Examination of Witnesses (Questions 390-465)|
Q390 Chair: You are both very
welcome in front of the Select Committee on Defence. As I understand
itlet us know if you disagreethe 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 isI 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,
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
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 noI didn't think that was appropriatebut
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 elseHealth. I went to Defence
and then was moved on about 6 or 7 May. I remember that becauseI'll
come back to this laterwe had a Chiefs of Staff meeting
on 3 May, which was my last meeting, to discuss developments in
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
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
laterafter the SDRI 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 Afghanistanthe Southern part of Afghanistaninto
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
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 BrazierI mean Julian
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 missionsthe counter-terrorism mission of
the Americans and the peacekeeping and reconstruction mission
of ISAF, which I continually distinguished between in public and
in privatecould 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 deploymentthe
headquartersto 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 2004I
am doing this on the basis of the papers that I have readthe
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
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 movenot 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 alreadythat we would go into the Southand
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
Q405 Chair: Before you go on to
that, did you agree to go the South?
Lord Reid: No. We agreed to go
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 incomeseconomic
buildingand 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
optionswell, 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
pressuresometimes indirectlyfrom 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
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 intoas
the leaders of this process, we would have to have taken Helmand
or Kandaharwas 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 troopsI think among the militarywere
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
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
Lord Reid: By the time that we
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
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 week26 Januarythat
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 delayingdespite 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
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 dangerousI constantly spoke of the danger, and
I can give you chapter and verse on thatbut 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-insurgencyAnthony
King, in his piece that you have no doubt read, has laid this
outwhich 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 capitaland 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 inI
think the key question that the public record needs to get to
the bottom ofis 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
gesturesfor example, the idea of a forward operating base
at Sanginthat 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
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
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
Q419 Chair: Indeed so. I am just
drawing your attention to the lack of privacy that this is going
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
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 missionto me and otherspalpably 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 timethree 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 planson 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 meit was not put to
him. It appears that there was an operational decisionand
I do not question whether it was right or wrongthat 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
You cannot account for that decisionand
nor should youbecause 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 thingsthe
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 advisersthe 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 readI don't know, but according to Anthony
Kingthe 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
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
ledthis process is over nowto a process that can
best be described as inverse deference: the man on the ground
knows what is right.
Q427 Mr Brazier: Among Brits,
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
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, andexactly
your pointthere 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
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
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 observationothers
have as wellthat 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 bitand 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
Q430 Bob Stewart: Mission command
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
Lord Reid: We can and willand
I think we have been quite straightforward, I hope you agreegive
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
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 missionthe 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.
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
Lord Reid: Not only that. Let
me say thisand 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 couldor
shouldbe 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 Daoudhe 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: ***
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
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
Q438 Mrs Moon: Lord Reid, when
you had this briefing or this advicesaying 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
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 caseand I am speculating
herethat 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 asto use a phrase that
has been put to me sincethe "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 intelligencecall it objective
intelligenceincluding 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
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 practiceyour dispositions and forces and
so onyour 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
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 othersthe Ops COS-Ministerial
meetingwould 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
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
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 toldthe
short answerwas, "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 whateverfive
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 forthree years.
There were three options to go in, just for the record, Mr Arbuthnot.
The first one that was put to mewell, they were all put
to me at the same timewas 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 helicopterswhat 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
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
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
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
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.
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 '05before
we go into Afghanistanso we're not operating above the
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 shortif one of them is short
Q453 Bob Stewart: In the shorter
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 Iraqthat 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 didthis may be slightly
dated nowpre-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 Reservistthe
subject of a commission that I am sitting onbecause 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 ownall 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 nothingnothing 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 deploymentit 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 influencedid 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 pressurebut 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 COMBRITFORthe
commander of British Forcessitting 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
Q459 Mr Brazier: General Richards wanted
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 himI 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 entrywe
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
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 ifas we close this meetingwhether 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 stageand I don't detect this
in either journalism, official circles or academiado 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
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
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
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'tthis
is the main pointif 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 Afghanistanthe 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 7/7you
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