you are dealing with a complex, multi-service commitment, to be able to prepare, deploy, sustain and recover. The term that is in question is the issue of command.

  I read a recent article by the Professor of the History of War at Oxford, Hew Strachan, who nicely captures the dilemma of theatre and the rear, in a way that is hugely insightful. He is a master of the pen; I could probably kill somebody with one, but I certainly cannot write with the damn thing. He puts it nicely when he talks about this operational and strategic divide. That was an area of some confusion.

  I remember having a conversation with the American ambassador responsible for counter-terrorism, whose name escapes me. At the end of the discussion, he came out and said, "Graeme, I see all the intelligence that you have, and you are getting great access"—because of the position that I was in—"and I see some other stuff above that, which you do not see, but the truth is that I just don't see it in the same way as you have just explained." I said, "That will be because you are 4,500 miles away." It is that simple.

  There is a real danger that you end up with very sound and good reasons, from good people working extraordinarily hard, back here. They are trying to understand something, but they are already behind a massive time lag in following the nuances of change, and they are not living and breathing it. So, the theatre level of command is very important. The concern remains, whether about Sangin, Helmand or Basra, over this continual perspective from little Britain, which is where our people are. But they actually sit within a broader campaign, and it is the success of that campaign, not of Helmand or of Basra, that will deliver the out-turn. Our forefathers had the ability to understand. Churchill and his chiefs crossed the Atlantic two or three times to sit down and discuss the campaign against Germany and Japan over a number of days, and to set the broad course of action. Are we doing that? People will say that we have modern communications, but I say that they are sometimes just an excuse.

  The question is how is the campaign being directed, both from an overall grand strategic point of view, or whatever the right level would be—I defer to Hew Strachan on this one—and from a theatre perspective. It is about the delivery of the campaign as a single action, not a series of individual national activities, which is where the campaign has gone to. We have Germans training the police, or not, as the case may be, and us responsible for drugs, or not, and not doing as well as we could have done. I don't apportion blame very glibly; I just see it as it is. At the same time, we have the Americans with the high-value targets, the counter-terrorist approach, the drones, and what I call the specific targeting programme. All of that is running.

  There is an importance in drawing all those together, because it is the sum of the parts that makes the Force—the Coalition—so superior to the individual asymmetric attacks or approaches that the opposition has taken. It learns and morphs very quickly, as Nick quite rightly pointed out, but the truth of the matter is that we need to bring not only the whole of Government, but the whole of the campaign, to bear.

  If you look at the movement of troops, as Nick quite rightly pointed out, it was an absolute no-brainer to me and Nick Parker sitting in theatre. It was felt, for a vast number of legitimate reasons, back here that we will be seen to have failed in that, but that is just a battle of the narrative, and that is the narrative back here that needs to be run out. The right decision was about where we need to apportion our Forces in order to deliver the best effect in a campaign sense.

  Q282 John Glen: Can we turn back to the attitudes of the Afghan people to the Coalition? What is your assessment of how they see things evolving by 2015 and beyond? Do they believe that the Coalition will just evaporate, or won't have such a long-term commitment?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: We are light years on from where we were, in a dislocated relationship with the population. We are now very much more joined up in that sense. A sense of how this plays out to where we will no longer be delivering combat force is not unimportant to the Afghans. They see that as a natural transition to a problem that they themselves would realise exists, if you rubbed them hard enough, and that is about the level of intimidation. They did not enjoy their time under the Taliban—I am not talking about everyone, because they weren't all over the place, but the majority of them—and the Hazaras had a bloody time. I remember going to Bamiyan in 2001, and there were grim reflections of people's time under the Taliban. It wasn't just the Buddhas being knocked down, but real people being knocked down. That was their greater concern.

