Operations in Afghanistan - Defence Committee Contents

2  Operations in Helmand in 2006

The decision to move into the South of Afghanistan

17. We attach a timeline of events connected with operations in Helmand from 2004 to 2007 at the beginning of this Report.

18. We asked General Fry about the background to the deployment to Southern Afghanistan in 2006:

    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, [...][17]

19. General Richards said that the decision to go into Helmand was part of a more important NATO decision fully supported by Britain:

    [...] the decision to go into Helmand was on the back of a much bigger and more important decision for NATO to go into the South and East. Britain had been absolutely supportive of that decision in principle, which, for what it's worth, I thought at the time was right, because the campaign needed gingering up.[18]

20. General Fry told us why it was of concern that there appeared to be no appetite in the international coalition to move into the South:

    [...] we had embarked on a campaign in Afghanistan in the first instance to deny ungoverned space for malevolent purposes. It seems 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 that it ever had 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 [political will] 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.[19]

21. We were told by Air Chief Marshal Stirrup and General Fry that, in 2004 and 2005, the USA was predominantly focused on the conflict in Iraq and its anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan to search for al­Qaeda (Operation Enduring Freedom).[20] In particular, General Fry said:

    [...] 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.[21]

22. General Houghton told us:

    On the question of whether it was right to go to Southern Afghanistan at all, that was, in many respects, a strategic and political level decision, the genesis of which was within the UNSCR and a discussion at the political level in NATO to galvanise the nature of both the international community and NATO, on the international community's behalf, to bring about strategic change within Afghanistan—in terms of it being an unsafe place that was host to international terrorism and for which the delivery of good government and governance was essential. In terms of going, the genesis of that, from an international political level, was right.[22]

23. General Fry defended the move into the South of Afghanistan in 2006:

    [...] 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.[23]

24. By the end of 2004, it had been decided that the UK, Canada and the Netherlands would move into the South of Afghanistan. Canada wanted to play a dominant role in the move and wanted its forces to go to Kandahar. The Netherlands took on Uruzgan.[24] General Peter Wall told us that the UK taking on Helmand was consistent with the UK's role in counter-narcotics (held since July 2005).[25] On 10 February 2005 at NATO, Geoff Hoon, the then Secretary of State, announced the UK's intention to move forces from the North to the South of Afghanistan.[26]

25. There have been some suggestions in the media that the British Army was "spoiling for a fight" and that it wanted to show what it could do in Helmand. Lord Reid's view was that this was not true, although once the decision had been taken to deploy, the Armed Forces, understandably, wanted to take on tasks commensurate with their abilities.[27] General Jackson told us that it was not true that the Army was looking for a new operation as they withdrew from Northern Ireland.[28]

26. We asked if it had been sensible for the UK to go into Helmand when the Armed Forces were still so heavily engaged in Iraq. Lord Reid told us that he had been assured by the MoD that going into Helmand was not dependent upon the withdrawal from Iraq although there might be pinch points such as logistics and helicopters.[29]

27. General Houghton expressed doubt as to whether it had been the right time to go into Helmand:

    Was it the right time? That is the only thing over which I might hesitate because, in terms of strategic decision making relating to committing at that time, some of it—certainly from my knowledge in 2005—was based on a realistic but subsequently optimistic view of what our level of commitment in Iraq would be by then. In actual fact, the level of reduction in commitment to Iraq that had been forecast and hoped for in 2005 had not actually materialised in early 2006, but I sense that there was an irreversibility, given the political and international level of the decision, and it was at no detriment to the selection of the most robust force package.[30]

28. Given the demanding nature of the situation in Iraq, we do not consider that the implications of the decision to move UK Armed Forces into the South of Afghanistan in early 2006 were fully thought through, in particular, the potential risk to UK Armed Forces personnel. We consider that this criticism applies equally to the international decision to deploy into the South, in that all decisions made at such a level inevitably involve tensions and delay, which contributed in this case to the difficulties subsequently encountered.

