EU Military Training Missions
(Somalia and Mali)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Mark Oxborough, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The following also attended ( Standing Order No. 119(6) ) :
EU Military Training Missions (Somalia and Mali)
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Williams. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon. It might be helpful if I explain a little background to this issue, and why the European Scrutiny Committee recommended this debate—one that has been made all the more timely by the events of recent days.
The European Union training mission in Mali, or EUTM Mali, is a proposed new EU common foreign security policy—CFSP—military training mission. In September 2012, the President requested EU support in restoring Malian territorial integrity, following the rapid deterioration of the political situation in Mali after a military coup in March 2012. As we are all now well aware, more than half of Mali’s territory, mostly in the north, is now occupied by a variety of nationalist, terrorist and criminal groups, two of which are affiliated to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. The Malian army, we were told, is deeply divided, underfunded, poorly led and unable to retake control of the north. The UN mandated the deployment of an ECOWAS—Economic Community of West African States—and African Union, or AU, force, but there appeared to be considerable uncertainty about when it was to be deployed. Press reports have suggested that the US wishes to provide logistical support and to involve the EU in some unspecified way. As is all the more apparent, the ex-colonial power, France, is centrally involved, but other member states’ views are unknown.
In the Committee’s view, a number of important questions needed to be answered before the proposal could be properly cleared from scrutiny. All are even more relevant today. The questions are as follows: what is the state of play with the creation of the ECOWAS and African Union military force, and when and where will it be deployed? What role will the deeply divided, underfunded, poorly led and rebellious Malian forces play? What training will the EU give to which Malian forces, and over what time scale? Is the rest of the EU solidly behind this France-driven enterprise? How solid is the commitment of the shaky Malian Government? Finally, what role is the US likely to take, and does it want to involve the EU in that aspect, too? The Committee felt that all these points should be thoroughly ventilated at the outset when a mission was being pushed through in a country with a rocky Government whose commitment is inevitably uncertain, particularly when other military ventures have begun as training missions but have developed into something much larger and more prolonged, without ever having been subjected to proper evaluation along the way.
EUTM Somalia is a case in point. It began in 2010 and was due to last one year. It has already been extended once without proper scrutiny. The proposal is that it should now be extended again until at least 2015, and should broaden its scope. That proposal was not communicated to the Committee until beyond the point at which it could question the Government, despite the Committee having told successive Ministers for Europe that it must be kept in the picture about the prospect of such developments prior to a draft text being deposited—often at very short notice—so that it is not blindsided.
In addition to those scrutiny matters, the situation was more than academic. A mission that had begun with a short life in mind had now morphed into one that will not only be at least nearly five years long but which, as it branches into security sector reform and political and strategic level mentoring that the Minister has said may ultimately
already has at least some of the hallmarks of such missions that have expanded their original limited role and proved costly, lengthy and of doubtful effectiveness. In an explanatory memorandum, the Minister asserted that EUTM Somalia had been effective, but provided no evidence.
The Committee therefore decided that, although it was too late to ask the Minister further questions before the Council decision was to be adopted, as EUTM’s mandate is about to run out, the House should be given the opportunity to hear why he was able to provide no prior information, what he expected the mission to have achieved in 27 months’ time—there should be proper benchmarks and review points—if he believed that it would then be wound up and if not, what he then expected to happen.
The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I welcome your chairmanship of this Committee, Mr Williams. I also welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury is in his place. He is the Prime Minister’s special envoy to the Sahel and has travelled to Mali and neighbouring countries recently; he therefore brings very recent and expert knowledge of events there to the Committee. I want to address the issues to do with Somalia first, before moving on to Mali. I am conscious that my time on this introductory statement is limited, but we will perhaps have the opportunity to explore the detail further in the subsequent debate.
Somalia has made significant progress during 2012, with the election of a new President in September and the end of the seven-year transitional period. However, the country is still fragile. Significant security concerns remain over terrorism, piracy and migration which severely threaten international and regional peace, security and development. The United Kingdom continues to show international leadership on Somalia and to influence the European Union’s engagement. EUTM Somalia, which is one of three EU common security and defence policy missions there, plays an important role, focused on training Somali military forces. Its mandate was extended for a second year in July 2011. To date, the mission has accomplished three things.
First, it has provided military training to 80 officers, 596 NCOs, 60 trainers and more than 1,600 soldiers. Secondly, it has supported cohesion training provided by the Ugandan forces to 2,000 Somali recruits in which coherent platoons and companies were formed. It has provided cohesion training to 550 individuals—commanders, specialists and trainers—who are currently completing their course. Thirdly, the EU mission has played a crucial role in developing and implementing a new model for recruiting and training soldiers. It has promoted screening and identification methods to conduct and control payments, which are important in retaining troops.
In September 2012, the EU undertook a strategic review of EUTM Somalia. This concluded that the effects of the mission went well beyond training, significantly helping to improve living and security conditions in Somalia and to set the basis for the development of the security sector. The chief of Somali defence forces corroborated this, saying he would never have recovered control of Mogadishu without the EUTM-trained forces. The review concluded that the EU needed to consolidate EUTM Somalia’s success. Subsequently, the European External Action Service began discussions with member states about renewal of the mission’s mandate. EU timings provided an extremely tight window for parliamentary scrutiny of EUTM Somalia and also EUTM Mali, which I shall come to shortly.