  We see this in stark terms, which is right. While we are here now, we are gone in 2015. As Nick quite rightly pointed out, the direction that has been given is that we will cease combat operations in 2015. What we continue to do in the way of training is for 2015, and for the government of the day to decide—how they want to play it out, the authority that is given and how the Afghans want the relationship. That is the next phase. Reducing some of the campaign's forces, as set out in the near term, is, in my view, again entirely sensible because the Afghans begin to take the responsibility. The Afghans taking ownership of their army and police and, in a sense, their national responsibility, is an absolutely essential part of the transition.

  Q283 John Glen: Do they see themselves as having sufficient support beyond 2015? Is that distinction in the nature of the evolving role of the Coalition?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: I cannot speak for the Afghans, but my sense is that they are entirely comfortable with the idea of us beginning to relinquish the position that we hold in the coming years, in a way that puts them back into that sense of sovereignty, which is very Afghan. You often hear people saying, "Well, there is no nation of the Afghans", but I would contest that in every way.

  Q284 John Glen: Moving into the area of a political settlement, there is a lot of debate over the degree of corruption and the role of President Karzai. How do you see him, in terms of being an impediment to a political settlement? Are we stressing enough the problems of corruption and trying to sort it out?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: Corruption is pretty omnipresent anywhere in the world.

  Q285 John Glen: What I'm trying to get to is the issue of how it impedes a reasonable political settlement.

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: Others will disagree, but my view is that an election took place, and there were inaccuracies during that, but the outcome was that President Karzai was affirmed as President. That is a democratic process. It may look a little ugly, and it may be slightly tarnished and rough, but that is the hand you've got. I have heard said in a number of other countries, "Oh, he is not the man we want. He's not going to do what we want to do," and you think, "Well, that's pretty bloody undemocratic." He is the bloke we've got, and therefore one has to try to help him help us help him, and so on. The transition is quite important.

  Quite often, we will look back and say, "President Karzai is this" or "President Karzai is that." What I found fascinating is that when Stan McChrystal took President Karzai out to the shires—I am sure that exactly the same is occurring with General Petraeus—people were weeping because their President had come to see them. Their President, not ours. We somehow missed the importance of the sense of nationhood, nationality, and sovereignty, as it runs across for the Afghan.

  Q286 John Glen: But the amount of corruption and the need to continue reform within the Afghan Government still remain. What you are attesting to is the democratic legitimacy, fundamentally, of Karzai. Is enough being done to address the corruption that is still embedded within the Afghans?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: You have the campaign for the rule of law, and people are actively engaging with FBI investigations. Some will hit the walls and be adjusted. Others will begin to chip away. The idea of delegating some authority is back out, because we were the ones who, in many ways, constructed the Bonn Agreement and how Afghanistan should be governed. We centralised the power. That was quite counter-culture. It made eminent sense to Westminster or Washington, but I don't think that it made too much sense if you were living out in the shires in Farah.

  Q287 Mr Havard: Yes, some form of Jeffersonian democracy might work somewhere, but not necessarily in Afghanistan. As for President Karzai being in transition, he is in his last term as President. We are talking about a continuum that takes us beyond 2014, when the next President will be in place. Presumably there will be another presidential election in America during that period. There are lots of questions about how the transition will work. How do you see the changes made by the Afghans and others to that constitutional structure affecting the ability to do the things that we have declared we want to do?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: If you take a run across to Iraq and look at Prime Minister Maliki, that continues to be a transition—a political change in progress. Exactly the same will occur in Afghanistan. An enormous amount of work is being done. Everyone recognised back in 2002-03, just as we did in Iran, that we need good governance. You then put lots of people in. There is lots of talk, papers are written and money is spent, and you turn around and say, "What is the output measurement of individuals who are now back in government, who have been trained in finance, or in the Provinces'?" A lot of that is going on, and it will increase because the importance has been recognised. I sense that it has been a little late coming, and that is the whole Government approach. The situation is often is put down as security stopping us being able to something, in which case nothing was done. Kipling wasn't wrong when he talked about "doers". My view is that it will move forward.

  Chair: We now have a vote. I guess that there will be only one vote, so I propose suspending the Committee for 15 minutes. Will you please come back at 4.15 pm? I am sorry to give you a break for 15 minutes while we do our democratic duty.

  Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

  On resuming—

  Q288 Sandra Osborne: I wanted to ask about General McChrystal's strategy, but I think you have made it perfectly clear that you see that as a positive strategy and one that has already reaped rewards. What impact have civilian casualties had in terms of the counter-insurgency strategy, and has the policy of courageous restraint made a difference in relation to securing the consent of the local population?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: On the position that General McChrystal took, to change a culture, quite often you push the boundary and then settle back into a position, which is where I think the campaign and General Petraeus are taking it to. General Parker explained that rather eloquently.

  The importance of casualties to the Afghans had been a long-running sore. The assumption would be, "We are seeking the bad guys and if the two of them are among a group of whatever they may be and they are killed in the process, then by association they shouldn't have been there, or that's just how it is, because the bad guys are pretty evil individuals." But I think that some of that, year on year over the years, was a sore that grew that the insurgency then bled off. They were able to see that this was an attack against them and against tribes, individual clans, families, villages and communities. They operate in the communication space incredibly better than we do. It is the area in which we are horribly deficient. It was important, therefore, to change that dynamic through the way people drove—so it was how we were perceived by the population—and how we tried to reduce the casualties in the use of force and other ways.

  Hobbes's world is a grim old place. Both sides are getting broken up, killed and damaged in the process of this, and people try to apply a Surrey map to it, which just doesn't work. Trying to reduce those casualties is recognised by the people. There was an incident in the North, in Kunduz or wherever it was, when a tanker was blown up and a number of locals who had been told by the Taliban to get the fuel were killed. McChrystal went straight there, and a lot of people said, "What are you doing? We haven't had the inquiry yet and Germany are upset about this." The bush net of Afghanistan is every bit as good as the bush nets you will find in other parts of the third and second world. It is often far better than where we have a clever communication space. It went around the country that here was someone who was genuinely trying to reduce civilian casualties, and the vast majority of Afghans got that. So McChrystal was seen as somebody who was in charge of ISAF and the Coalition Forces who was genuinely aware of Afghans. That is not how they had perceived it before. That doesn't mean that the previous Generals were not conscious of that responsibility, but it was not seen that way by the Afghans. That change in culture was very important, and him taking Karzai down on visits and standing shoulder to shoulder was very important for perceptions and, therefore, visualisation.

  The adjustment in doing everything we could to reduce casualties—from those injured in road accidents to those killed under a collateral damage profile in the rules of engagement—was an important cultural change for ISAF and the Force, and that has borne fruit.

  Q289 Chair: Why do they operate in a communication space incredibly better than we do?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: It is long-standing. I travelled by train from Scotland today and read Paul Wolfowitz referring to a piece in one of the letters. I remember him coming out to Iraq and saying, "Graeme, we've got to get this message into the beltway." I said, "Hey, that's your job, with due respect. My job is to get the message out to the old shepherd over the hill who doesn't have a radio or television. We are here to try to make his life better. The beltway is your drama." And he said, "Fair call." Our sense is that we tend to keep looking backwards to the broadsheets, what's driving neo-politics, and popularity—to today's headlines—rather than recognising that that is important. At the end of the day, Clausewitz wasn't wrong with his holy trinity of public, politicians and armed forces. Equally, we must recognise that there are some very important audiences regionally. That is why, in Iraq, we put a lot of effort into not manipulating or manoeuvring, but being able to express our case to al-Jazeera, because it was well listened to.

  In '82, we all remember that rather dull Jock—McDonald, I think he was—who went on, night after night, on the BBC. Eventually we thought, "He's the guy telling the truth", so that mattered. The range of the audiences we are looking for—whether it is the Sons of Malik, through twittering—are widespread. Often we think that we have a really great message here, but it's retired General Lamb. I get up and I'm a white guy, a Brit, so there's no way I can carry the message.