The objectives of the Mission

29. The UK's objective for Operations in Afghanistan was to conduct security and stabilisation operations within Helmand and the wider Regional Command South, jointly with Afghan partners, other Government Departments and multinational partners. The intention was to support the Government of Afghanistan in improving governance and development. The initial objective in 2006 was to establish a central "lozenge of security" around Lashkar Gah, Gereshk and Camp Bastion and then move out from there as conditions permitted. The intent was that UK Forces would gain intelligence and a cultural understanding of the environment and, by developing a local envelope of security, would be able to help create the right environment for governance, build Afghan capacity and create a capacity for economic growth.[31]


30. We recognise that there are always limitations to intelligence gathered in complex, unfamiliar areas. In his Committee's report on the review of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Lord Butler set out at length many of the weaknesses of intelligence and the problems in analysing and assessing such information.[32] Lord Reid said that intelligence was always less than comprehensive and that it was difficult to assess the impact of the presence of the Armed Forces would have on the enemy.[33]

31. The only military activity on the ground in Helmand prior to 2006 was the USA counter-terrorist operation — Operation Enduring Freedom—which focused on the search for al-Qaeda and attempted not to intimidate or alienate the local population or the Taliban. And the US Forces acted in what General Fry described as "a profoundly live and let live" way.[34] Intelligence from such an operation was limited.

32. General Wall, the then deputy Chief of Joint Operations, admitted that there had been a failure of intelligence before the deployment of UK Forces into Helmand:

    I absolutely accept that what we found when we had forces on the ground was starkly different from what we had anticipated and hoped for. [...] We were ready for an adverse reaction, but to be fair we did not expect it to be as vehement as it turned out to be.[35]

33. General Wall stressed how seriously Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) had viewed the collection of intelligence especially since this had been one of the things that had not gone "terribly well in Iraq". He explained what PJHQ had done to gather sufficient reliable intelligence including sending in a preliminary operations team. He said that they had recognised there would be a need to supplement this information when troops were on the ground. In short, he said that they had anticipated the Taliban's potential intent but not their capacity.[36]

34. However, Air Chief Marshal Stirrup told us that, when planning for Helmand, senior military staff had been aware that Helmand was a hostile environment and had halted planning for a time because of this. They had resumed planning when they came under pressure from NATO:

    I can recollect a number of discussions around the Chiefs of Staff Committee table that essentially were along these lines—I have used these very words myself, so I can recollect them well—"We don't know much about the South, but what we do know is that it's not the North. It's real bandit country." We had a number of intelligence briefings, of course, from the Chief of Defence Intelligence and the Defence Intelligence Staff, but one must remember that the international presence in the South, particularly in Helmand, had been very thin on the ground right up until the deployment of British troops. There were something like 100 members of the US special forces, for example.

    [...] I personally said, "We need to call a halt to our planning. We cannot possibly deploy UK Forces when we don't know what the environment is going to be like and we don't know who will be in the adjoining provinces, so we don't know what the total picture will look like." We did halt for a time, but then concern grew within NATO, the Dutch resolved their difficulties and then at that stage we were seen by NATO as holding up the whole process. We were asked to step forward again, which we consequently did.[37]

35. Brigadier Butler, the first Commander of UK Forces in Helmand, told us that it had been assumed that they would deploy into a permissive environment which turned out not to be so:

    What happened was that there was an assumption—I had a difficulty with this, [...] that we were just going to deploy the Force into a permissive environment and when we had reached full operation capability in July 2006 then we would go out and start engaging with the people.

    As soon as we arrived in those conditions—and as I have said the Province was already in some form of crisis; they were certainly ready and waiting—of course they wanted to engage us. We used to say that there would be a reaction to our size 12 Boots going into Helmand Province, whether from the Taliban, from the opiate dealers or from the warlords, because we were threatening their very existence. We were trying to turn a failed state into a steady and successful one, which was contrary to all their aims and objectives. We knew full well, as reasonably experienced military men, that we were going to have a reaction.[38]

36. Notwithstanding our recognition of the limitations on intelligence in situations such as Helmand in 2006, we are concerned that the MoD did not anticipate that the presence of the Armed Forces in Helmand might stir up a hornets' nest especially as much of the intelligence was contradictory. We consider that if, because it was essential to support improved governance in Afghanistan, the deployment could not have been deferred or delayed until the end of the fighting season in 2006, senior military advisers should nonetheless have raised serious concerns about the unpredictable nature of the conflict on which they were embarking. This briefing should have drawn clear attention to the need for force levels to be sufficiently robust to cope with an unpredictable conflict. We believe that such concerns as were raised by the Armed Forces were inadequate at best, and that they were not raised, as they should have been, to the very highest levels of Government.