Political developments in both those countries had an impact on the EU’s ability to produce final reports, not least the significant elections taking place in Somalia. My officials continuously made clear in Brussels the nature of British parliamentary requirements and stressed the importance of new mandates being available in a timely manner. We received the final draft Council decision, with the full budgetary details, for which we had been pressing, for EUTM Somalia on 12 December and submitted the explanatory memorandum to the Committees in both Houses on 13 December. My officials and I did our utmost to allow for full parliamentary scrutiny. I was not willing to consider overriding scrutiny on either of these missions over the Christmas break. Instead, we sought a technical extension to the Somalia mission to allow it to continue to function on the old mandate in the interim while we awaited today’s debate.
With hindsight, in response to the Committee’s criticisms, I think that although the strategic review was not formally a depositable text, because of its “limité” classification, the Foreign Office ought to have written to the Intelligence and Security Committee in October last year, when we had received and analysed the strategic review, to share the information contained within it, in so far as the classified status of that document permitted us to do so. I have put in place steps within the Department to increase awareness of parliamentary scrutiny and, when documents are provided in a “limité” version, to recognise the importance of sharing with the Committee as much information as we are able to provide, while recognising that the absence of the document itself means that it may not be possible for the Committee to treat it under formal scrutiny processes.
The aims of the new Somalia mandate are, first, to provide strategic mentoring and advice to the Somali Ministry of Defence and general staff to support the development of their security institutions; secondly, to support the design and establishment of a Somali-owned military training system; and, thirdly, to conduct specialised
The Government support the mandate extension to 2015. The proposed revisions respond appropriately to the evolving situation in Somalia and will contribute to a comprehensive and sustainable development of the Somali security sector. The planned addition of political and strategic-level mentoring and advice will help to increase Somali ownership of the development of its security forces. That will ultimately provide an exit strategy for both this EU mission and the African Union Mission in Somalia—AMISOM—so reducing the burden for international support.
It is not possible to say at this point whether EUTM Somalia’s training mission will have been completed by 2015, which is as far as this mandate extends. Much will depend on the political and security situation in that country. However, there will be annual reviews of the mission, and we will provide advance notice of such activity to the Committee, as well as reporting on the reviews. Of course, if there were a move to extend the mission beyond 2015, that would require a separate Council decision, which would trigger the possibility of scrutiny and debate here in Parliament.
May I turn briefly to Mali? I want to emphasise first that the EU training mission before the Committee today is an initiative entirely distinct from the French-led military response that we have seen in Mali in recent days. This mission has been in the planning for some time, although it may now be accelerated because of the deteriorating situation in Mali. Recent events have shown the fragility of Mali and the entire Sahel region. There is a clear risk of that region becoming a haven for terrorists, who could threaten the interests of Europe and of the United Kingdom. The French intervention, which has some UK logistical support, has been vital in preventing a move by Islamist groups to push southwards towards Bamako. Once the Malian Government’s position has been secured, it will be essential to see this EU training mission begin its work quickly to build up Mali’s own military capacity to repel rebel attacks and to restore stability. The EU mission is being organised at the invitation of Mali and in line with the two relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.
I want to advise the Committee that an emergency meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council will take place tomorrow, 17 January. That will take stock of the rapidly changing situation and seek to approve the Council decision needed for rapid establishment of the EU training mission. As always with Foreign Affairs Councils, I will ensure that a ministerial statement on its proceedings and conclusions is made available to the House.
I want to be clear about what the EUTM is and is not. This is a training mission involving Malian forces. It remains a clearly bound and time-limited project, measured against concrete benchmarks that will be elaborated on in the operational plan, with the objective of helping the Malian authorities to establish their authority over their territory. It is a mission at the invitation of Mali’s Government, supported by the African Union, ECOWAS and the UN Security Council. In response to what was said by the hon. Member for Luton North, I point out that the United States also supports and is keen to see European Union involvement.
The mission is a means of enhancing both military professionalism and humanitarian and human rights awareness. It is a key contribution to the overall African effort to bring peace and stability to Mali and the Sahel. It will operate under the strict political and military control of the EU authorities with full UK participation in Brussels. The mission commander will receive political guidance from the head of the EU delegation in Bamako, who is in regular consultation with the British ambassador there.
The EUTM is not either ill defined or prone to mission creep. The nature, scale and time limitations of the mission will be set out clearly, and EUTM will terminate 15 months after the Council decision to launch the mission. Any request for an extension would require a fresh Council decision and scrutiny here.
The mandate is clear. The crisis management concept clearly states that the training mission should consist of approximately 400 personnel and will provide military training and advice to the Malian armed forces. I think it is possible, though not 100% certain, that those 400 personnel would have to include some who would have the duty of force protection, but the training mission is not mandated to take part in combat. Further planning in Brussels will be needed to determine the number of personnel required for training and force protection.
The final decision on the exact numbers deployed and their remit will be closely controlled and set out in the concept of operations paper and operational plan to be finalised and agreed in Council before any deployment takes place. The conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council underline the need for close co-ordination with all partners, not just in Europe but beyond, particularly in Africa. The operational plan will elaborate clear benchmarks to measure the effectiveness of the mission.