  So, they are very good at understanding who the messengers are in this world. They have taken a great deal of time building up and setting the conditions in the madrassahs in Pakistan or the like, so you have people who are absolutely inclined to a view that says that the twin towers was a CIA plot—a ridiculous view, but it is believed because they are able, in effect, to bring that to bear. We are badly responsive and, actually, rather ignorant in the way that we think that a message that makes eminent sense back here is absolutely or entirely appropriate. That should be understood by those forward. We just don't do cross-culture nowadays—we don't have Wilfrid Thesiger, who spoke six or seven local dialects and lived with the tribes, so that he understood them and they trusted him.

  Q290 Mr Havard: Yes, we have had a lot of—well, some—evidence on that. I spoke to Governor Mangal last week or the week before. We have the "radio in a box" and all that sort of stuff, so there are clearly attempts.

  Like you, I met the Afghan farmer in 2003 who had a bicycle and a donkey. I said, "What do you want?" and he said, "A mobile phone." Well, he's had one for a long time now—all of that stuff. I think you are right about that.

  The question I wanted to ask was this. While you have all that happening in the population, out of that population has got to come the country's own security services. Can you give us your view of how you think that process is developing—that is, the development of the Afghan Security Forces, mindful of the fact that there are various components within that, such as the army, the police and so on? What is your general, overall assessment of how that process is now working?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: Again, we had the bringing in of General Caldwell, with the energy he put forward, the money that went in behind him and the emphasis on training—NATO's response had been a tad lacklustre. The investment in literacy before 2009 was zero, but now 27,000 individuals are literate. That is not unimportant.

  The army and police sat almost static at about 60,000 or 70,000, as I recall, from about 2002-03 right through to 2005-06. And don't forget that the police weren't being trained—they were being given a uniform and told to go out there and be policemen. For all this period, you had this. Look at the increase over the near period, and not only in the infantry—the foot soldiers, whether police or army. There is now real investment in signallers. There were no schools for logistics, but there are now four, from my recollection of when I left.

  All these changes are really important, because what they do is build up Q2—quantity and quality. We had almost no investment in quantity or quality for four or five years, year after year. Suddenly we began to put some investment into quantity, and only recently have we really increased that and ramped it up exponentially, exactly as we did in Iraq, and at the same time we have absolutely paid. Petraeus is driving that really hard now. Stan set the correction, but Petraeus really understands the idea of quality.

  So, we have the investment in the quality base. I think the number of training seats went from 1,900 to about 9,300, almost doubling up in areas, and doubling in the police from about seven to about 14. All that has increased exponentially in the near term, with a view to improving the leadership and quality of the force. If you then put that in place alongside the partnership, the partnership is a two-way street; you have the Afghan police or army beginning to realise what is right and what is wrong, because when that person is operating, somebody says, "You don't do that, son." But we have the individual on the other side—the British or American soldier—being told some of the cultural nuances, which, no matter what little training we can put in during the time we have available, has an effect. If you put that together, my view is that we are on a significantly better trajectory than we were. There was no trajectory for 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, in the form of the police. We have been able to improve a little, but we have been on a significantly better trajectory since 2009. As George Harrison said, "Give peace a chance." I sense that there are absolutely Herculean efforts going on out there to improve the quantity and the quality of the Forces, and they will make a significant difference.

  Q291 Chair: What about the quantity of ISAF Forces? Have we got enough troops there now?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: I can't remember the exact figures. Not every Provinces is a drama and not every district is a security crisis. I would not want to speak for General David or Nick's replacement. It is for them to lay out whether they think they have sufficient forces. There is a danger sometimes of thinking we need to throw in more forces. I am quite clear that as you increase and ramp up the ANSF in both the police and army, as you begin to build in genuine governance and have PRTs operating and ranging widely, because one has managed to get over some of the ridiculous security constraints of being unable to leave the barracks or go outside the wire, but soldiers can. My view is that as we go into 2011 we will be in a position where I sense that it will not be an issue of numbers. Whether it is in that period or the near period of 2012, I think we will be considering whether we can reduce some of our force levels. The overall capacity and effect that the ANSF and the Coalition bring to bear will be significantly different.