37. Brigadier Butler told us that that the Mission was far from clear and straightforward because of the many players involved and there was a split planning effort; the American plan, including Operation Enduring Freedom, and planning by the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, PJHQ, the MoD, the FCO, DfID and Brigadier Butler's headquarters plus those of allies.[39] He also told us that they had not known enough to come up with a coherent, long-term campaign plan, especially as Helmand was in turmoil before their arrival.[40]

38. The deployment was originally agreed for three years with force levels capped at 3,150 troops at an estimated cost of £808 million.[41] At the planning stage in 2005, the Armed Forces were being asked to set in place arrangements for one deliberate operation and three or four reactive ones a month. Brigadier Butler told us that he had very strongly contested these force numbers with PJHQ and others but was told he had to manage within the cap of 3,150.[42] He contrasted this with 30,000 troops in Helmand in 2011 and the greater understanding of the environment.[43]

39. Brigadier Butler said that he had also raised with the MoD shortages of some of the enablers such as helicopters, force protection, ISTAR and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to undertake the tasks being asked of him in the early stages of the deployment.[44] When asked if there had been enough helicopters and other equipment when he first deployed to Helmand, he replied:

    No, we didn't. [...] Going back to my earlier point: steady state, one deliberate operation a month and three or four reactive operations—we could do that within Helmand itself. Everything else you asked us to do above it, or if the enemy had a vote, which we knew they would, we were going to be very short. We knew that we were going to [be]short: by May we could actually say it for sure, but we were saying it in 2005. We were some 20% over our hours for support helicopter—Chinooks—we had six of them. We were already 11% over on our attack helicopter hours. The C-130s were operating at 92% of their maximum output, so there was the resultant impact on spare parts, crew fatigue and everything else. We staffed back in May a requirement for a 30% uplift on all air and aviation capability. We had the hard facts by that stage; but we knew them already from our estimate process beforehand.

    We also knew before we deployed that we had something in the order of a 45%—on average—shortfall of vehicles. We had already identified that Snatch was not an appropriate vehicle for the desert. We wanted WMIKs and Pinzgauers, logistical vehicles, DROPS, container vehicles, equipment support vehicles, the small Scimitar CVRTs. It was on average a 45% shortfall across the fleet. That was compounding the manoeuvre problem that we had. All those things were identified and staffed into PJHQ.[45]

40. This contrasts with the testimony from Lord Reid on helicopters:

    On 13 March 2006, just before we went in in the April, a letter went to the interlocutor [...] 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."[46]

41. Whilst we recognise that senior military staff have a role in determining the level of resources needed on specific operations and that this might mean moderating the demands of commanders in the field, nonetheless, we are disturbed by the fact that the Secretary of State was being told that commanders on the ground were content with the support they were being given in Helmand when clearly they were not. We regard it as unacceptable that hard pressed Forces in such a difficult operation as Helmand should have been denied the necessary support to carry out the Mission from the outset, and that this shortage had not been brought to the attention of Ministers.

42. Lord Reid told us that he delayed the deployment into Helmand until three specific conditions had been fulfilled but then he had come under pressure not to hold the deployment up:

    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, [...] that I was holding up the preparations and asking why wasn't I going in. [...]

    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 [Fry] has called nation-building, by getting DFID to redeploy its money towards our strategic objectives.

    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.[47]

These conditions were finally met in early 2006.[48]

Challenges faced by the initial deployment

43. General Houghton pointed out that a number of factors came together to make the situation particularly difficult in the early months:

  • Poppy eradication—the fear of locals that their livelihoods would be taken away, which was fuelled by Taliban propaganda;
  • Some of the 200,000 casual labourers who migrated from Pakistan for the poppy harvest had stayed behind as guns for hire;
  • In preparation for the arrival of UK Forces, the Americans had conducted a number of kinetic operations culminating in Operation Mountain Thrust which had stirred up the local population; and
  • The removal of Sher Mohammed Akhundzada as Governor and his replacement by Governor Daoud had destabilised the tribal balance and the balance of power within northern Helmand.[49]

44. Brigadier Butler told us that he had barely enough troops to do the tasks required of them at the start of the deployment.[50] He also told us that the necessary delay, whilst waiting for the Dutch to deploy, had meant UK Forces deployed nearer the fighting season and that the initial operational capability (late April 2006), when deployed, struggled to cope. The Taliban and drug lords were waiting to engage with UK Forces as they arrived.[51] The UK Forces were not at full operational capability until July 2006.[52] Governor Daoud was frustrated by the late arrival of UK Forces and by the dawning reality that he was not getting 3,000 "warriors" but rather 600 paratroopers—the actual number of fighting troops —with all the support elements.[53]

The move to north Helmand and the development of the 'Platoon Houses Strategy'