The training mission will focus on building the military capacity of the Malian armed forces under civilian control and the Council decision does not mandate participation in any form of direct military action.
We recognise that there are risks and the Committee drew attention to some of them in its report. The Mali military could interfere further in the political process. We have made it clear to the Malian Government and the military junta that any interference in the process of Government will not be tolerated and will jeopardise international support. We also acknowledge the risk that any military action by the Malians could have an impact on the humanitarian situation. As of the 15th of this month the latest UNHCR estimates were of a further 1,000 new internally displaced persons in Mali and 1,000 new refugees in neighbouring countries. The tragedy of Mali is that probably about 400,000 people in total have been either displaced internally within Mali or have fled to neighbouring countries. Those people, in large part, have fled because of the imposition of an extreme form of Islamist rule in the north of the country and the consequent violence there.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Thank you for calling me, Mr Williams, and thank you to the Minister for his exposition. First, on Somalia, will the Minister confirm the cost of the extension of the mission from 2013 to 2015? Will he also please clarify when he became aware of the proposal for the extension and the change in the operation? Why could he not communicate that earlier to the European Scrutiny Committee?
Mr Lidington: On the second point, I refer the hon. Gentleman back to my introductory remarks. With hindsight, I think we should have done this, as far as we could, back in October, after we had digested the strategic review. There were problems because it is a highly classified document, which means that it cannot be made public as part of the normal scrutiny process. The Committee itself has always been somewhat reluctant to engage with documents when it feels, understandably, that the public and the whole of Parliament cannot see the matter under discussion. Lessons have been learned on that.
We did not get a lot of the detail until December. I have made it a principle that, with any EU common security and defence policy mission, I try to ensure that when we send an explanatory memorandum to the Committee, we do so with detailed budget figures. Before I do that, I usually ask some questions about the initial figures that come up via my officials. Why are we spending this money? If there is a proposed increase, what is the increased resource for? I am very conscious of the need for economy and the fact that both sides of the House, and of the Committee today, argue for extreme economy in spending by European Union institutions.
We did not get these figures until into December. When I got them, I approved the explanatory memorandum and sent them on to the Committee. A significant increase is proposed. The budget for 2011-12 was €4.8 million, which equates to about £4.5 million. The two-year mandate covering 2012 into 2015—the 15 months—is €11.6 million. Even allowing for the longer period involved, the increase is significant, and I asked questions about this.
The increase is due to provision being made for a move out of Uganda and Kenya into Mogadishu. If the training mission is able to redeploy to Mogadishu, it will inevitably mean quite a bit of investment in well-protected premises for the training mission and paying for force protection for it, so the increase in funding is for security reasons. As the objective of the mission is to stabilise Somalia, I think the additional expense is justified in this case. As always with European Union spending, the United Kingdom’s contribution will amount in practice to roughly 15% of the overall total.
Ian Lucas: I am grateful for the Minister’s full and frank response. The process of scrutiny will be important as that mission continues and, as he said, it depends on, for example, the possible move to Mogadishu. How will he keep Parliament informed as the mission continues so that we can learn the lessons of the past six months or so?
Mr Lidington: I will undertake either to notify the Committees or to arrange for a ministerial statement, probably in writing, to be made when there is a review of the progress made on the mission. I am also happy to undertake that we will notify the Committees in both Houses—and, if we judge it appropriate, the House as whole—of any significant change by way of a statement. I would certainly consider, for example, a relocation to Mogadishu something that ought to be brought to the attention of Parliament, whether or not that required a formal EU-level decision and, therefore, a scrutiny process. I would certainly want that to happen and will ensure that it is a commitment that my officials understand.
Ian Lucas: Turning briefly to Mali, I am pleased that the Minister was so clear in differentiating between the EU Council mission, which we are discussing today, and the action, which we discussed in the Chamber on Monday.
I am concerned that there is, first, a difficulty or a confusion in perception concerning the two missions, and, secondly, I am very unclear about the relationship between the two of them. Will the Minister say how there will be a continuing relationship and exchange of information between the two different projects, if I might call them that?
Mr Lidington: The hon. Gentleman, I know, understands that events have moved at a fast pace in the past few days. During our discussions at the Foreign Affairs Council tomorrow, Ministers will want to address precisely the needs for co-ordination that he has rightly identified. I do not yet have full details as to how this meeting will operate, but it looks as though there will be an initial discussion between EU Ministers and the Malian Foreign Minister, then an EU-only discussion of Mali.
The point the hon. Gentleman makes is perfectly fair. We would look to our colleague from France to explain exactly where France is coming from, what its objectives are now and in what respect it is asking others to contribute.
I want to go back to the genesis of the mission. Before the Islamist militia started to press south towards Bamako, there was international agreement that action should be taken to stabilise the situation in Mali. UN Security Council resolution 2071 last year called on international partners to provide
to the Malian armed forces. Resolution 2085 authorised the deployment of an African-led international support mission—AFISMA—for an initial period of 12 months and, further, urged international partners to support that African deployment. So, late in 2012, international legal authority had been given for that intervention.