  Q292 Chair: Would you agree that the force levels we had before 2009 and the general build-up to the American surge were inadequate to do what we were asking them to do?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: I would put it that the numbers were inadequate, and that was realised. President Obama should be given credit for increasing the numbers twice—the initial force was 21,000 and then in effect 30,000 when NATO asked for the additional 10,000, and rightly so in that period. The mere fact that you have a new campaign go in this direction probably will increase the force levels from where we were. Before, we were in a campaign that was just bumping along.

  Q293 Chair: How did that come about?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: That came about because of a realisation that the campaign of intimidation was beginning to increase—the levels of violence, the levels of control across the country. Hence the reason that you had the Chairman, Admiral Mullan, go out and have that discussion with General McKiernan, who had already asked for more forces, but was in many ways not embracing the idea of a fulsome and fuller campaign to be able to address the underlying problems that needed to be addressed. That's what Petraeus did. His assessment set the tone—"This is very serious"—and it was a report to be read in a cold shower. His requests for forces, if you recall, were 10,000, 40,000 and 85,000. There is a harsh—what I call appetite. You could change to the new campaign, but it would require at least a 40,000 figure to do that.

  Q294 Chair: But somehow, we had got into the position where we were heavily deployed in Helmand in those terms, yet it was far too lightly to achieve what we wanted to do there.

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: Again, if one reads the Petraeus-Mattis doctrine of counter-insurgency—what I call the correlation of forces, the numbers game, and all the rest—that is self-evident.

  Q295 Chair: But how did we get into that position?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: Because, before that time, we were asking, "Where is the enemy?" My first point to General Stan in the briefing that I gave was that our strategic communications suck—this was in late August 2009. I had done my assessment and set the conditions in the context as I saw it.

  My second point was that we had, for seven or eight years, asked the question, "Where is the enemy?" The question that we should have asked was, "Where should we be?"

  Q296 Chair: Why have we not asked that question?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: I suppose you will have to ask others.

  Q297 Chair: You were, at the time, in Iraq. Did you feel that you were having your forces whittled out from underneath you in order to fulfil this new priority in Afghanistan?

  Q298 Mr Havard: In addressing that, I think that you were here earlier, and you heard the question that I similarly asked about our drawing down to train and to divert power, so perhaps you could incorporate a comment about that.

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: Don't forget, I was in Iraq in 2006-07, for the summer period.

  Q299 Chair: You could see all the focus moving from Iraq to Afghanistan, could you?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: No. Often it is about things such as the enablers—the number of special forces, the number of Predators, the systems, the bandwidth, the biometrics, which is just hardware stuff. There are also some electrons that go with that and then there are some people, because the dwell time was a continuous question, not only for us—our harmony guidelines—but also for America. Dwell time was a big deal because they had gone through a period where they had increased the pressure on their own forces. They were going out for a year, which was extended to 14 months and in certain cases 18 months—and a year turnaround. In these campaigns, if you are operating in Baghdad or Mosul, or where the Americans were—the Marines in particular, who were out in Anbar—it is absolutely hard pounding.

  We were in Iraq at that point on a campaign that was the transition to handover—picking—they were the terms that I recall were around at the time. What is interesting is that at the time that America—that General Jack Keane realised that the transition was not going to succeed, that the situation was very ugly, and they changed their campaign focus, we were ahead, because Basra was what it was. We always knew that it required the Government of Iraq to take ownership of that, both with their own forces and with their political forces.

  The question that the Committee should ask—I am not the one to answer it—is, "As that campaign change occurred, what was the discussion amongst the Coalition? What was the discussion between America and us, and America and the remnants who were still there, on that change in direction?" I sense that we carried on in Basra with the campaign that we were running with, and America had changed to a different direction, and the two diverged at that point. The consequences then ran out as we went through in and over time. Actually, it all worked out fine in the end—or where we are now, which is—

  Q300 Chair: Well, it worked out fine after the Charge of the Knights, in a sense, because the Charge of the Knights succeeded in Basra.