45. General Fry said that the key question about the events of 2006 was how did UK Forces get from the original plan to provide security in a small area to "fighting for their lives no less than two months later in a series of Alamos in the north of the province".[54]

46. It is clear from the evidence we received that, once in theatre, UK Forces came under pressure from Governor Daoud and President Karzai to provide security in a wider geographical area. We fully recognise the pressures on Brigadier Butler to support development of governance and to win what the MoD described as the totemic battle of the flagpoles—preventing Government flags from being replaced by those of the Taliban.[55] Brigadier Butler told us that Governor Daoud had said:

    "We need you to support governance. We need you to protect us. You need to give us the freedom of movement. You must support me to be allowed to go round my own constituency. If I can't do that, why are you here?" [...] "If the black flag of Mullah Omar flies over any of the district centres, you may as well go home because we'll have lost our authority to govern in Helmand, and if we lose our authority to govern and our ability to govern, then that will threaten the south. Kandahar will be next. We'll lose the south before you've even started. What are you going to do about it?"[56]

47. Lord Reid said that, prior to the original deployment, the MoD had considered that any demands placed on UK Forces to move further or faster than planned should be resisted. He also believed that the move into the north of Helmand had come about as the result of an operational decision which had changed the strategic nature of the Mission:

    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.[57]

48. General Richards said that the move to the north of Helmand was not a change of mission but a change of tactics.[58] But General Wall said that UK Forces had ended up in a situation that turned out to be strategically very different from the one that was anticipated.[59]

49. There has been some speculation in the press and elsewhere that Brigadier Butler and the other commanders on the ground made the decision to deploy out from the security lozenge in isolation from those above them in the command chain, thereby changing the nature of the operation. Brigadier Butler told us that General Wall, his immediate superior, was with him during one of the key meetings with Governor Daoud. He also told us that he wrote daily reports and weekly assessments and conducted video conferences with General Houghton, Chief of Joint Operations (CJO) and with his deputy General Wall.[60] General Wall told us that he was on a programmed visit to Helmand at that time:

    [...] I was on a programmed visit to Lashkar Gah at the point when this crisis started to unfold. The timing of it was driven because the Taliban had the district centres in Northern Helmand under pressure. On Governor Daoud's perception, particularly bearing in mind his lack of tribal influence, [...] that he was not able to pull this off with behind-the-scenes politicking.[61]

Brigadier Butler also commented:

    [...] in terms of the command and control arrangements in theatre we had the Helmand Executive Group and the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Lashkar Gah. They were privy to all these discussions. They were represented at the same meeting with myself, Colonel Knaggs, Tom Tugendhat, who was Governor Daoud's adviser, Department for International Development representatives and Foreign Office representatives. We had the same representation at Kandahar, but the Southern Afghanistan Group was not really established at that stage. It spent more of its time in Helmand. We had the Kabul Steering Group, chaired by the Ambassador, with cross-Government representation. We then had the Afghan Steering Group in London. And we had weekly tele-conferences with London.[62]

50. General Houghton agreed that this was not a decision taken by Brigadier Butler alone. Both he and General Wall recognised the considerable pressure coming from Governor Daoud and President Karzai to support the local government and governance. They also thought that failure to support Governor Daoud would have resulted in "a political failure and significant credibility problems in terms of the UK initiative in the South".[63]

51. Lord Browne, former Secretary of State, said that a tactical decision was made to deploy forces beyond the lozenge. He told us that he was briefed about this retrospectively and informed by those in command that, in military terms, this was an operational decision.[64] Lord Reid said that no decision had been taken to move into north Helmand while he was Secretary of State:

    [...] 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.[65]

He left the office of Secretary of State for Defence just three days after he was briefed as above.[66]

52. Air Chief Marshal Stirrup, on the other hand, said that he thought that Lord Reid would have been involved in the discussions on the move to the north of Helmand although in his role as CDS, he had only overlapped with Lord Reid for a matter of days.[67] Air Chief Marshal Stirrup went out to visit UK Forces in Afghanistan on his appointment, approximately three weeks before the move North occurred and so held discussions with key players including Brigadier Butler.[68]

53. General Houghton told us, from his rereading of the Chiefs of Staff Committee minutes, that Brigadier Butler had briefed the Chiefs of Staff on 24 May 2006 on the platoon house concept[69]. He had also noted in the minutes of 3 May that there might be a requirement for an earlier than planned and more significant deployment to the north of Helmand to support the governance of Governor Daoud. The actual moves to the north of Helmand took place in late May—on 26 to 27 May to Sangin and 28 May to Musa Qala and Now Zad—although there had been a presence in these areas and some fighting in the build up period.[70]

54. General Houghton told us that, at that stage, it was proposed to do that move for only one month to see if the new disposition would work. It was subsequently decided to remain in Sangin but to leave Musa Qala and Now Zad.[71] We are not clear that the decision to deploy for only one month was briefed to ministers, even though it seems very important.