The first priority, given recent events, has to be for the Malian forces and the French who are fighting with them to secure the south of the country against further encroachment from the Islamist-controlled area to the north. Then there will be the need, which is perceived already, to improve significantly the capacity of the Malian forces to exercise control over their own country. The AFISMA mandate is, first, to secure Bamako against external threat; secondly, to retrain the Malian armed forces; and thirdly, to support the Malian armed forces in retaking the north of the country. I emphasise
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): Will the Minister clarify what we are doing to develop our knowledge of the area? The disturbing thing about our involvement in the region is that, making the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury, this is a part of the world that the Government, the Foreign Office and the military traditionally know very little about. We are being dragged into a situation in which we are working with an ambiguous multilateral organisation. We have defined a high priority and said that this is about an existential threat to global security from Islamists, but we are doing it without much information. Will the Minister please explain what steps are being taken to develop a serious knowledge base within the Foreign Office on Mali in particular and the Sahel region more broadly?
Mr Lidington: I agree that the role played by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury has been very important in adding to this country’s store of knowledge about the Sahel region, and Mali in particular. We have established a small resident embassy in Mali and have now deployed a defence attaché with that mission. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border will understand that there are some things I am able to talk about and some I am not able to talk about in this forum.
We are working closely with France to improve our understanding of this part of Africa, but I shall make two further points in response to the challenge implicit in my hon. Friend’s question as to whether our analysis on the severity of the threat was accurate. First, although, historically, France rather than the UK has had a special relationship with and intimate knowledge of Mali, we can claim to have a very detailed knowledge of Nigeria and other parts of west Africa. It is certainly our view that were Mali to collapse completely as a state and succumb to the type of regime that we have now seen in Timbuktu and other northern cities, there would be a serious risk of that territory becoming a secure haven for training and an operational base for international terrorist forces. We know that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is active in northern Mali and that Boko Haram is a serious threat to the integrity of Nigeria, where significant British political and economic interests are involved.
Secondly, it is striking that Algeria—a next-door neighbour of Mali, which has until now been reluctant to support any international intervention in the Sahel, and which was sceptical about the Libyan intervention last year—has in recent days opened its airspace to France. That is perhaps a measure of the fact that Mali’s neighbours to the north, and also the countries to the south, which have agreed to take part in the ECOWAS mission, are themselves alarmed by what is happening there.
Mr Lidington: It is important that the initiative to re-establish the sovereignty of the Malian Government over their entire national territory is seen to be Malian and African owned, not a solution imposed by others in Europe or elsewhere. For that reason, long before the events of the past week, we have considered the role of European countries to be to provide expert help, particularly through training and also through our humanitarian programme. We have also assisted with good governance through our aid programme. We want to provide support to the Government in Mali and to provide help and support to the members of ECOWAS as they prepare for the intervention that the United Nations has called for and authorised.
Clearly, the question that my hon. Friend poses needs to be looked at again in the light of what has happened in the past few days. I am sure that that is one thing that will be discussed tomorrow in Brussels.
Kelvin Hopkins: It has to be said that doubt about the intervention has been expressed in a number of circles. I simply wonder how far the doubt stretches. For example, the matter is portrayed as an EU intervention, but essentially it is a French intervention with British support, and many EU capitals have been silent. Does that silence represent acquiescence and support or a degree of doubt?
Mr Lidington: I say again that it is important to draw a clear distinction between two separate enterprises. We are debating the authorisation of an EU training mission, limited to roughly 400 personnel, with a defined finite budget of £12.2 million and with a clear time limit of 15 months, after which an extension would require formal renewal through Council decision and scrutiny again here. That is a mission that every European Union country supports, because a CSDP mission cannot be agreed unless there is unanimous consent at the Council of Ministers.
Separate from that is the French response to the drive south by the Islamist forces, which began a few days ago. France has been in touch with a number of countries, asking for specific help. We have given the logistical support of two aircraft, which the Prime Minister announced. My understanding is that Denmark, Belgium and Canada have also agreed to help with transport, communications and logistics. The United States has a problem in that its law forbids it from working with the Government of Mali because of the military coup that took place in recent months, but the United States has not sought to criticise what has been done and it has been clear that it supports the EU training mission and wants it to go ahead.
Kelvin Hopkins: I thank the Minister for his reply. It is clear that President Hollande has acted decisively and that he is determined, but Laurent Fabius has, in the past, expressed doubts about interventions elsewhere in the world. He has, generally speaking, been against wars of the kind that we have been engaged in, yet he is central to all this. Does the Minister know whether Laurent Fabius has any personal doubts?
It is quite unusual for training and support to be given to armed forces that have so recently engaged in a military coup—within the last 12 months—and that, as recently as December, arrested the Prime Minister, in many ways worsening the crisis.
It is important that European security and defence policy retains its integrity and is associated with the defence of human rights and the rule of law. The Minister suggested that interference in government would not be tolerated. Can he tell the Committee how exactly that will be policed and what his expectations are for our imposing a standard of conduct and respect for the rule of law among the military forces that we shall be training and supporting as the European Union?
Mr Lidington: One aspect of the way in which EU training has operated in Somali, and it will apply in Mali, is that it is done in accordance with the values and the methods of working that European armed forces apply. Our training deals with the effective deployment of force, but issues in respect of human rights and so on come into the training modules that we deploy in a training mission that the EU carries out.