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: It is no different to when—I could be corrected on this—the Ardennes Offensive went through in '44. Montgomery had to shift north very rapidly to help the Americans, because otherwise Antwerp was under threat. So within a coalition, the answer is that is what you do.

  In this case, it is absolutely axiomatic that for the problem that occurs in Basra, at the end of the day, you have to bring forces in from outside, because of the nature of the problem, in order to help. It is interesting to see what they brought down; a lot of it, actually, technology—ISR, some helicopters, biometrics, bandwidth. It wasn't just foot soldiers. Oh, and then Iraqis who were not from Basra, who we should have embedded with. So, all of that—the idea that your higher authority, your higher headquarters helps you—that is why Hew Strachan's work is so very correct in the way he identifies it. Because in Afghanistan, in looking at where our force levels were and our density, our ability to bring about— Sangin and Helmand are a hard nut, in many ways the hardest nut that sits within Afghanistan. The idea that now this is "our" space. You say, "No, this is the campaign space." Success or failure there is quite important, but it's the overall campaign that matters. As we saw, they push pressures up on to Kunduz and around on to areas to the North in order to try and draw forces away from that which was a correlation which was a superior level of force against the forces that were arrayed against us down in Helmand Provinces.

  Q301 Chair: Do you think we suffered reputationally by the withdrawal from Basra?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: Yes. Was it some sort of catastrophic moment, some end-of-Empire, end of the British? Not at all.

  Chair: That wouldn't have been the question I would have asked.

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: But is it a sore? It is no different from that naval debacle in the NAG. Most Americans say, "I can't believe you didn't fire back." So these things have a compilation. America, though, and people such as General Petraeus, General McChrystal, actually all the people I deal with—and I can only speak of those—and all the Senators and the individuals who I have gone across and seen, are only too conscious of the incredible contribution in blood and treasure that the United Kingdom has made to this campaign, and the importance of that in the overall condition setting for the opportunity of success.

  Q302 Mr Havard: By design, default, mistake or whatever, it consolidated the Baswarian nationalism and the Iraqi nationalism—their aspirations to have their own country, do their own thing and get their own security.

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: Correct, but it wasn't until they came down and did that. That was the time. That is why there is some similarity in Afghanistan—the importance of getting President Karzai to begin to accept and own, as the sovereign leader, those issues around Kandahar and the like, and how that goes forward. That is the route, which is a difficult one, because you have got constant conflicts of perceptions. President Karzai has a raft of audiences that General Petraeus does not. He has a different set of audiences. Both are looking for almost opposite statements, as is the United Nations. So, de Mistura's position is very important. Mark Sedwill's ability to be able to interface some of that. All of that is this complex mixture of communication that needs to take place. Some of what is said, you think is really unhelpful and is counter to what we want to do, but actually it is necessary in order to contain what I call the large majority of individuals who are looking for some sort of route and progress.

  Q303 Chair: Have we, the British, learnt lessons from Iraq and Basra, that we are transporting into Afghanistan?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: If you look at the new Chief of the Defence Staff in the form of David Richards and if you look at Nick Parker sitting here today, here are people who have had intimate knowledge, in every sense, of the Afghan campaign. They are hugely conscious of how this thing has unfolded over time. They have personal experiences from Iraq as to how that should be read across. The question you might have to ask is not whether the generals have learned those lessons, but has the comprehensive approach, have the other component parts of the force, all drawn from that? Are we feeling, in effect, that those lessons are now learnt? The most misused term I come across in modern days is "lessons learned," because they seldom are.

  Q304 John Glen: I refer back to the question that I think you probably heard General Parker address, which concerns the deficiencies—or not—in the supply of the UK Armed Forces with counter-IED capabilities such as protective vehicles and helicopters. There has been a lot of commentary about those gaps in provision over the various different stages. I wonder what your perspective is on that, and what the situation is now in terms of whether the Armed Forces are getting what they need.

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: Again, I'm a retired old bloke, at the end of the day.

  It is in the nature of a fellow or girl in uniform not blindly to say, "We will overcome," but to work with the hand you are given, because that is the practical, pragmatic reality of what you have got.

  In 2001—I can speak about this from a personal point of view—when we went into Afghanistan, I remember having conversations and saying, "Somebody needs to get me some serious ISR capability." The Predator, which was the original one, was up and running and I said that whatever it took and whatever it cost, I needed to have them. Each one of those takes a belt-load of people to operate it. You look at the Predator and think that it is unmanned, but it takes about 150 people to operate the damn thing, from the meteorological, to the commanding, to the fliers, to the maintenance, to the sustainability and all those aspects that come into play; my figures may be wrong, but it is a belt-load of people. My view was to say, "Whatever it takes, just get me an awful lot of these pieces of equipment, as we need."

  My sense over the years was that we tended to run the two campaigns off supplementals. So the Treasury, which we can often find fault with and throw a dart at, actually did rather well on Urgent Operational Requirements—UORs—which are one-time-use equipments. It is a story that is not well understood. We tend to blame the Treasury for not doing this, but it put billions of pounds of taxpayers' money into the requirements that we needed.

  Did we as an organisation take the equipment programme and shake it, break it, turn it around and deliver to a campaign that everybody thought would be over by Christmas? No, we did not. My father fought in a war that in four years went from Fairey Swordfish biplanes sinking the Bismarck, to us flying jet fighters. Even now we have I don't know how many Reapers and Predators, but my view would be that we are well short of.

  Q305 John Glen: Notwithstanding the changing nature of the need, and the fact that there was a deployment of resources from the Treasury in a timely way, what could have been done differently in the provisioning? Are there any lessons learnt from that overall experience, or is it really quite typical of what you would expect, given the changing nature of the need in the theatre?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: Who would have said that Bosnia would last as long as it did? President Clinton absolutely got his time scale on that one wrong by some margin. The idea that one can be very clever and say, "It will last this long, and it will be over and we'll be back by Christmas," is misleading. We then have the big programmes that run all the way through these, whether it is aircraft, tanks or grey hulls. They are running on to the institutions of the three services and how they operate. One has no idea how short or long these campaigns last.

  Chair: But we do. We know.

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: Well, we do know, and history helps us. At the same time, there is the question whether this is a change in the nature or the character of warfare. My view is that we are now seeing changes in this century. Again, when talking about the Policy Exchange work, where industrial violence can be brought about by just a few individuals, which was the act of only a state before, that changes the ground rules fundamentally and for ever. Consequently, understanding that is no mean feat. There are some who understood it, there are some who sort of got it, but were stuck with what we were getting, and there are some good, honest people, who fight well, who just won't get it as far as—to borrow a line from Parker—night follows day.

  Q306 Sandra Osborne: So what's your view on the chances of a successful withdrawal by 2014-15?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: Again, I would agree entirely with General Parker's view. I think it is a respectable time scale given the way that the campaign has shifted—the commitment to that campaign in numbers and resources. Are we seeing the same level of political diplomatic engagement in the region—China's place, position and interests, both from a resource, but also, in fact, a stability point of view? There is Russia, Iran—all these individual players—and Turkey, which is a significant player in this game. Are we addressing that with the same energy that the young men and women in Helmand and those who are committed in Afghanistan are? My view is that the jury's still probably out on that, and that the Foreign Secretary could do better yet.

  What I saw in 2009 was a campaign that I have referred to as people marching along looking very smart and being overtaken by lemmings. The route was one that, in effect, would be really unsatisfactory in every sense. That has changed. Listening to the campaign that General McChrystal put together and the direction he gave it, and the way that General Petraeus—I know him well—is able to take that and push it forward, my view is that, as we were in Iraq, and as I look toward a whole range of little things beginning to occur, we should be cautiously optimistic right now. Watch as we go through, because I sense that that position will improve. So when you look as far as 2014-15, with a new set of directions and all the work that is going on, my instinct tells me that this absolutely has a shot at the title.

  Q307 Mr Havard: On the current campaign, one of my questions was going to be about whether we are sufficiently joined-up across the UK Government to be supporting the current campaign. You made a few comments earlier on about that, and perhaps that has improved dramatically. Whether it is sufficient or not, I would like you to say something about that, and also about whether that is true across the international Coalition, because there are slight differences there. Perhaps in doing that, you could contextualise some of the things you were just saying about how that develops Afghanistan's economic situation, its position with its neighbours, and its general context. At the end of the day, we have discussed this before—the regional dimension to this question is just as important as the domestic question in Britain or in Afghanistan itself.

  Chair: This, you will be relieved to hear, is the last question.

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: The well-known fact that there is $1 trillion—and rising—worth of resources sitting in Afghanistan was neither understood nor recognised by me in 2001. I'm not sure that it was recognised by David Richards when he was there in 2006. We had inclinations—we knew that the Russians had oil and gas—but we had no idea of the volume or potential wealth that sits in there.

  I sense that you have two common interests for the region, and those involve Turkey, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, India from a little distance, and China from a little more distance. The first is the real need for regional stability and Afghanistan is an unknown player in that. We have some great diplomats. The idea of engaging in that and helping where common interests meet in bringing about that stability is very important.

  The second is, in fact, straightforward and selfish self-interest needs. If you are India and you have no copper—it is a developing nation and it is absolutely on a big development spree—at the end of the day you need copper. If you are China, the answer is you could probably take every single resource that exists in Afghanistan and you'll still be short of what you need for a population that is growing at the rate it is and has to create 24 million jobs every year. So there is the demand from just those two before you then look at Turkey and all the rest.

  I therefore think the opportunity of a successful outcome in Afghanistan is something that we have been slow to identify and slow to engage in. It is not necessarily about having the really huge multinationals come in, because what they will do is hedge their futures off in a reserve, which is Helmand, Afghanistan. We don't want that. We want some small companies to go in that have to meet an in-year or very near to in-year or three-year target return of a profit on actually extracting. The Chinese embassy buying the mine outside Kabul, one of a series of very large, very rich copper deposits, was jolly good. That was $3 billion. That's not the half of it. The important part is what that brings in over 30 years in the way of revenue to the country.

  But the most important part is what does that bring in the way of jobs for Afghan people, whether it is railroads or an infrastructure that comes in and all the support for that? It's about getting small starter companies up, which we were not so good at doing in Iraq and we don't seem to be doing so well in Afghanistan. We should be looking to get in those who are looking for a near-term profit, whether it is in gold, oil, gas or some of the exotics like lithium. That is what we should be pushing hard to bring about: getting that investment in—it's all about the money.

  Q308 Mr Havard: Do you have you any confidence that our approach to helping them to develop their processes to do that—our cross-Government approach and the international community's approach to developing Afghanistan along an Afghanistan plan, as opposed to some other beautiful plan—is what is really happening here?

  General Sir Graeme Lamb: No. But I think your comment is absolutely right. What is the Afghan plan? How do we help the Afghans secure what they see as being important rather than what we see as being important? I heard comments when I was in Afghanistan saying, "Right. We need to concentrate on marbles and gems." My experience of gemstones in Africa is not a particularly attractive one. So the truth is say, "No, to hell with that." It is about the practical part. We should turn around and listen to what they want and let's help them make sure that they safeguard it, otherwise the resource will be raped. Safeguard that resource and at the same time give them the ability to see how they can make both near money and then mid-term money in order to be able to fund a nation state.

  Chair: On that very important point, I think we should finish. Thank you very much indeed for coming to help us. It was, as always with you, extremely interesting and, as usual, pretty controversial.



 
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