55. Whilst the top level objective of the Mission might not have changed, the operation clearly changed radically with the move into the north of Helmand. It appears to us that this radical change was not referred back to the Secretary of State or the Cabinet for endorsement until after the move into the north of Helmand, including deployments into Sangin and Musa Qala, had happened. We consider it to be unlikely that this fundamental change to the operation was put to Ministers for a decision as to whether to proceed. We cannot be more certain on this because we have been denied sight of the relevant minutes (see paragraph 15). As the change put the lives of Armed Forces personnel at much greater risk, it should surely have gone to the Cabinet for endorsement. Subsequent to the decision, the new Secretary of State was told in retrospect but we do not believe that senior military advisers briefed their Ministers with sufficient force as to the strategic implications of the operational change which had already been made. The MoD should tell us how relevant lessons have been learnt.

Turnover of key personnel

56. In 2006, there was a significant changeover of senior staff in the Armed Forces and in the ministerial team. John Reid was replaced by Des Browne as the Secretary of State in early May 2006. The Chief of Defence Staff changed from General Walker to Air Chief Marshal Stirrup in April 2006. General Houghton replaced Air Marshal Torpy as Chief of Joint Operations in March 2006. All these changes took place within a few weeks when much of the attention and most of the resources were focused on Iraq. The significant transfer of such senior key personnel, both political and military would increase risks in the administration of the Armed Forces at any time but, in 2006 at such a crucial stage in both the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, it gave rise to unacceptable risks. We conclude that these risks were realised. We recommend that the Government should avoid moving so many senior military personnel at a time when Ministers are being moved as well.

Increased troop numbers and further support

57. The UK increased the number of troops by 1,300 in Autumn 2006, several months after the initial deployment to the north of Helmand, when the second brigade was deployed. Lord Browne told us that, retrospectively, it was clear that there were still not enough troops.[72] General Fry said any change in the deployment would result in different resource and equipment needs:

    [...] 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.[73]

58. Lord Reid said:

    [...] 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.[74]

59. In describing the deployment to the north of Helmand in the middle of 2006, Air Chief Marshal Stirrup told us that the majority of the force became fixed and the issue became resupplying it rather than manoeuvring it and limitations on support helicopters and protected mobility restricted the options available to the commander on the ground.[75]

60. General Wall said that he saw the original force size of 3,150 as a constraint and the Armed Forces did not have resources such as combat units or enabling activity standing by capable of deploying to Afghanistan.[76] He also told us that it would not have been easy to find extra troops who could be deployed quickly or additional equipment:

    [...] it was not easy for us to find a net theatre-ready uplift instantaneously. I cannot remember the airlift situation, but it probably would not have been easy to get it there either, in an acclimatised and suitably trained way. [...] On enablers, however, which were the critical drivers here—as Ed Butler has told you—this was going to be incremental. Not quite a game of inches, but incremental. It was not about more airframes; it was about more hours. It was about more spares, more fluid ammunition supply, and logistics and that sort of stuff.[77]

61. General Houghton said that he had discussed the necessity for additional resources with the Chiefs of Staff on 31 May 2006:

    At the following meeting, on 31 May, I was able to report that the platoon house concept was bedding down well. There had been a good local reaction to it. I think at that time I raised the first concern. The Chiefs had previously persuaded themselves that this would probably be resource-neutral. I said, "No, if this is to be sustained over time, it will put additional pressure on our logistics and sustainability in manpower terms." That was reinforced a week later—on 7 June—when I said, "Yes, and there's a helicopter dimension to this." At that stage, it was proposed to do it for only one month, due to the initial political concern that Engineer Daoud's governorship would be undermined [...]there was a sensible conversation that the nature of the platoon house concept would be resource-intensive. To the tactical commander and to me—and I think to David [General Richards], with whom we were having conversations off—the bigger concern was that it would come to a situation where too great a percentage of the force was fixed in place, rather than being able to manoeuvre. The narrative and dialogue of whether we were over-fixed and needed to manoeuvre more played out during the summer and informed various troop uplifts.[78]

62. What is particularly worrying is that the much increased requirement for additional resources and support, in particular for additional troops and helicopters, was not acted upon quickly enough. Whilst we accept that it is not possible to prepare and train soldiers quickly to reinforce those on the ground when circumstances change, we are, nonetheless, concerned that no strategic reserve had been trained and prepared in order to be readily available, particularly as this Mission had been planned for some considerable time. There should always be a contingency reserve available with the resources to support it. If it is used, immediate plans to restore it should be in place.

Continuation of the Mission to 2009

63. The UK Armed Forces have made valiant efforts to provide security in Helmand and have worked closely with civilian colleagues to secure improvements in the area and have had some measure of success in operations such as Operation Moshtarak[79]. Professor Farrell described his analysis of the planning and conduct of Operation Moshtarak and reported on its success in winning local support for the operation and defeating the local Taliban insurgency.[80]

64. Forces in Helmand were able to clear certain areas, such as Musa Qala and Now Zad, but did not have sufficient forces to hold them. However, had UK Forces not been able to clear these areas, the situation in Helmand could have been much worse. As General Wall said:

    We could be having an even more difficult conversation about this had our soldiers not stepped up to the plate and delivered in a situation that turned out to be strategically very different from the one that was anticipated.[81]

65. When asked, Air Chief Marshal Stirrup agreed that without overwhelming force in such circumstances, there were likely to be more casualties. He also agreed that there had needed to be an immediate assessment of the resources devoted to the operation.[82]

66. General Messenger told us that when he was commanding in Helmand in the six months to April 2009, he had insufficient resources:

    I came back in April '09 [...] At the time, insufficient resources were being allocated to the challenge in Southern Afghanistan. I commanded a brigade, alongside an Afghan brigade commander, that was stretched and not able to go to certain key areas where we knew we would ultimately have to go to secure the population. What has happened since has been an enormous inflow, principally American but also from other NATO nations, and a huge upsurge in the number of Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police who are in the line providing that security.[83]

67. It is clear that the situation in Helmand did not develop as envisaged. Armed Forces personnel achieved the best tactical outcomes possible in very difficult circumstances in no small measure due to the high quality and training of the troops themselves. But it must be acknowledged that the force levels deployed throughout 2006, 2007 and 2008 were never going to achieve what was being demanded of the Armed Forces by the UK, NATO and the Afghan Government. We view it as unacceptable that UK Forces were deployed in Helmand for three years, as a result of a failure of military and political co­ordination, without the necessary personnel and equipment to succeed in their Mission.

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22   Q 670 Back

23   Q 462 Back

24   Qq 408-409, 670 Back

25   Q 670 Back

26   Q 401 Back

27   Q 409 Back

28   Qq 409, 537 Back

29   Qq 445, 450 Back

30   Q 670 Back

31   Qq 415, 479, 611, 672 Back

32   Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors, Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction , 14 July 2004, HC 898 Back

33   Q 440 Back

34   Q 401 Back

35   Q 672 Back

36   Ibid. Back

37   Q 599 Back

38   Q 481 Back

39   Qq 473-4 Back

40   Q 477 Back

41   Ibid. Back

42   Q 490 Back

43   Qq 491-2 Back

44   Qq 493-3 Back

45   Q 493 Back

46   Q 456 Back

47   Q 408 Back

48   Q 412 Back

49   Q 674 Back

50   Q 490 Back

51   Q 481 Back

52   Q 497 Back

53   Ibid. Back

54   Q 415 Back

55   Q 676 Back

56   Q 497 Back

57   Q 415 Back

58   Q 676 Back

59   Q 684 Back

60   Q 497 Back

61   Q 676 Back

62   Q 497 Back

63   Q 676 Back

64   Q 582 Back

65   Q 415 Back

66   Qq 415, 421 Back

67   Qq 641-6 Back

68   Q 642 Back

69   Platoon house concept is the defence by the Armed Forces of small isolated and fortified bases  Back

70   Q 676 Back

71   Q 678 Back

72   Q 581 Back

73   Q 415 Back

7 74  4 Q 415 Back

75   Q 636 Back

76   Q 684 Back

77   Q 683 Back

78   Q 677 Back

79   Operation Moshtarak was a three phase regional operation to provide security in central Helmand and Kandahar and to enable freedom of movement on main routes. Phase 2 began in February 2010 and was planned and conducted by the ANSF in partnership with ISAF. Back

80   Q 71  Back

81   Q 684 Back

82   Qq 637, 649 Back

83   Q 6 Back

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Prepared 17 July 2011