We have had to make a choice. It would have been possible for Europe to stand back after the deposition of Prime Minister Diarra and say, “We wash our hands of this. Leave them to their fate.” For reasons that I outlined in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border, that would not have been a wise course of action. The threat to our interests would have been serious.
We continue to make clear in all our contacts with the Malians that the military should stick to military matters and stay out of politics. While it is true that the Prime Minister was removed from power in what we would regard as an unacceptable fashion, the interim President, Mr Traoré, remains in post and the establishment of a new civilian Government was announced on 15 December.
We clearly want to see a return to normal democratic processes as soon as possible, but I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham would allow that, during the current crisis, the immediate focus will be on defending the south of Mali against the invasions from Islamist militias to the north.
The other thing that I say to my hon. Friend is that this is not a case of the European Union’s acting unilaterally in a vacuum; we have a UN Security Council resolution explicitly calling on its international partners to provide
to the Malian armed forces and a further Security Council resolution authorising the deployment of an African-led force and calling on international partners to support that. The international legal basis is there for the action.
Martin Horwood: I would like to follow up on that. I thank the Minister for his response, but I am not suggesting that the European Union is acting in a vacuum or that there is not a proper legal basis for what it is doing—more that we might simply be inadvertently adding capacity to the next military coup.
As a supplementary question, should a high priority be put in this training mission on the proper role of the military in a civil society and on respect for the rule of law and human rights? I realise that that is sometimes an ambitious objective in unstable situations, but the very instability and lack of effective political leadership in Mali make it all the more important that those lessons are learned.
My second follow-up question is about the building stability overseas strategy, or BSOS, which is well-developed. I would not be surprised if that had not been applied to Mali, because, as the Minister explained, we have not had a high profile in that country. Is there some sense of a stabilisation strategy among ourselves, France and the European Union, of which this training mission forms an integrated and planned part?
Mr Lidington: On the first point, I reiterate that those values are an integral part of all EU training missions. My hon. Friend will understand that, given current circumstances, there will be a wish to ensure that the military effectiveness of the Malian forces is top of the list; that is not to say that the matters that he has mentioned are at all unimportant.
We made clear both to Captain Sanogo and President Traoré via EU ambassadors and the British ambassador that we cannot live with a situation where there would be more military coups. We think that the military should stick to the military issues and the President should get on to a political track towards elections. We have made clear that were Mali to degenerate into a sequence of further military coups or further military intervention in the political process, there would be a danger of the international community withdrawing its support. The Malians see, particularly after recent events, that they have a clear incentive to work in the way that we are advocating.
I will take advice on the point about BSOS and perhaps return to it later in the debate. I agree completely with my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham that a military response is only a part of the answer. If Mali is to recover its integrity as a state, there will need to be a political track by which the authorities in Bamako reach out successfully to the many people and their leaders in northern Mali who are not extremists.
After all, this part of Africa was where what westerners would describe as a moderate form of Sufi Islam had been the norm for many years. One of the tragedies with what has happened in northern Mali is that those people in Timbuktu and elsewhere are now being persecuted through the imposition of a violent and extremist sharia regime.
Will the Minister give us some idea of the level of training that will be given? When I say “basic”, I do not mean the basics of infantry training as such. Is it done with equipment? Is it equipment that the Malian army have? Is it equipment that they are not sure of? I ask that question to clarify whether it is not just training that we are giving them, but equipment, which I would support. Will the training be specific to our own forces, or will it be done alongside the French army? If so, how will that work?
I welcome the fact that there is a 3,000-strong African force, of whom 900 are committed by Nigeria. With so many armies coming together as one, who will have overall command? Will the training be alongside the Nigerian or the 3,000-strong African commitment?
My last question—Mr Williams, I know that you have been generous and I appreciate it—has to do with humanitarian issues. The Minister mentioned that 400,000 people have been displaced or made homeless as a result of what has taken place. The nature of a conflict zone is that sometimes, someone who has a specific task—training, in this instance—may find that humanitarian issues overtake that. Will the training forces be able or be expected to be involved with humanitarian efforts?
Mr Lidington: Perhaps I will take those questions in reverse order. The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s last question is no; the training mission’s mandate is training, so we would not expect them to become involved in humanitarian work. Our humanitarian work is undertaken through assistance to establish reputable non-governmental organisations and through the United Nations, the International Red Cross and so on.
The UK has a good record. From 2012 onwards, we have committed £73 million in a mixture of multilateral and bilateral assistance to the Sahel region, including Mali, via non-governmental organisations. We are the third biggest donor globally towards relief of the Sahel crisis, after the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany. Clearly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will want to keep matters under review and see where the needs arise in the light of the conflict there.
The European Union training mission will be completely separate from the French military deployment, which is taking part in the fighting alongside Malian armed forces at the moment. We do not yet know exactly what the make-up of the mission will be; I have mentioned numbers of perhaps up to 400 people. Member states will have to consider what mix of skills will be needed for a successful training mission and what sets of skills will be needed for a training mission in Mali.
We are looking at a country where, in so far as people speak any European language, they are much more likely to speak French than English or German. That might point towards a large number of people in that training mission coming from francophone countries; these matters are still under discussion. We have indicated that we may be willing to make a small contribution to the training mission, but at the moment there is still uncertainty over the exact configuration that will be needed there. These matters will be discussed in Brussels over the forthcoming days.
The equipment provision will also need to be clarified by the European Union strategic planners. We think that the Malians are likely to need basic small-arms training, including maintenance. The Malians recently purchased a new shipment of weapons, including small arms and armoured vehicles. Other aspects of training that we would expect to feature in the EU’s remit would include patrolling, static guarding, vehicle maintenance and medical care, as well as how to treat prisoners properly with respect to human rights and so on, taking us back to the questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham.
Jim Shannon: The Ministry of Defence police have done a lot of work overseas. Will they have a role in this training? Again, if the Minister cannot answer the question now, I would be happy if he did so later.
Mr Lidington: At this stage, we are looking at people who could carry out military training. The hon. Gentleman will understand that that points towards a mission comprising people who themselves have military experience. I do not want to rule out the possibility of people with other experience being involved.
When we look at other European Union missions in different parts of the world, we find that, for example, in the Palestinian territories there is an EU mission specifically about police training. That is set up with a separate mandate and budget and the people deployed there have policing experience because those are the skills and experience that are relevant there. Here, I would expect the focus to be on people who have the military experience.
That the Committee takes note of Unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum dated 13 December 2012, submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, relating to a draft Council Decision amending and extending Council Decision 2010/96/CFSP on a European Union military mission to contribute to the training of Somali security forces (EUTM Somalia) and Unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum dated 18 December 2012, submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, relating to a draft Council Decision on a European Union military mission to contribute to the training of the Malian Armed Forces (EUTM Mali); and supports the Government’s intention to agree these draft decisions.—(Mr Lidington.)
I thank the Minister for his full and frank replies and all members of the Committee for their contributions. We are, of course, dealing with two separate issues—Somalia and Mali. The Mali issue has shot up the news agenda in the last few days. It is extremely important that we all take on board what the Minister said: this process was undertaken by the EU last summer, initially, and the process of training, somewhat akin perhaps to that in the Somalia mission, came before the EU Council just before Christmas. This has been the first opportunity to scrutinise both these matters; they are here before the Committee today because they happened to be dealt with at the same European Council meeting.
The mission in Somalia was commenced just over three years ago by the previous Government. I am pleased to say it has met with substantial success. To be fair to the Minister and the Government, some of the perhaps slightly embarrassing cost issues are the consequence of success and the fact that there has been progress.
The nature of the mission has inevitably changed because there has been progress and it has expanded. That is why it has become more expensive. It is important to recognise what the Minister said about a possible move to Mogadishu—something that could not have been contemplated at any stage in 2010. We should recognise that there is now an elected President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud; an appointed Prime Minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon; and an increasingly effective security policy.
However, there are still great challenges ahead, as there are in maintaining appropriate levels of scrutiny when we consider the progress that we hope will continue. It is very important that Parliament sees a successful mission, and is involved as far as possible in considering what has been effective about that mission. When things do go wrong, there must be a continual process of Government and Parliament engaging with each other. That dialogue might be frosty on occasions, but it needs to take place because it is Parliament’s and the Opposition’s job to hold the Government to account.
We have heard today that there will be an increased cost for the mission as it goes forward, but I want to make it absolutely clear that the Opposition fully support the mission and wish it well. We would like to see the European Scrutiny Committee happy about the level of scrutiny of the mission as it continues. I am very pleased to hear the Minister’s undertakings on greater involvement and keeping the Committee informed about developments as they, I hope, progress.
We are all very well aware of the dramatic steps that have taken place in Mali in the past few days, which were the subject of a Government statement in the Chamber this week. We, the Opposition, reiterate our support for the steps taken by the Government thus far in support of our French allies. We wish the Minister well in his discussions with our allies tomorrow.
I stress again the importance of distinguishing between the two separate missions. As the Minister—to be fair to him—conceded, at this very early stage there are questions that need to be ironed out in order to set out the process, particularly for the military mission undertaken in the last few days. There is, of course, a formal process involved in the training mission, which has been established at least since last summer. We are much more familiar with the processes involved in the European Union training mission and the type of capacity-building mission that we hope will now take place in Mali. However, that capacity building must now be seen in the context of the current military intervention.
We need to be clear at this stage about what interaction there will be with this military action; I believe that fighting is taking place between French forces and other forces in northern Mali as we speak. We need to be clear about what interaction will take place, and how the European Union mission will be affected by that. Very importantly, how will information be transmitted from the French mission to the European Union mission?
The Minister has been very clear today, but it would be helpful if the Government differentiated in the public consciousness—not always easy to do—the distinction between the two missions. Following the meeting he will have later this week, perhaps the Minister could also formally clarify the chain of command for each process and each operation. Will he make it clear how he intends to keep the House and the European Scrutiny Committee informed about progress, particularly that of the European Union mission? Will he inform the House generally about the military action that is at present taking place?
I am sure that the Government will do what I have mentioned. We are very grateful that they made a statement on Monday concerning the issue. I also mention one further point concerning the British individuals who will be involved in training the European Union mission; I am not clear at present how many there will be. If the Minister does not have that information to hand, he can write to me.
I am grateful to the Minister for his contribution today. We support the progress being made in Somalia and the steps being taken in Mali, both the EU mission and the military action taking place at the moment. We hope that the Government will convey that to our allies when the Minister meets them to try to iron out those difficult issues concerning responsibility in chains of command that need to be addressed.
Mr Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. First, I pay tribute to the Minister for setting out the context for the scrutiny of these matters, which in the case of Mali turns out to be considerably more topical than envisaged.
For reasons that will become obvious, I shall confine my remarks to Mali and its context within the broader Sahel. In October, the Prime Minister asked me to be his envoy and UK special representative to the Sahel. That in itself demonstrated political will and imperative on his part and that of the UK Government. The area was showing all the signs of instability and insecurity, posing a real threat to the peoples locally and regionally. It was in danger of becoming a nursery bed from which international threats could emerge.
That early indication of concern was based on an impressive shared analysis by ourselves, other western states, international institutions, Mali and other regional countries in Africa. The situation changed enormously last year when there was a coup in Mali, which had been regarded for some time as one of the more stable countries and somewhere that was politically attuned to the norms of democratic engagement and accountability under the rule of law. That change has led to a series of events and a sharpening of focus.
When I was asked to be the Prime Minister’s envoy to the Sahel, the first question on most people’s lips was, “What is it?” let alone, “Where is it?” Very few people are familiar with that part of the world. As was rightly pointed out, the UK has not had a traditional strength of understanding or connection. However, that can
The UK Government, through the Department for International Development, have been rightly and heavily engaged in recognising that we should match our deep commitment to the most vulnerable and poor of the world to where the greatest needs are. The Sahel encompasses northern Nigeria, of which we have considerable knowledge and where we have considerable interests and engagement. Technically, Ghana is not part of the Sahel, but it is a close neighbour. Small parts of Gambia and of Senegal are also encompassed. Those are areas on the fringes where we have an interest. However, let us be clear that in the north the region encompasses the southern part of Libya and part of southern Algeria and also Mauritania. It is easy to recognise that this matter touches on interests affecting us all and the UK in particular. We have a clear interest.
When considering the EU training mission we have to understand its context, even before recent events in Mali. It represents a long-standing commitment to try to help to increase the capacity of a fragile and weak state to be able to resist the increasing threats to, and to restore, its territorial integrity. Those threats had come about partly because of long-standing grievances; one could even say that there was ungoverned space in northern Mali—an area with a deep history of not feeling a strong connection to the south of Mali, where its capital, Bamako, is located. Anyone who has studied the map will recognise that Mali is an extraordinarily-shaped country. Its borders are drawn up in sand; they are very long and porous, and not easy to police. The northern part of Mali is a sort of trapezoidal shape; it is more or less desert, is sparsely populated and lies north of the Niger river, on which sit both Timbuktu and Gao—cities that have been, more or less, in the hands of groups rebelling against the transitional civilian Government in Bamako or, previously, the short-lived military Government.
That is the context in which we have to consider the EU training mission to Mali. I welcome the opportunity to air and debate the mission; it is absolutely right and proper that we do that. One thing the hon. Member for Wrexham, who speaks for the Opposition, was keen to emphasise is the need for greater opportunity for broader communication so that people can have a greater understanding. That would enable us to draw a distinction between past events and more immediate ones—those, in strict terms, are a French Government response to a request by the interim transitional civilian Government of Mali to come to their aid to resist the southwards advance of terrorist and non-terrorist violent elements seeking to press towards their capital and to suppress their nation.
As well as that immediate response, there has also been a much longer-term track, including the EUTM proposals. Also, the international community has come
The first response, of course, tends to be to look to the local army: the Malian army has to be the first instrument that is capable of resisting those pressures. In addition to the advance southwards—which is being dealt with by the French, with our support as a prime ally—there has been broader international concern as to what would give the Malian civilian Government, albeit an interim Government, the capacity, incentive, motivation and chance not only to push for a political track that will allow democratic accountability and engagement to take root for all the people of Mali and get back to a form of elections that have legitimacy because they encompass a sufficient number of people, but at the same time to push back the encroachment on their country by hostile and violent forces.
That is where the EU training mission has been so central, as a complementary, supportive element. It would not be worth me taking up the Committee’s time by rehearsing what the Minister has outlined as being explicitly a non-combat role—one that is, effectively, intended to help to increase the capacity that the Malian Government need. That is even more important now that it has ever been.
All the time, I think about that need, whether it is to do with the enormous, overall long-term need for stability, food security and the chance for the people to live lives that are possible, never mind fulfilled, or recognising that there needs to be a strong adherence to the principles of human rights and proper dignity for human beings. That is why this training is so important, because, in part, the capacity building is to give the opportunity to exercise control of the country’s integrity, but not at the expense of human rights. Training becomes ever more important to help to achieve that.
The Minister rightly highlighted the important role of those who will be contributing troops to the area. They will need training; it is not going to be instant. There is a time lag between the immediate actions and the longer-term capacity building and training, which will take time and which, as the hon. Member for Wrexham highlighted, need to be distinguished from those immediate actions. That will enable the African-led force, envisaged and authorised under UN resolution
It is absolutely right to be clear that, had the French not taken their recent action, we would have been in grave danger of witnessing the dysfunction and collapse of a Government in Bamako and of the Malian army. From the Kati barracks or wherever, Captain Sanogo led the coup in March 2012 in frustration that there was not sufficient impetus to reverse the gains that had been made in northern Mali against the interests of the Government in the south. Effectively, the Government and the army were in danger of not actually being there for people to support. That is why the timing became more important. Hence, the topicality of today’s debate.
Given the time that I have spent flying to all those countries and making visits, not least to Algeria, it may be helpful to say, as the Minister rightly pointed out, that we must not consider this as just an ECOWAS-centric or Nigeria-centric matter because, from our point of view, there is also the balance of all the interests that come from the north. We are dealing with many ethnicities, cultures and traditions in the area, which are complex and difficult.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border that growing our ability to get sufficient, close information is important. Rather as with him in another part of the world, it is exceptional that I happened to travel right across those parts of west Africa, the Sahara and the Sahel; there are real terrain issues that have to be understood. I welcome the airing of the matter in this timely debate because the training mission is important: whether it be the UN, the AFISMA African-led force or the EU training mission to the Malian army, in all respects what we are dealing with in the north of Mali is deeply desertified. It is very difficult territory to work in, consisting mainly of shifting dunes.
Years ago, when I was using Foreign Legion maps, the dunes were not in the same place as they were on the maps, even though it was only a few years since they had been drawn up. It is important to recognise how difficult this area is; it is not like the central part of the Sahara, with its corrugated crusts that can be driven over easily, and it is not like the Hoggar or Air massif, which, while difficult to get around, can be tackled on wheels and tracks. This is an area where wheels and tracks are very difficult and where expertise in desert activities is absolutely critical.
The EU training mission is right in both its intent and design. It happens to be totally topical, complementary and important, and it is good that the burden is being shared across member states in this way. I wish the Minister well in the discussions that will happen tomorrow. He will be reinforced by the endorsement and support of the House, given through this scrutiny process.
Kelvin Hopkins: It was a great pleasure to listen to the hon. Member for Eddisbury, with his greatly detailed in-depth knowledge of the situation faced by Mali and the surrounding countries. What he said was an education for us all.
It is right that the European Scrutiny Committee raises these issues and refers them for debate—in the case of Mali, that turned out to be prescient—but Mali
In Somalia, the victory is not yet complete, but al-Shabaab has been driven back. According to media reports, Mogadishu has returned to normal, and life is continuing without fear and violence. That is good. Al-Shabaab is still not beaten, and it is causing difficulties for the Kenyans. Nevertheless, the situation is much better. I have a number of Somalians in my constituency, and I am sure they feel happier about the situation in their country.
Mali is very different situation. I defer to the wisdom of the hon. Member for Eddisbury, my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham and the Minister, but it is right to raise doubts. Some people have doubts about such interventions, some of which have gone horribly wrong in the past. I am old enough to remember the American advisers, as they were called, in Vietnam, who led to a dreadful war. Thank goodness that is long in the past. Some situations do not end quickly. In Mali, fighting the insurgents—the terrorists, Islamists or whatever—has already proved to be more difficult than was first thought. They are stronger, better armed and more likely to fight hard than was first thought and they are not going to fall over easily. It is worrying.
I asked several questions in my opening statement on behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee. Is the rest of the EU solidly behind this France-driven enterprise? We will find out how strong the support is after the Minister’s meeting tomorrow. Yesterday, the high representative of the EU, Catherine Ashton, gave a statement of strong support for the French initiative in Mali. If all EU member states strongly support the intervention, the situation will be more comfortable for France than it is at the moment. It would not worry me if interventions of this kind have to be bilateral or multilateral, rather than going through the European Union. Having countries definitely commit to bilateral or multilateral arrangements is better than dragging them reluctantly through international organisations such as the EU into things with which are not happy. We have to hope that there will be unity in the EU on this matter.
How solid is the commitment to the shaky Malian Government? How strong are that Government? They arose as a result of a military coup. The hon. Member for Eddisbury will know better than most of us how strong they are and how determined they are to pursue this war—if one can call it that—to retake and reunite their country. One hopes that that is the case. In countries of this kind there are sometimes divisions, and one would not expect quite the same kind of unity as there is in a country like our own. Hopefully, that will not be a concern.
The US, again for legal reasons, cannot participate, but it was obviously very strongly supportive of the French intervention, and Britain is playing its part.
I do not necessarily have doubts myself, but it is right that someone should say that there are doubts in some minds. Hon. Members who have doubts about this intervention have talked to me privately today in the Chamber. They are worried about the kind of things that can go wrong and whether we are getting into something that will turn out to be a quagmire from which we cannot escape. That is always a worry.
However, Somalia is good news and, after years of difficulty—it was a failed state—it is looking more like a state again. One would hope that all states that get into that situation can emerge and re-establish themselves as effective, and hopefully, in time, democratic, observing human rights and being all the things we would like them to be.
With those few words, I shall conclude, but I hope that raising those issues was appropriate, especially at this time.
Martin Horwood: I will be reasonably brief, not least because many hon. Members have made many of the points that I wanted to make, particularly the hon. Member for Eddisbury. I pay tribute to him for his contribution today and for his record as a Minister at DFID, which did some enormously important work. