Operations in Afghanistan - Defence Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 390-465)

  Q390 Chair: You are both very welcome in front of the Select Committee on Defence. As I understand it—let us know if you disagree—the agreement is that a transcript will be taken of this meeting. After the meeting, which will be held in private, you will each be given an opportunity to go through anything that you would like not to appear. There will be negotiation between yourselves and the Committee staff if there should be any disagreement. Nothing should be published without your agreement unless there is—I think the best of dealing with this is to say that if there was a problem, you could come back and explain to us why there was a problem. But my expectation is that, as has always been the case with the Ministry of Defence, agreement will be reached about what can and cannot be published, for decent reasons. Does that sound sensible?

  General Fry: That is my understanding, yes.

  Lord Reid: Yes.

  Q391 Chair: Okay, and you are happy to speak with each other, as opposed to this meeting being done one after the other? You're happy to discuss this with each other?

  Lord Reid: Yes.

  General Fry: Yes.

  Q392 Chair: For your information, the Ministry of Defence said it would like to be present for this meeting, to which I said no—I didn't think that was appropriate—but it may show an interest in what you say. May I ask both of you to tell us the dates for which you held your relevant responsibilities?

  Lord Reid: That's a very good question. It was 2005 to 2006. I left, I think, on 5 or 6 May '06 and I joined approximately one year before that, in '05, so I was there from May '05 through to May '06.

  Q393 Chair: From the General Election '05 to May '06?

  Lord Reid: That's right. Prior to that, I was somewhere else—Health. I went to Defence and then was moved on about 6 or 7 May. I remember that because—I'll come back to this later—we had a Chiefs of Staff meeting on 3 May, which was my last meeting, to discuss developments in Helmand.

  Q394 Chair: And you had been the Minister for the Armed Forces before.

  Lord Reid: In '97-98, I was Minister for the Armed Forces under George Robertson and, on behalf of George, chaired both the Strategic Defence Review and the Efficiency Drive.

  Q395 Chair: Until when were you Minister for the Armed Forces?

  Lord Reid: I went in at the Election in '97. As soon as we finished the SDR, about 15 or 16 months later—after the SDR—I was moved across to Transport to address several problems there.

  General Fry: In the role of DCDS (Commitments), as it was then, I can't remember whether it was May or June of 2003, but it was one of those dates, until January 2006. Before that, I was the Deputy Chief of Joint Operations at the PJHQ from about June of 2002. Before that, I was the Maritime Component Commander in the Gulf, and I went there in March 2002. So I guess, in various guises, I had an adjacency to Afghanistan from March 2002 until January 2006.

  Q396 Chair: After January 2006, what did you do?

  General Fry: I became the Deputy Coalition Commander in Iraq.

  Q397 Chair: We are particularly interested in the issue of going into Helmand in 2006. Could you both set out for us the background to the deployment in Southern Afghanistan in 2006 and who authorised it, please?

  General Fry: Perhaps I'll start, because I think that I probably predated Lord Reid in the general debates. On the precise chronology, I cannot give you exact dates, but to the best of my memory, we first started thinking about a reinvestment in Afghanistan probably in early 2004. At that stage, it was very clear that a number of things were happening in Afghanistan or, more pointedly, not happening. The NATO campaign looked completely moribund at that stage. It was obvious that Stage 2, which was the movement into the North and the West, was taking place, but there was no appetite that it was possible to discern anywhere in NATO for taking the campaign into the South, Stage 3, which was then to be followed by Stage 4, which was the east of the country, so in effect it was an anticlockwise progression.

  That was worrying, for several different reasons. The first reason why it was worrying was the fact that we had embarked on a campaign in Afghanistan in the first instance to deny ungoverned space for malevolent purposes. It seemed to us that if NATO was only successful in pursuing its writ through half of the country, and that part of the country was almost completely coincidental with the Northern Alliance, in effect, there was the possibility of creating a semi-autonomous Pashtunistan, which would be adjacent to Baluchistan and Waziristan and create a Pashtun belt that not only would be ungoverned, but in many ways would be more autonomous than it had ever been previously. Therefore, not to do this would, for the alliance and for us in purely national terms, be a complete failure of strategic intent.

  There was also the fact that if NATO ran out of fuel after half a mission, and the easiest, most benign half of a mission, question marks would be placed against its efficacy and its future role.

  Q398 Chair: By "fuel" you mean political will?

  General Fry: Indeed. The third and fourth points, I think, were that we were very conscious that there were two campaigns being conducted in Afghanistan at that stage. One we will loosely call nation building, because it had not yet got into counter-insurgency. It was about extending the writ of governance from Kabul, which was relatively easy in the Northern part of the country. The other one (Operation Enduring Freedom) was a very determined and quite relentlessly prosecuted counter-terrorist campaign, which the Americans were running primarily in the south of the country.

  Those two things were profoundly inimical to each other, and in fact to conduct a counter-terrorist campaign in that way was almost mutually exclusive to a peace support operation, because if you happen to be dropping bombs on people and killing them in significant numbers, they are unlikely to be susceptible to the blandishments of political accommodation.

  If you put all those things together, it seemed to a body of Whitehall opinion that there was a clear and pressing need to revivify the NATO campaign in Afghanistan and to try and draw American eyes back to Afghanistan, which had been fundamentally distracted by events in Iraq.

  So that is the general background, and from that point we then went on to try and create the internal mechanisms, which would allow us to lead in concert with some other allies whom we went on to recruit to the whole purpose. If I hold it there, you might have some questions on that framework.

  Q399 Chair: The implication of what you have just said about drawing the attention of the Americans back from Iraq to Afghanistan is that it was the British wish to take Afghanistan—the Southern part of Afghanistan—into governed space.

  General Fry: Absolutely.

  Q400 Chair: As opposed to coalition or American; is that right?

  General Fry: Yes, but the Americans were making no real attempt to bring it into governed space. They were conducting a counter-terrorist campaign in Southern Afghanistan at the time.

  Lord Reid: Operation Enduring Freedom.

  General Fry: That was all about very limited exposure of troops on the ground, and an awful lot of indirect delivery of munitions, so there was a completely different force profile than would attend a counter-insurgency or nation-building operation. Therefore, there was the masquerade of governance in the South of Afghanistan. In actual fact, it remained the purview of whoever the local warlord was.

  Chair: General Brazier—I mean Julian Brazier.

  Q401 Mr Brazier: TA captain of 25 years ago.

  Of course, they were two completely different campaigns, as you were right to remind us, but while agreeing with all your underlying points, I am not sure I share your conclusion. A friend of mine with a special forces background tells me that the Americans had Green Berets deployed in Helmand very successfully before we moved in, who sat in little camps in the hills, had a lot of money with them and did a mixture of things: they called the occasional air strike when things were going badly wrong but in the mean time did very well dealing with the locals, shelling out significant sums of money when things were going right. His perspective was that, while of course it was a completely different operation there and we weren't putting in place robust rather good job of keeping the lid on Helmand.

  General Fry: That's absolutely true, but in a profoundly live-and-let-live way. There was no attempt whatsoever to extend the writ of central governance. This was all about simply having a token presence in the area. I think that we made the mistake of being lulled into thinking that was actually the way that it was going to be. If I look back on it now I can see that what the American Forces were doing was simply almost attaching themselves to the local culture and making very few attempts to in any way get into it in a way that would intimidate or alienate either the local population or the Taliban or, indeed, any other form of parallel governance that existed in Helmand at the time.

  Chair: Would you like to answer the question?

  Lord Reid: Yes, to go back to your original question, it might be helpful if we had a timeline, objectives and sub-objectives. Then we can go into motives and the local particularities. As it happened, I had cause to go over the timeline, not at the time, but before the Chilcot inquiry, which touched upon Afghanistan and Iraq. It might be useful to go through what I dug out from then.

  In 2004, the ISAF mission Stages 1 and 2, in the North and in the west, had been completed. The ISAF aim was always to go round the clock, anticlockwise. You started in the North; you went to the West; then it was envisaged that you would go to the South, and then you would go the East. Perhaps at that stage, the two missions—the counter-terrorism mission of the Americans and the peacekeeping and reconstruction mission of ISAF, which I continually distinguished between in public and in private—could have become a single mission. But, by 2004, the North had been done; the west had been done; and there was the beginning of thinking, as General Fry said, about the South.

  Let's remind ourselves where the UK Forces were in mid-2004. They were split between the Kabul Patrol Company in Kabul and half a battalion in Mazar-e-Sharif. They were dispersed in those areas. On 29 June 2004, at Istanbul, the Prime Minister announced that we would take the leadership of the ARRC deployment—the headquarters—to Kabul. That is not the Helmand mission. At Istanbul, we said that we would move in, subsequently with General Richards, who is now Chief of the Defence Staff, as the HQ in Kabul. That was the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC).

  In the first half of 2004, as General Fry said, NATO started discussing a move south. In January 2004—I am doing this on the basis of the papers that I have read—the Chiefs of Staff agreed that the Secretary of State should signal willingness for the UK to refocus from north to south. On 10 February, at the NATO ministerial meeting in Nice, the then Secretary of State, Geoff Hoon, announced the UK's intention to move Forces from north to south. In April, the month before I became the Secretary of State, the Chiefs of Staff agreed to preliminary operations from that September, six months hence.

  Q402 Chair: When you are saying from north to south, you are not taking account of the ARRC, which was deployed in Kabul.

  Lord Reid: No. This is the Helmand operation origins.

  Q403 Chair: So what were the non-ARRC British Forces doing in the North?

  Lord Reid: At that stage, the non-ARRC British Forces were the Kabul Patrol Company in Kabul and half a battalion in Mazar-e-Sharif.

  Q404 Chair: Okay. So, the Mazar-e-Sharif battalion was going to move to the South.

  Lord Reid: Yes. Those were the ones that were going to move—not the ARRC deployment. On 10 February, as I said, Geoff announced at the NATO ministerial in Nice that we would move our Forces from the North to the South. In April 2005, the month before I became the Secretary of State, the Chiefs of Staff agreed to preliminary operations from that September, a handover in the North and a move to Helmand, but they said that further work was required on the appropriate options.

  When I arrived, my first briefing basically asked me to reiterate publicly in the next month, in June, what Geoff had said already—that we would go into the South—and it was envisaged that three countries would lead in the South: the Canadians, the Dutch and the British, with the British taking Helmand, the Dutch taking Uruzgan to the North and the Canadians in Kandahar to the East of us.

  In fact, for the record, I will tell you what I was briefed when I arrived, that there was widespread expectation within NATO, based on the previous Defence Secretary's commitment at the February 2005 NATO ministerial to move south and that the UK will (with Canada and the Netherlands) be one of the three nations leading in the Stage 3 area. That basically was the position when I came in, arriving out of the considerations that General Fry has outlined. At the NATO ministerial on 9 and 10 June, a month after I came in, I reiterated the commitment that Geoff had made at Nice. That is the timeline as best as I can make out. I am not saying that I knew that exact timeline when I was Secretary of State, but having gone through the papers, that is it. In terms of objectives—

  Q405 Chair: Before you go on to that, did you agree to go the South?

  Lord Reid: No. We agreed to go to Helmand.

  Q406 Chair: That's relevant, isn't it? There is a difference.

  Lord Reid: By April, we had decided we would lead in Helmand, but we had not decided on the options for going into Helmand.

  Q407 Chair: So when had the decision to go to Helmand been made?

  Lord Reid: By April 2005.


  Q408 Chair: In other words, before you became Secretary of State.

  Lord Reid: Yes. It had been mooted to go south, with the idea of Helmand as one of the options, from around mid-2004. It had been agreed by the end of 2004 that it would be ourselves, the Netherlands and Canada. It had been decided by April that we would be Helmand, the Canadians would be Kandahar and the Dutch would go to Uruzgan, though they delayed in that decision. That is why I later delayed for four months our deployment, because I was not willing to deploy without three conditions: first, the Treasury fully funding our configuration that the Chiefs thought was necessary for the option we chose; secondly, adequate money for, what you would call, alternative incomes—economic building—and thirdly, that we had the NATO configuration around us that NATO had said was necessary, including guarding our northern flank by the Dutch going to Uruzgan Province. Basically, when I came in, I reiterated that commitment. The options then were placed before us about whether we went in with one of three options—well, there were four; one was to do nothing, which had been mainly discarded. I can go through the three options.

  In terms of the objectives that were outlined, the strategic objective was exactly as Rob said. You'll remember that we went in after 9/11, and the strategic objective always stayed the same. It was to have a sustainable, stable Afghan Government, which was separated from and opposed to the use of Afghanistan as a host to or sponsor of terrorism, through the vehicle of al-Qaeda in particular, but also more generally. That was the strategic objective, and the objectives to achieve that were the development of good governance from the centre, which was the point Rob made; the development of institutional robustness at a local and national level; economic development of a self-sustaining nature; social development to improve the lives of people there; and, finally, the development of the capacity of the Afghan state to defend itself internally and externally, through the development of its forces and police force. That was the strategic objective, the underlying objectives and the timeline.

  Q409 Chair: One final question from me before I ask Gisela Stuart to carry on: by the time you became Secretary of State, did you think that the issue of whether the British went to Helmand or to Kandahar was still available to you? If you had thought, "I want to go to Kandahar, not Helmand," would you then have thought, "No, that decision has already been made," or would you have thought, "Well, that's still open to me."?

  Lord Reid: My memory of this is that the decision had been made and it was that it was going to Helmand, subject to two things. First, what were we putting into Helmand? I had three options placed in front of me, which had been developed by June/July. Secondly, I'm afraid that I imposed three conditions almost unilaterally. I am not saying that they wouldn't have been conditions that the Chiefs would have wanted, but it was to the surprise of some people at my first meeting. As you know, the ops meeting with the Ministers and the Chiefs of Staff also includes people from the Foreign Office, DFID and the intelligence services. I made it absolutely plain that there had to be three conditions satisfying this Secretary of State before we went in, and that was the first meeting.

  First, any troop configuration that the Chiefs decided was necessary for the mission had to be met and financed in full by the Treasury. Secondly, the external troop configuration that NATO said was necessary for us, including Canadians to the east and the Dutch to the North in Uruzgan, was met. That wasn't the case by the time of our proposed entry, by the way, in September. That is why I delayed through September, October, November and December, until the Dutch finally agreed that they would go into Uruzgan, before we deployed. During that period, I was under immense pressure—sometimes indirectly—from some people in the military, who seem to have been critical now that we went in the way we did, but at the time, the whole thrust of what they were saying, through intermediaries, was that I was holding up the preparations and asking why wasn't I going in. Indeed, the Opposition spokesman, now Lord Ancram, was asking me in the House what was delaying things. The second thing therefore was that we had a configuration from NATO around our own troops.

  The third thing was that we had sufficient resources from DFID so that we did not have a situation that had developed sometimes in Iraq where we did not have the capacity and resources for what Rob has called nation-building, by getting DFID to redeploy its money towards our strategic objectives. Also the Americans left roughly $100 million that they had been deploying in the area, as Mr Brazier said, and although they could move, I didn't want their money to move with them.

  So those three conditions were laid down at my first meeting, and we did not go in until they were met. On the third one, we had a long series of meetings in the Cabinet Office under an Afghanistan group to try to focus the DFID effort, because I am afraid my view of DFID throughout that period was that it was sometimes pursuing objectives which, however worthy they were in themselves, did not always accord with the rest of the British foreign policy, including where we were putting our military emphasis.

  General Fry: Can I give a bit of background to some of the things that happened within the chronology that Lord Reid has just gone through? There was a sequence of command appointments in the NATO Reaction Force, which we were implicated in. If we were to get the ARRC out of that and into Afghanistan then we had to tear the entire arrangement up and elbow a few others aside to create the conditions where we could do that. In 2004, there was an awful lot of external negotiation, first with the NATO military staffs, which ended up with an agreement that we and the Italians would do what we described at the time as a double-header spell in command of ISAF. Both headquarters would do nine months, so that we knew we would have guaranteed continuity of command. We went in May 2006, and the Italians preceded us for the nine months before that. We also had to actively recruit allies who wanted to get involved with this. That was no easy task for all sorts of reasons.

  At the time, the Canadian military was in search of redemption, having had a fairly long period of undistinguished activity. It was seen by them as a military entity, but also by the Canadian Government, as something appropriate that they would like to do, but it came with a price. Their price was leadership in Kandahar. So the reason we went for Helmand was several fold. One was that the Canadians laid down a marker against Kandahar for their own domestic reasons. There were other reasons for going into Helmand. Helmand was, and has continued to be, synonymous with the production of heroin. We were the lead for the counter-narcotics mission, so there was some sense in that.

  Neither of the Provinces that one went into—as the leaders of this process, we would have to have taken Helmand or Kandahar—was going to be easy. Kandahar was the spiritual home of the Taliban. It is the scene of the battle of Maiwand and has all sorts of cultural resonances that have far more importance in Afghanistan than here. To be honest at the time, given the intelligence we had, it was a toss-up between the two. To some extent it was to accommodate the requirement of allies that we went into Helmand, but the impression I need to give is that we have had a chronology laid out here. That chronology was only made possible by quite a lot of activity going on in the background all the time.

  By the time we get to the spring of 2005, we've got a series of headquarters committed to the task. We've got an Allied force that is capable of coming in with us, and we impose two conditions on the Americans for taking this thing on: one was unity of command between the nation-building and the counter-terrorist operations, and the second was that they would take over Stage 4. By taking on Stage 3, we knew automatically that we were going to complete the NATO plan. That is a fair jump from being marooned in the North to the certain knowledge of the execution of the mission, and that was about five months after we entered Helmand.

  Lord Reid: General Fry made a distinction. Our mission was not a counter-terrorist mission. It was based on the concept of operations of "Ink Spots"—of a small number of concentrated forces, which could better liaise with the local community, better protect their own Forces and so on, and you will no doubt want to come on to when that changed. It changed significantly, quite quickly. There was a real distinction between that and the counter-terrorist Operation Enduring Freedom at the time that we were planning this and going in there.

  I have one final comment that is worth making. I am aware that, while everyone accepts the political reasons for going in, understands them and the idea of NATO good governance, some people have felt that there were some tactical self-interested considerations from the British Armed Forces' point of view. I am not saying they have said that these were dishonourable, but there is an imputation. There is another way of looking at this. On top of all the things we've given, there is an honourable view of this attitude towards the British going south. I think it was laid out by General Walker when he spoke to the Chilcot committee.

Basically, he said that we had a battle group that was split between Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif up in the North. Mazar-e-Sharif was benign to the extent that the soldiers up there were not producing for NATO the capability that was possible out of British troops. I think that that was a feeling among the Chiefs about a major ally of the United States and a Member of the United Nations Security Council. Remember, this was not Iraq; this was a United Nations venture into Afghanistan, which was supported throughout the United Nations. They had seconded it in a sense to NATO, and there was a feeling that British troops—I think among the military—were not doing the task that was up to the level that British troops were capable of doing. That certainly is what General Walker said. There is an honourable interpretation of what some people have perceived as perhaps being a self-interested interpretation.

  Q410 Ms Stuart: You have answered many of the questions that we wanted to pursue in a way. Can I just be absolutely clear that what you are saying is that by the time we deployed, your conditions for deployment had been met?

  Lord Reid: Yes, that is a matter of fact in all practical senses. Basically, I think I recounted to you the first briefing that I got.

  Q411 Ms Stuart: That was your briefing. What was the timeline for the conditions that you felt were necessary to be met, and therefore you were satisfied to deploy?

  Lord Reid: On the first question of what was the position in reality when I came in, I have already said there was a widespread expectation within NATO, based on the previous Defence Secretary's commitment at the February 2005 NATO ministerial to move south, that the UK would (with Canada and the Netherlands) be one of the three nations leading in the Stage 3 area. That was the briefing that we got, and I was asked to reiterate our commitment made in Nice. So theoretically it would have been possible to change anything, but that was the position when we went in. I laid out three conditions. You are asking me, from memory, when we met them.

  Q412 Ms Stuart: I am asking whether, by the time we actually did move, you were satisfied that we had met them.

  Lord Reid: By the time that we moved in?

  Ms Stuart: Yes.

  Lord Reid: Yes, because there were three. One of them was that the Treasury financed in full—

  Ms Stuart: That's fine. I just wanted you to—

  Lord Reid: I'm giving you the time-lines. That was met quite quickly. The second was that DFID concentrate the resources necessary. That took months and, extraordinarily, because of my view that this was so important, the ministerial meeting, including the Foreign Secretary, was nevertheless put under my chairmanship by the Prime Minister, so that we could drive both the Foreign Office and DFID towards meeting that. The one that held us up was the Dutch deployment to Uruzgan as part of what NATO said was necessary for the deployment to the South and the safety of our Forces. The Dutch would not commit to that in the September, the October, the November or the December, and there was therefore a huge amount of politics and diplomatic work going on. I am grateful to all our allies who worked with us on that. My memory is that it was not until the third week in January 2006 that the Dutch finally committed to going to Uruzgan Province, and it was only at the end of that week—26 January—that I announced that we would deploy.

  In fact, I can give the Clerks the questions to me in the House on why I was delaying, and I made it absolutely plain that I was delaying—despite the fact that I was being pressed in some quarters by those who were ready to deploy, because they felt that they had reached, if you like, the appropriate level of preparedness to go, which includes the psychological preparedness of the troops. There was a downside to my delaying, but I delayed because I did not want a northern flank that was exposed. So the three conditions were not finally met until January 2006.

  Q413 Ms Stuart: In terms of what we wanted to achieve once we deployed, there was no difference between the military and the politicians as to what they wanted.

  General Fry: None whatsoever.

  Lord Reid: None whatsoever. It was the right decision.

  General Fry: We will come to describe exactly what the original mission was, and I don't know whether the Committee has a clear idea of what that was. But we do need to describe that in some detail, because it very quickly became something completely different.

  Q414 Ms Stuart: That is what I want to pin you down on, because Lord Reid mentioned that the mission became something different.

  I am still confused. There is a general decision to go south, there are three conditions that the Secretary of State clearly laid down that he wishes to be met, and we don't move south until those three conditions are met. We then move to a period where it seems that, unless I'm very much mistaken, things happened on the ground that went quite beyond the original mission and what the Secretary of State intended to happen.

  Lord Reid: Yes. The three conditions were related to the concept of operations, the configuration of the Forces going in, and the mission. I have been much maligned for a misrepresentation of something that I said, but I distinguished completely between our mission and the counter-terrorist mission, Operation Enduring Freedom, whose job was to chase, kill, imprison, expel and get rid of the terrorists. If they had come back after a year of Operation Enduring Freedom, with that purpose, and hadn't fired a shot, I said that they would be damned unhappy.

  Our mission was entirely different. It was one that was dangerous—I constantly spoke of the danger, and I can give you chapter and verse on that—but nevertheless, I said that we did not go with aggressive intent; we went to protect the building-up of the social and economic infrastructure. That was to be done in a particular way that was conventional for the British Armed Forces in terms of counter-insurgency—Anthony King, in his piece that you have no doubt read, has laid this out—which was an ink-spot strategy, taking an area and concentrating your forces in it. That is what we went in to do, in my understanding, and when I was there, that was what happened.

  Q415 Ms Stuart: You used the term "aggressive intent". That changed the mission. When does aggressive intent occur?

  General Fry: Let us try and put a bit of geographic specificity around where we were going and what we were trying to do. The whole of the plan was predicated against going to a small area around Lashkar Gah, which was the provincial capital—and where, incidentally, the Americans had been for the preceding period. The whole intention there was to take every agency available to the British Government in order to try and create the comprehensive effect about which you would have heard an awful lot.

  I actually re-read the CDS Directive and the JC Directive before coming here today. It is remarkable how little Military Force appears in the intent that runs through the instructions. It is all about localised effect, from which we would gain an intelligence and cultural understanding of the general environment, and where we would have the ability, by imposing a local envelope of security, to create governance, build Afghan capacity and create also a capacity for economic growth.

  After that, we would build out from what is classically regarded as an ink-spot idea. The whole of the Force that was sent to Afghanistan was predicated against that mission. The whole of the supporting infrastructure, in terms of aviation and everything else, was predicated against that mission.

  The key question that you are interested in—I think the key question that the public record needs to get to the bottom of—is how did we get from that, which was an absolutely clearly understood intention, to fighting for our lives no less than two months later in a series of Alamos in the North of the Province. We were completely dislocated geographically from where we went in, thereby placing a hugely greater emphasis not only on the fighting power of the troops but on the requirements for things such as protective mobility, autonomous logistics and aviation. You can only fight in as many places as you have the ability to extract your casualties from.

  Lord Reid: That is a question that lots of us have asked. Just prior to me leaving the MoD, I recall being briefed that, while Permanent Joint Headquarters regarded Governor Daoud, the Governor of Helmand Province, as an honest man, he needed to be strongly discouraged from making gestures—for example, the idea of a forward operating base at Sangin—that were unsustainable. Not long after this, I left the MoD for the Home Office. You can imagine that when, five weeks later, sitting in the Home Office, I heard that we were fighting for our lives in Sangin, I could not entirely understand it.

  I understand from inquiries that I made then and subsequently that the matter was not referred to the Secretary of State for Defence who succeeded me. It was never brought to his attention, except in retrospect. Undoubtedly, in my view, it was an operational decision which may or may not have been right. Let us assume that the commanders on the spot got it right; but it was an operational decision that changed the strategic nature of the mission, and when you change the nature of a mission, there is an obligation to change all sorts of things such as the force configuration, the resources and so on. It seems to me that how that came about is a question that has to be answered, General Fry.

  Q416 Chair: May I just draw to your attention the fact that your giving us this evidence today means that this question, which you have been asking in private, will now, unless this evidence session is to be pretty pointless, become a question that you are asking in public?

  Lord Reid: I think I referred to it as a question that the Committee needs to be asking.

  Q417 Chair: It is a question which arises out of what you are telling us.

  General Fry: Yes, it does. Forgive me for the accusation, but you would be being disingenuous if that were not in your mind already.

  Q418 Chair: Indeed so.

  General Fry: It seems to me that any independent observer of this whole process would want to understand precisely how that complete change in gear took place, what the rationale behind it was and what the decision processes were that attended it.

  Q419 Chair: Indeed so. I am just drawing your attention to the lack of privacy that this is going to involve.

  Lord Reid: Anthony King has already raised the matter at some length in his paper, which has been in the public domain for some time.

  General Fry: Mr Chairman, if your question is whether I am personally content that the conclusion you have just drawn is the result of this meeting, yes, I am. I think that it is something that the public record needs properly to understand.


Q420 John Glen: Just to assist my understanding, it seems that you are saying, Lord Reid, that in that final briefing with PJHQ, the clear implication was that a move to Sangin was not the right thing to do.

  Lord Reid: The clear implication was that demands would be placed on us by people such as Engineer Daoud, an honest Governor, that ought to be resisted, because they were requiring us to do things that were unsustainable. That view was completely in accord with what I understood to be the concept of operations, the mission purpose and the configuration that we had sent into Helmand. I took responsibility for sending that in on the basis of the mission, the objectives, the configuration, the finance and so on. Therefore, we should understand why, later, that mission—to me and others—palpably changed.

  Q421 John Glen: In your mind, can you account for how the military advice at your disposal led your successor to a different conclusion in such a short length of time—three weeks?

  Lord Reid: I think it was about five weeks. But no, I cannot. But then I don't have access to what was decided on the ground, or to what were the methods of communication. One's instincts on these occasions are always to rely on general strategic and operational plans—on the Chiefs of Staff. It is not the job of the Secretary of State to start deciding military operations.

  Q422 Chair: Particularly if it is not referred to him.

  Lord Reid: Absolutely. On the other hand, it obviously raises issues in my mind when we agree to a certain disposition of resources, and a specific configuration for deployment with a specific mission, and that mission appears to change. As I understand it, the matter was not referred to the Secretary of State who succeeded me—it was not put to him. It appears that there was an operational decision—and I do not question whether it was right or wrong—that changed the strategic purpose of the mission. It developed, as Anthony King says, into forward dispersals, into forward operating bases, into small units, who are less self-sustaining. Such units might be in more danger, because they might not get as much intelligence and they are certainly not part of the traditional counter-insurgency concentration of forces that General Fry has laid out.

  Q423 John Glen: In the final 12 weeks of your position as Secretary of State, you would have received certain inputs from military advisers. Will you say who they were? It is difficult to get over the fact that you would have had routine, regular, in-depth briefings on military progress all the way through the early part of 2006, yet there was a clear shift five weeks afterwards.

  You cannot account for that decision—and nor should you—because you were not Secretary of State. Nevertheless, surely it is realistic for us to draw something from all that routine advice you were getting in those months right up to the end of your tenure, so that we can understand where that gap came from.

  Lord Reid: I don't in any way say that you should not try to understand; I am saying that I cannot explain it to you.

  Q424 John Glen: Can you tell us about the military advice? Who was it from?

  Lord Reid: Yes. Basically it is very simple: to put it crudely, to use words from a relatively recent book, military power and the use of force has no purpose. There is no utility, other than a political—

  Q425 Mr Brazier: What has no use?

  Lord Reid: In "The Utility of Force", Rupert Smith said that military force has no utility other than the pursuit of political objectives. Therefore, at the political objectives level, the politicians decide such things—the Prime Minister, the Secretaries of State, and so on.

    In terms of the military strategy, although the politician has to agree the strategy, or not, he does so in close liaison with the chief advisers—the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Chief of the General Staff, the deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (operations), the deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (commitments) and so on. The operational implementation of that plan is mainly a matter for the Chiefs of Staff through Permanent Joint Headquarters and the commanders on the spot. They have to make life and death decisions, sometimes 10 times a day, and it is not right for politicians to interfere with them.

  On some occasions, as it appears on this occasion, a decision is taken at that level that affects strategy. According to what we have read—I don't know, but according to Anthony King—the decision was taken in a fairly short period of time to meet an emergency situation. Although it appeared to be a tactical and operational decision, in my view, and, I think, in the view of General Fry, it had strategic consequences, because it changed the nature of the mission.

  Does that help you? I am not sure I can go any further, because I wasn't part of the discussion.

  Q426 John Glen: What I hear you saying is that, in essence, it seems that the operational decisions that were legitimately transferred to the theatre created a strategic shift by stealth.

  General Fry: No, that is not entirely true. I will tell you two things: one is a military technicality, which I think is important to understand; and the second is an observation and impression.

  There is an awful lot of popular literature that tries to capture the period. So an awful lot is available discussing how it happened. The only person who can change a mission within the conventional military structure is the man who is given operational command of the deployed forces.

  There are cascading levels of command: full command, operational command, operational control, tactical control and so on. The man who had the operational command of forces in Afghanistan was the Chief of Joint Operations. If there was a change of mission, he had to agree to it. It is not possible, by protocol or by practice, for it to be brought about by the deployed commander on the ground.

  So, in technical terms, the only place the decision could have been made is in Northwood. I find it incredible that the decision would have been taken in isolation, because it would have had implications not only for Military Forces, but for all the other arms of Government that were involved in the deployment at the same time. So it had to have been briefed in Whitehall, either to the Chiefs of Staff Committee in isolation or more broadly. I have no idea how it worked on the day, but there are constraints on the freedom of operation that are defined by military definitions of command and mean that that decision was unavailable to the Theatre commander.

  That is the military technicality. My one other observation is that, as a nation, we have tended to command at the one-star level in recent times; the Americans tend to command at four-star level. By that I mean that, habitually, we command brigades. Because of our military capacity, that is where we are. The Americans tend to command theatres. In American-commanded operations, therefore, you tend to have an absolutely clear narrative inside a campaign from the top to the bottom, because they pitch their level at four-star command. That is an appropriate reflection of their sense of national destiny at the present time.

  We are less ambitious, and we tend to command at the one-star level. We occasionally command at two star, but at three star and above we are only ever deputy commanders. We never actually exercise operational command. That has sometimes led—this process is over now—to a process that can best be described as inverse deference: the man on the ground knows what is right.

  Q427 Mr Brazier: Among Brits, you mean?

  General Fry: Yes, as opposed to Americans. In many ways, that is absolutely commendable, but you have to be sure that you wrap around that a certain amount of check and balance to make sure that you do not make really bad decisions.

  Q428 Mr Brazier: The question on the rubric is did the Armed Forces know why they were in Helmand, but that is too generic. We have had three quick observations in front of us in the past few weeks, the first of which was Colonel Richard Williams's comment about the loss of confidence in senior commanders at the middle ranks. The second was Nick Parker's point made either in front of us or on a public occasion that we had lost sight of the wisdom of the Major-Generals, and—exactly your point—there was too much deference towards the Brigadier on the spot. Thirdly, there were the widely reported American remarks that the Brit system of changing not only the Brigadier but the whole brigade headquarters every six months was bound to fail.

  Putting those three things together, my question is where was the oversight coming from? There appears to have been a change of tactics every six months. We are discussing the most drastic one. It was actually a change at the operational level, but there were also changes at the tactic level. Where was the oversight coming from? Who was pulling all that together?

  General Fry: I can answer your question formally, but it is more difficult to answer it in terms of what actually happened. As for a formal chain of command, you know that as well as I do. There are Ministers. There is then a Chief of the Defence Staff; there is a Chief of Joint Operations with operational command of the operation and then there tends to be in-Theatre commanders. Sometimes, the in-Theatre commander can be COMBRITFOR, but the tactical commander can be the man who runs the Brigade. That is absolutely understood within national doctrine.

  Everybody knows how that cascade works. What that does not account for, however, is the colloquial usage of command. What becomes common practice does not necessarily observe the cascade that I have just outlined. You have made the observation—others have as well—that for quite a long period in Helmand, every six months we had a new solution. Compare that with the observation I made a moment ago about the unbroken narrative within an American command. That is because there is unity from the four-star level. If you actually pitch your level of military ambition at the one-star level and invest trust and faith in that, it is likely to bounce around a bit—and that is precisely what happened.

  Q429 Bob Stewart: Does not the mission in British understanding, although we have the mission that comes all the way down, change as we go down and we get confused with tasks as well that make it change? That means that a Brigade at one-star level actually has a mission and separate battalion commanders have a mission and tasks, and this is where the confusion starts. Is that the difference between us and the United States that you are referring to?

  General Fry: The Americans have a much more mechanistic approach to campaign execution. In some ways, I find that a bit sort of dreary and mechanical, but in other ways, I thoroughly admire the efficiency with which it is done. You know all this. We tend to have a rather more cavalier approach.

  Q430 Bob Stewart: Mission command and flexibility.

  General Fry: Mission command, but not as Moltke intended it.

  Q431 Bob Stewart: Yes, not as Moltke intended but, actually, we rather took pride in the flexibility.

  General Fry: Indeed.

  Q432 John Glen: I am still a little confused. I take on board the difference between the ways in running military in the US and the UK, but Lord Reid, as Secretary of State, had received a series of advice that led him to hold one position yet, five weeks later, there was a significant change. What were the drivers of that change? Both of you can substantiate the point we were at when Lord Reid left office, but there is a complete void thereafter. There is not really any serious speculation of what would have led to that change, which, given that you were both key players up to the point when Lord Reid went to the Home Office, is quite difficult to understand. I thought we were making some progress in recognising the gap between operational and strategic.

  Chair: In a sense, we are asking this of the wrong witnesses.

  John Glen: To some extent we are, but the advice up to that point would suggest a certain narrative thereafter.

  Lord Reid: We can and will—and I think we have been quite straightforward, I hope you agree—give our views on everything of which we have knowledge. The point after that, we don't have knowledge. You could refer to Anthony King, whose article you have no doubt read at some length and re-read. He covers a lot of these issues and has his own views, including about the incident we are mentioning. All we can really tell you is, what was the strategic part of this, what were the objectives, what was the mission, how did it differ from Operation Enduring Freedom, why did we go in there up to the point at which we were no longer privy to the decisions?

  I only volunteered one thing, which was my understanding that the Secretary of State who followed me did not have this matter referred to him. So, if you are looking at the continuity of views of the Secretary of State, there isn't the disjuncture that you made out, because as the Chairman said, it wasn't put to him.

  Q433 Chair: May I ask you where you received these briefings saying that we must strongly discourage Governor Daoud, etc?

  Lord Reid: The meeting that the Secretary of State had every week with the Chief of Defence Staff and the other representatives of the Foreign Office, DFID, the intelligence services and so on. There were two meetings on a Wednesday. The first one was with the Chiefs themselves, which would have been people like Rob Fry, the Chief of General Staff, the Chief of Defence Staff, the Chief of Naval Staff. That was followed by a briefing for the Secretary of State for Defence with all of those and with my Ministers.

  Q434 Chair: So this would be at the second of those Wednesday meetings. Is that right?

  Lord Reid: Yes. My memory was based basically on the explanations given and my understanding of the mission—the fact that it was concentrated, the idea of the inkspots, the consolidation with force in a limited number of areas, and moving out. And therefore my surprise afterwards, when I saw that we were moving to Sangin, was based on that. It wasn't based on a specific recollection. It was only recently when I re-read my papers that a specific recollection was recorded.

  Chair:. ***

  Lord Reid: ***  

  Chair:. What you have said clearly implies that Governor Daoud had in his mind the thought that British troops should deploy outside Lashkar Gah.

  Lord Reid: Not only that. Let me say this—and I say this because, quite frankly, I think we have to understand the position that commanders on the spot may have been in. I have not said at any stage that the move to Sangin was wrong or right; I have said that it seems to me outwith the operations envisaged with the mission we sent in.

  Governor Daoud was an honest Governor, and he was a huge asset to the British Forces there, and to Karzai. He took the view that you had to be a strong man, who was perceived to be strong in every area of Helmand Province. At one stage, he had wanted to do that by the development of his own security force, and we had great debates about whether that could—or should—be done and whether it should be financed, and so on. It would have supplemented his personal protection and that of his people. So, in every possible way, we were wanting to support Governor Daoud—he was known as Engineer Daoud. We wanted to support him in every way. There were some ways, however, in which it was obvious and we thought, at least up until the stage where I left, that some things that he would have liked us to do were unsustainable. For some reason, that presumably changed. I can imagine that the commander on the spot would have been under enormous pressure to do a lot of things in order to support Daoud. It may well be that President Karzai was deployed to lobby for support for him as well.

  Q435 Chair: The reason I said that it would be helpful for us to have further information is that it is possible that somewhere, within the British Government, there was support for Governor Daoud's proposal that he should be strong in every part of Helmand.

  Lord Reid: ***


  Q436 Chair: ***

  Lord Reid: ***

  General Fry: It doesn't need an awful lot of forensic power to join up some of the dots here. Governor Daoud succeeded Governor Akhundzada, who was part of a well-known family in Helmand. It is widely understood that that was as a result of the intervention of the Foreign Office. There are popular accounts of this that go into immense detail, such as the rather luridly titled "A Million Bullets", which is actually a rather reflectively written book. If you want to pick your way through that, there is one chapter that covers this entire thing. I find it extraordinary that you can't just ask for the Chief's minutes of all the meetings that surround this.

  Q437 Mr Brazier: Normally, after a change of Government documents are closed, aren't they?

  Lord Reid: I don't know.

  Mr Brazier: That's the problem; they're closed.

  Q438 Mrs Moon: Lord Reid, when you had this briefing or this advice—saying that Governor Daoud wanted to extend the mission, and it was decided that, "No, we should stay with the original plan." Were there those who were pressurising you at that time to reconsider your decision? Were voices saying, "Yes, we should do that. We should move into Sangin?"

  Lord Reid: Can I put this in context, because I'm not trying to avoid your question? I have no recollection of such voices, but I would not want to suggest that this was the only request from Governor Daoud that was being discussed. Requests were being discussed all the time. For instance, the Afghan group, to which I referred, met regularly to discuss how we might develop social and economic and security issues. I have already mentioned that at one stage, Governor Daoud was very keen on having his own security force. There were great discussions about whether we could do that with any proprietary. We looked at whether we could bring 200 members of the Afghan Security Forces from the North, from Kabul, down to his place. How long would that take? If it was three months, could we finance his security force or would that be wrong? It was decided that it would be wrong. Could the Americans put something in? There would be all sorts of demands that I would see. God knows, they must have been only the tip of the iceberg of the demands that the commanders on the spot were encountering on daily contact.

  If it is the case—and I am speculating here—that the commanders on the spot thought that one of their key strategic objectives was to keep Governor Daoud, who was an honest Governor and was seen as—to use a phrase that has been put to me since—the "centre of gravity" of our political efforts in the area and a sine qua non for success, then that could have been the context in which such a request was seen on the ground, however it was seen elsewhere. It is possible that over a period of a month or two that such a situation had changed so dramatically that someone thought, "Yes, it is worth it on this occasion. We didn't want to do this, but it is necessary to do it." That is why I have never at any stage said that it was a wrong decision. I am just saying that I don't understand what the circumstances were that caused that decision to be made. I only knew that the decision to go there was out of step with everything that I thought was the nature of the mission. Re-reading my papers confirmed to me that it had been an ongoing request, but it was not one that would be isolated; there would be any number of requests, many of which we would presumably turn down.

  General Fry: I think that that is accurate. I recognise, I think, exactly what Lord Reid has just said. Let us put ourselves in the position of the commander of the time. If the core effect you are trying to achieve is the extension and the consolidation of central Government, which is exercised at a local level through Daoud, then it might be an absolutely compelling story that you want to go and do these things. I do not think that we understand the mechanics, but I can understand the thought process that people would have been exercised with at the time.

  Chair: You have mentioned the issue of intelligence. I want to get back to intelligence now.

  Q439 Mrs Moon: A number of commentators and observers have suggested that there was a distinct lack of overall intelligence of what was happening on the ground, that there had not been American fly-over missions, and that there was not enough drone-collected intelligence or even operations-on-the ground intelligence in place before we were able successfully to deploy into Helmand. Do you agree with that, and what steps were taken to make sure that we had sufficient intelligence? What more could we have done?

  General Fry: I think it is a fair observation. Sometimes you go into campaigns and you don't have a complete picture. Did we go into Sierra Leone or Kosovo with a complete understanding? Absolutely not, but there were operational imperatives that said that we had to do those things, so we made judgments about risk and we went ahead and did it. As I said in an earlier part of the testimony, we intended to go to a small, geographically defined area from which we would grow out. One of the reasons that we did that was not just limitations on military capability, but the knowledge that we did not have an appropriate amount of intelligence. You start small and you get an understanding of the areas that you can govern and control and, over time, you expand beyond that lodgement into a wider area, taking with you the understanding that you gained from the operating environment from the start. The danger comes when you leap out of that mission and go into something that is quite different, because then you are taking a much greater risk in the absence of proper intelligence.

  Q440 Mrs Moon: But there are opportunities that we have now to gather intelligence that perhaps in previous campaigns were not available. There are opportunities for planes to fly over, for drones to fly over and, indeed, as we have heard, we had Americans already on the ground operating in a counter-insurgency way. Were there efforts to ask the Americans to gather additional intelligence before we went in? Did we seek to maximise the intelligence that was available to us before we went in?

  General Fry: Yes. The American footprint was very small, and we've already talked about that. That was the footprint on the ground, and what a footprint on the ground will give you is human intelligence, which is the ability to talk to people and understand what their concerns are. There are all sorts of other sources of intelligence—call it objective intelligence—including imagery, movements and listening, and we explored those exhaustively, even to the extent of developing a technique that we have borrowed from the Americans, called MASINT, which looks at human movement. You can, for example, see foot infiltration routes by using that sort of thing. We took every advantage of the relationship that we have with the Americans to get that sort of indirect intelligence, but I cannot claim that we had a real sense of the texture of what it was like on the ground dealing with the people, and that can come only from interfacing with the people.

  Lord Reid: Intelligence is always fragmentary and always less than comprehensive. It is a matter of degree. In this case it would have been the same and, in addition, we had virtually nobody on the ground. The Americans had very small numbers. I read recently that in 2003, not long before we went in, the Americans estimated the Taliban, in terms of their active fighters, at 4,000. By 2009, they were estimating them at 29,000. They might have grown, but that suggests that even the Americans, with all their intelligence and, as we have seen from other recent conflicts, that of all the intelligence agencies in the world, can get things wrong. So, I think that the answer to your question is, yes, enormous efforts were made to get intelligence there but it was, as ever, fragmentary and, probably because of so few people on ground, it would have been commensurately less than we had in other areas.

  There is another thing, which is that intelligence can tell you what the position is at the moment, but it is a matter of judgment how that will be affected by your very presence on the spot. In other words, you might have very few people on the spot, but if you go in that may have a galvanising effect on your opposition. If you go in in one particular fashion and on one particular mission, that may have less of an effect in acting as a magnet for opposition forces than if you went in in another way.

  The final thing is that the opposition is not staying static; the enemy is constantly changing in order to outwit you. So, in a conventional war, if you go in and assume conventional fighting and the intelligence is based on that, but you then find that they are increasingly using suicide bombers or IEDs, then the whole position can change. I suppose that if you change your own mission in practice—your dispositions and forces and so on—your original intelligence doesn't really help in the new situation.

  General Fry: One footnote is to remember also that from early 2005 right the way up until the deployment, successive reconnaissances were being done by the planning staff at the permanent joint headquarters, so it wasn't as if we were entirely disassociated from what was going on there.

  Q441 Chair: Can you remember who the Chief of Defence Intelligence at the time was?

  General Fry: Andrew Ridgway, I think.

  Lord Reid: Yes, it was.

  Q442 Chair: Where was Stuart Peach?

  General Fry: I think he was somewhere in the bowels of the defence intelligence set-up.

  Lord Reid: That meeting that I mentioned, that happened every week and sometimes more than once a week, with the Chiefs of Staff and others—the Ops COS-Ministerial meeting—would have a very large section, normally at the beginning, on intelligence. It would be the latest estimate, on which Ministers would be briefed.

  Q443 Mrs Moon: Can I ask you what the impact was of the missing intelligence, how it demonstrated itself and what it would have been useful to have had? What would have made the difference if you had had it before you went in?

  General Fry: I'm terribly sorry to paraphrase Mr Rumsfeld, but I don't know what I don't know. I have got to come back to this idea that we went there with one mission, one idea, one force structure, which was all about going smaller and getting larger. I think that that force structure and that level of intelligence that we had was appropriate for what our level of ambition was at the time. We then take a complete jump out of that and take on something else, and that completely dislocates the analysis that had been done about force levels, intelligence and so on.

  Q444 Mrs Moon: Can I just be clear? What you're saying is that the decision to go into Sangin changed the balance?

  General Fry: Yes, exactly. However, to answer your question in a more direct sense, human intelligence is what we lacked and that is always going to be the most telling insight that you can ever get in an operation like a counter-insurgency operation, which is based in the minds of the people.

  Q445 Chair: Was the decision to go into Helmand one that was compatible with continuing to be in Iraq?

  Lord Reid: Well, I asked. Obviously that is a question that any Secretary of State would ask. Indeed, they would ask it in more specific terms. "Is the decision to go into Helmand in this mission, with this Force, dependent upon us drawing out of Iraq?" That is a question that I actually asked the Chief of the Defence Staff, who told me, "No, it wasn't dependent on that". I then asked a second time orally and the third time I asked for the answer in writing, precisely because it was an important question. Basically, what I was told—the short answer—was, "No, it is not dependent. We can go in. There will be pinch points". I think that one of those pinch points would have been engineering and logistics, and another would have been helicopters. So, this is not something that is done without pain, but it is something that can definitely be done. I think that I gave this in evidence to Chilcot. The reason that I asked for the answer in writing was precisely because of the importance of the question.

  Q446 Chair: It could be done in a sustainable fashion, for three years or whatever—five years?

  Lord Reid: The question was premised on our entry for three years. That was well known. That was accepted. That was what the original mission was for—three years. There were three options to go in, just for the record, Mr Arbuthnot. The first one that was put to me—well, they were all put to me at the same time—was a Provincial Reconstruction Team, which I was told would have minimal local effect in a challenging operational environment. The second was a PRT plus a battle group, which would have some effect in the area local to the PRT, but it would have only limited access to the bulk of the Province, unless other nations offered helicopters. The third one, which was the obvious preference, was a PRT plus battle group in support and attack helicopters—what was called a Task Force, which I was briefed would have positive impact over the whole Province, support HQ ARRC and with allies create impact comparable to the coalition forces being replaced.

  So those were the three options and there was an obvious preference for the third option. On the back of that, I asked the Chief of the Defence Staff to give me an assurance that this option would not be dependent upon a draw-down on Iraq. I was given that assurance and I can supply that to you, if you want.

  The other question that then arose was the question of helicopters, which you may want to come back to.

  Chair: We will come on to that in just a moment.

  General Fry: From the very inception of the idea, there was a constant dialogue about whether this was possible or not. As the force-generating headquarters, Headquarters Land, which was responsible for the Army, was constantly consulted about the ability to generate a sustainable force to go to Afghanistan.

  Two things probably changed which created far greater friction when it actually happened than in the planning process. One is that Iraq deteriorated sharply with the Shi'a insurgency in the South, which happened to coincide with our area. Secondly, we made the tactical shift from the middle to the North of Helmand, which then led to an in-Theatre reinforcement of close on 2,000 troops during the course of 2006. So you can see these things became rapidly much more complicated as they progressed.

  But I think, in some senses, you need to look at this almost in a historical sense. These are the sorts of debates that took place in 1915, with easterners and westerners. In 1942 and 1943 it was the far east or North Africa, Greece or Normandy. These are the sorts of decisions that you have to make when you are concurrently involved in displaced campaigns.

  Q447 Ms Stuart: Can I just follow that up? You're saying that we moved from the South to the North, with an extra 2,000. In an earlier part of the evidence session, you were actually saying the intention was to go in small and then get larger.

  General Fry: Yes.

  Q448 Ms Stuart: What were the planning assumptions for getting larger and for extending operations there? Was that in line with what happened? What were you planning for?

  General Fry: What we were planning for was the objective most limited in space and ambition, which is called the Lashkar Gah lozenge around the state capital: reinforce the seat of governance. That is the core assumption that we constituted the force for and designed our intelligence plan around, and every other dimension of the plan was predicated upon it.

  You then have a dislocation caused by the movement from Lashkar Gah to the series of platoon houses in the North, which then completely changed all those fundamental equations. You immediately require much more logistics support, because you are supplying four, five or maybe half a dozen different bases. You immediately require more aviation, you completely transform the intelligence requirement and you are actually fighting a live enemy rather than simply trying to create a sustainable piece of civil governance around the provincial capital.

  Q449 Ms Stuart: I am trying to pin you down on what the planning assumptions were about what you needed once this event happened. We were still in Iraq, we were doing this, the North emerged. What were your planning assumptions for what you needed for those new circumstances?

  Q450 Chair: But your point is that you didn't intend that to happen in the first place. That was after General Fry—

  Lord Reid: It might be helpful if I am explicit on this point, precisely for the reason that any responsible Secretary of State or politician would want, without interfering in operational deployment measures, to assure himself that this could be done. The note, dated 12 September, says, "Secretary of State asked whether in the event of a slower than expected draw-down of our Forces in Iraq, our planning assumptions for deployment in Afghanistan would be achievable", which is the question you asked.

  Paragraph 2 says, "The short answer is yes, but to provide further reassurance for Secretary of State, we have taken advice from Chief of Joint Operations. He is clear that our plans for Afghanistan are deliverable even if events slow down our Iraq disengagement." It goes on to say, furthermore, that they had factored the possibility of such a slippage into the MoD's strategic planning, and to be equally fair, it said that it was of course the case that such a situation would lead to some pain and grief, in particular the hope for easement of pressure on our current pinch points, which are especially helicopter support, specialist intelligence gathering and set logistic functions. Notably, medical and some combat service support trades would be delayed.

  But it says finally, "Our ability to fulfil our plan in Afghanistan is not predicated on withdrawal from such capabilities from Iraq, and notwithstanding these qualifications, in the event that our conditions-based plan for progressive disengagement from Southern Iraq is delayed, we will still be able to deliver our DOP-A"—that is the Committee; Defence and Overseas Policy—"mandated force levels in Afghanistan." That was the position in September, when I asked the specific question in writing in anticipation that this question would be raised with me at some stage.

  Q451 Chair: By that stage, we had already been operating above the defence planning assumptions on a continuous basis for about four or five years, had we not?

  Lord Reid: This is September '05—before we go into Afghanistan—so we're not operating above the planning assumptions.

  Q452 Chair: Well, the Ministry of Defence Report and Accounts for most of those years accepts the point that the defence planning assumptions have been exceeded for, about two years ago, six out of the past seven years.

  Lord Reid: There are two different things here. First, the defence planning assumptions as incorporated in the Strategic Defence Review, which, as I said at the beginning, I had a little to do with, are that you can run two medium-sized operations, but you can't run two medium-sized operations for a longer term. They are not sustainable in the longer term but you can do them if they're short—if one of them is short—

  Q453 Bob Stewart: In the shorter term?

  Lord Reid: If one of them is short, yes, you can do it.

  In this case, the note in September was in anticipation of us going in, just to assure us that we could do it, even if we did not withdraw from Iraq—that was not essential in our planning assumptions. In terms of the subsequent breaching of planning assumptions, Mr Chairman, you are right: it was outwith the planning assumptions, as I think I, but certainly Mike Walker, said to Chilcot. In terms of the implications of those planning assumptions, what you're really talking about is stretch on the Military and the Army themselves.

  If you look at the breach of harmony guidelines for the Army, in particular, which I did—this may be slightly dated now—pre-Afghanistan, the percentage of total personnel who had breached individual harmony, which is the guidelines for tours and so on, in '04-'05 quarter one was 17%, and by '06-'07 quarter four was down to 10.3%. This came as a surprise to me, I have to say, but according to the figures that I have, the individual stretch on individual soldiers in the Army had actually decreased as a percentage between '04-'05 quarter one and quarter four when we were in Afghanistan.

  Q454 Chair: That is a surprise.

  Lord Reid: Well, it's surprising to me, I have to be honest. I brought this prior to Chilcot for more information. I will supply it to you. It may have been updated, it may be factually incorrect and it may have been revised, but those are the figures, and I'm willing to give them to you.

  Apparently, in 2005, the harmony individual breaches were running at 21.4%—before we went in. I would say, however, that there may be an explanation for the decrease, which may be the run-down of our Forces in Northern Ireland, because this was precisely the period during which we were withdrawing troops from Northern Ireland, which, as you know, were at one stage 29,000 in number, and were reduced to 5,000 or 6,000. While we were going in on two operations, it may be that the coincidence of the drawdown of troops in Northern Ireland helped to ease the individual pressure, despite the fact that we were running two operations, which, as you say, once they were fully engaged and prolonged, were outside the planning assumptions.

  Q455 Mr Brazier: A very quick observation. I'm going to break my purdah on all matters Reservist—the subject of a commission that I am sitting on—because we are in a private session. Of course, when we went outside the DPAs when we were trying to run both at once, what in fact happened was that you called up very large numbers of Reservists, not only from the TA, but also, crucially, the RNR Air Branch came back and for three or four months ran the Navy's helicopter training pipeline virtually on its own—all facts that have been excised out of the MoD's memory.

  Chair: But this is all after Lord Reid—

  Mr Brazier: Yes, immediately after the period that we are talking about.

  Lord Reid: I do agree that the role that the Reservists played in Afghanistan was a formidable one. Mr Brazier knows that I have always believed that there has been an inadvertent tendency within the Regular Army to undervalue the Territorial Army's role, and yet we have been so dependent on it on so many occasions. That is why one of the last things that I intervened in in Parliament was to try to reverse the decision to reduce the training money for the Territorial Army, at a time when we had soldiers fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  Chair: A quick question, because you mentioned helicopters. John Glen.

  Q456 John Glen: May I ask about your assessment of whether you had the right availability of helicopters for that early stage of the mission? Obviously, a lot has been written about this, but what was your view?

  Lord Reid: Fortunately for posterity, it is also a question I asked at the time. *** There is an allegation in one book that an interlocutor raised the question with me and I did nothing—nothing happened. That is untrue.

  It is true that an interlocutor did phone me, as he did on a number of occasions about these matters, but it is also true that, on the back of that intervention, I asked for a personal assurance from the commanders on the spot that the helicopter hours for the mission were adequate. On 13 March 2006, just before we went in in the April, a letter went to the interlocutor saying when we had spoken on the telephone the other day about the forthcoming deployment to Afghanistan, I undertook to get back to you in respect of the three points that you raised. The first one was helicopters and I was able to say that "On the matter of helicopter availability, I am reliably informed that the commanding officer of the helicopter force is content with the number of flying hours available to him for the prosecution of the mission. Of course, in common with existing practices in Iraq, there will be regular force-level reviews of the Forces in Afghanistan, and this may lead to adjustments to the size and nature of the forces deployed." On the question of helicopters, in the preparation, apart from the assurances that I was getting from people I trusted, such as General Fry, I actually went to the length of asking for a specific assurance from commanders on the spot that the helicopter hours and provision were adequate. I was given that, Mr Glen.

  That is not to say that, if you change the mission, the resources stay sufficient. It is patently obvious that if you change the mission so that your logistic chain is greater, the distance travelled is greater, it is more dangerous to travel and so on, you could have a requirement for more resources in the first place. That's one of several lessons I would take from this: if you change the mission, you have got to change the resources.


  Q457 Bob Stewart: I think the point is that we can't ask about platoon houses, because the answer is that you were not involved in the decision making on platoon houses and their deployment—it was after your time.

  General Fry: What would the question be if you asked it?

  Bob Stewart: The question would be, particularly who made the decision on platoon houses and did the Governor or Karzai have any influence—did he push Butler into the deployment into platoon houses?

  General Fry: The genuine answer is that I am an unreliable witness and I don't know. My understanding, colloquially and second hand, is that there was pressure put on him, and very considerable pressure—but I don't know.

  Bob Stewart: It is unfair to put that on the record anyway.

  Q458 Sandra Osborne: May I ask you about the command and control arrangements of the international coalition? Were they satisfactory? Were there any problems? Did it make it difficult to have an oversight of the whole mission in any way?

  General Fry: No, I don't think so, but remember that there were two, or maybe even three, things colliding here. You have an American structure that was responsible for ISAF, which was the NATO Force, but also for its own national operation. Initially, our Forces came under the command of that organisation, but then our own commander, General Richards, who was commanding the ARRC at the time, took over from that organisation. He took over from that, I think, two months after our Forces deployed on the ground. What he immediately did was collapse all of the existing structures into one unbroken chain. Once that had happened, it was all pretty clear, but there was an awful lot of friction, an awful lot of moving parts, in the two months when he was taking over command, the Americans were winding down the national command structures that they had for Operation Enduring Freedom and at the same time, we were busy deploying a force. It had a COMBRITFOR—the commander of British Forces—sitting in Kabul. We had a deputy to the Canadian commander of the Forces in the South, and he was sitting in Kandahar, so there were a few things shifting around. I think that in the early part of the deployment, it's possible that caused confusion, but once it had settled down, it entirely conformed to conventional models for this sort of thing, and I think we entirely understood it.

  Lord Reid: One thing for the record, during this period, it was not really regarding Helmand, and although it was General Richards, he was not really a British General at the time, but a NATO General. But it is true that he would have liked to have seen another Theatre Reserve for Afghanistan as a whole for manoeuvring purposes. It doesn't really concern the Helmand side, but that's what he wanted, but we didn't have troops available—

  Q459 Mr Brazier: General Richards wanted it?

  Lord Reid: Yes. General Richards was coming in as the Head of the ARRC in Kabul. He discussed this with me. He would have liked another battalion under his command, not in Helmand, but for manoeuvring.

  General Fry: Which would have had no ground-holding responsibilities. This was purely to deploy, and any commander would want that.

  Q460 Chair: I remember that he told the Defence Committee, when we went to Kabul at the time, that if we could give him anything he wanted, the one thing that he would want was a Theatre Reserve. He would have quite liked it to have been a British Theatre Reserve, I remember, but because the combined joint statement of requirements was not being fulfilled by other NATO countries stumping up the troops that they were intended to stump up, obviously he couldn't have that.

  Lord Reid: No, he couldn't. We were already going in with the ARRC and we were already going into Helmand. I have the greatest respect for Sir David Richards. Actually, I was supposed to visit him—I think he was at Fallingbostel or somewhere in Germany, en route to Berlin and couldn't do it, so he went to the extraordinary lengths of travelling to have breakfast with me in Berlin to make this very point, for which I am very grateful. It seemed to me, however, and to the Chiefs of the British Armed Forces, that we were already committing a lot of people in there, and others have to make their contribution as well. There was a sense that, far from being in any way sort of gung-ho going in there, we were setting conditions on the entry—we were not prepared to go until the Dutch went and all that; we were not prepared to supply another Theatre Reserve Battalion. We were trying to be as cautious and as sensible as we could on a mission that we regarded as of key strategic importance for the reasons in the very first comments that General Fry made.

  Q461 Sandra Osborne: What is your take on the contribution of the international partners?

  Lord Reid: Some of them in the South have been marvellous allies, I think. The Canadians, the Netherlands and others have suffered casualties.

  General Fry: You should never forget that the Canadians have taken far greater casualties proportionally than ever we have. The Estonians and Danes have been extraordinarily effective in the little things that they have done. The Danes certainly have taken a lot of casualties.

  Lord Reid: The French have had special forces in Operation Enduring Freedom, but the North is a more benign territory, so some of our allies perhaps don't have a tradition of fighting the way that the British do, and sometimes you would like them to contribute a bit more in that direction. It's not just people on the ground, it's what people do. Since this is the first time that I've discussed Afghanistan, I think, in the 10 years that we've been in there, I want to place on record my respect and admiration for the courage and bravery, the fortitude and endurance of the young men and women in the British Armed Forces, and my deep, deep sadness that, once again, so many of them have had to give their lives in order to protect this country. I think that ought to be placed on the record at some stage during this hearing.

  Q462 Chair: I think you both gave evidence to a joint meeting of the Defence Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee with Margaret Beckett when she was Foreign Secretary and I am pretty sure that you said the same thing then, but we are grateful to for saying it now.

  I have been keeping an eye on the annunciator for the division bell in the Lords, and you haven't missed a vote, but I wonder if—as we close this meeting—whether there is anything you feel that either of you would like to say that we haven't already covered in evidence today?

  General Fry: I have two points. It's very interesting the way that public perception of these campaigns has gone. I think that both the public perception at large and the emphasis that you have on an awful lot of the critical commentary that goes on have concentrated upon episodes in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Were we kicked out of Basra? Did we do the right thing in Helmand? At no stage—and I don't detect this in either journalism, official circles or academia—do I get any sense of anybody writing the audit of war from 2001 to 2010. Maybe it can't be written until 2015, when we finally have out.

  In one sense there is no shared strategic provenance between Iraq and Afghanistan. We went to war in the two places for different reasons. The dossier might have tried to establish to some commonality, but it failed to do so. But you only ever have one order of battle to discharge these responsibilities, and if it's possible to take a wider view of what British arms have achieved in central and western Asia over the last decade, I think that would be a substantially different view than ones that simply concentrate upon sets of tactical engagements.

  I would make a big claim for the move to the South. Had this not happened, there is a chance that NATO would never have gone into the South of Afghanistan, with untold consequences for the alliance. We would also have created, de facto, the very ungoverned space that we went there in the first instance to deny. What we as a nation achieved during that period was a very large, bold and imaginative stroke, which has been lost because of subsequent events.

  I would even make one greater claim. I think that we probably made the Americans think more about counter-insurgency than counter-terrorism. If you recall, in 2004 and 2005, they were just beginning to make the intellectual leap from counter-terrorism into counter-insurgency, which later bore fruit in Iraq. I think that our insistence on approaching Afghanistan as a counter-insurgency operation played a role in the general intellectual mindset of America, with consequential results in Iraq and the possibility of consequential results in Afghanistan as well. If I sum this up, I thought it was the right thing then, and I think it was the right thing now, and I make no apology for having been involved in it.

  Chair: I would agree with that.

  Lord Reid: Just to repeat something that I said on the 27 March 2006 in the House of Commons. I said then, "I fully accept that it is more dangerous in the South than anywhere else where we have been present hitherto, but whatever the dangers, they are less than the danger of the Taliban and the terrorists taking over Afghanistan again, which would be a danger to not only our forces but the people of that country." I think that that, in a sense, is what General Fry said.

  You are fulfilling a hugely important task here, if I may say so, Mr Arbuthnot. I have not been close to this for the last few years and, therefore, anything I say has to be tentative. When we ask people to make judgments on the spot, we ought to give them the benefit of the doubt. That is why, when I was saying over things I did not understand or things that appear at odds with what we were doing, you have a duty to try to elicit their point of view on this, because we ask people to risk their lives and to make decisions of immense magnitude, sometimes in hugely short periods, under pressures that few of us can imagine, other than those of us who have served in such circumstances, such as Bob Stewart and others. So anything I say is caveated with the fact that it has to be tentative, with not having been there and so on, but there are a number of lessons I would take from the discussions we have had today and what I have read.

  The first is, stick as long as possible to the original operational plan or mission. I accept fully that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, but so far as is possible, we ought to stay with the strategic dimension of a mission, the operational overplan as long as possible. If we can't—this is the main point—if the plan or the mission changes or expands, so must the resources and the commitment behind it. There is nothing wrong with changing a mission, nothing wrong with changing your plan or your tactics providing you've got the resources to back that up; that is one thing you should bear in mind.

  Secondly, and we haven't dwelled on this at all today, if you are gonna have a military surge, you have to have a political surge as well. You are there in military force to pursue a series of political objectives and I have sometimes asked over the past few years, though I am not in a position to know, if we have been doing enough to identify those elements of the Taliban who aren't pro al-Qaeda, those elements of the Pashtuns who might be incorporated in a government. It may be that I am just not aware that the international community has been doing that, but it seems to me that, if you are asking people to risk their lives, you have to pursue the political objectives as vigorously as you are asking them to pursue the military objectives.

  Thirdly, it is a very personal view, but I think you should always have a timeline in your head, but you shouldn't necessarily have it in the newspapers, the press and the media. I understand why it is sometimes necessary, especially when we have been there for years, to announce that we're gonna do certain things on certain occasions, but you have to weigh in the balance the advantage you gain by that against the advantages your enemy gains. Again, it is a point we haven't covered, but it is worth bearing in mind.

  Thank you for your courtesy today and I hope what we have had to say has been helpful to you in your deliberations.

  Chair: It has. It has left us, rather worryingly, with a major vacuum as to what happened when you both left and we will have to decide what to do about that, but it has been very helpful to have your experience while you were there and we are most grateful.

  Q463 Mrs Moon: Sorry, I have a final question. You talked about the vacuum, and James has identified that vacuum, about where the plan changed and where the decision to change the plan came from, and that is where we've got to go next, but one thing that is growing for me is the fact that we are there as part of an ISAF force. Have we also been guilty of allowing other nations to sit back and not step up to their responsibilities through our own fighting spirit, as you described it? Have we in a sense been culpable of taking on more because others have felt that by allowing us to do that, they could sit back and do less? Should we have been more proactive in forcing others forward?

  Lord Reid: I'll have the first word because in some ways that is a political question and then Rob can fill in. First, and this is a minor correction, when you said "Have we also been guilty", on the back of referring to the plan of the mission, I have not said anybody was guilty.

  Q464 Mrs Moon: I was not suggesting that at all.

  Lord Reid: I keep saying that. I want to understand it, as you do, and I remark, as you do, that there was a change. That may have happened accidentally. It may have happened under pressure of events. It may have been a right decision at the time; I do not lay blame or guilt. I just think it is important for us to understand why it happened.

  On the political thing, I think that some of our allies have been immensely brave and active in this area. Some of them have been. Is it the case that those of us, in terms of great nations, who step forward, allow others to continually stand at the back? Possibly, and possibly it was ever thus. If at the end of the day you are faced with a threat to the west and to the United Kingdom of the sort that we saw in the origins of this intervention in Afghanistan—the loss of thousands of United States lives but, more than that, the loss of more British lives in that terrorist attack on the twin towers than has ever occurred in any other terrorist attack, including 7/7—you have an obligation to your own people and your own country to take that hard decision.

  I certainly think you should not draw back from telling others that they ought to go in and there are occasions when you should say, "No, this is a bridge too far unless you are prepared to step up to the plate." That was exactly the position we had in September 2005 when we delayed our intervention into Helmand because we wanted cover in the North. That was fair. We were taking on a difficult enough task without some of our allies saying, "Well, we've decided we're not coming in with you." So there are occasions when you've got to do that. But on the general relationship between allies and fighting forces, General Fry will answer.

  General Fry: The answer to your question may be yes but the fact is that if we hadn't done it, it might not have happened. If it had not happened, there would have been all the conditional outcomes that I have already talked about. But you actually make military commitments fundamentally to gain political outcomes. Lord Reid made that point earlier on. We wanted to display a degree of leadership in this whole thing, which was consistent with traditions that we would historically observe and wish to continue. There may be something in what you say. But if we hadn't done it, it wouldn't have happened, and if it hadn't happened we would have been in a worse position. There is also one corrective that needs to be made. The British nation tends to see Afghanistan purely as Helmand. There are an awful lot of people doing an awful lot of good things elsewhere in Afghanistan. For a nation that should have a sense of historical purview, we are being remarkably narrow minded in the way that we look at this.

  Q465 Mrs Moon: Largely through our press, though.

  General Fry: But that does orchestrate the popular mood.

  Chair: Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed.

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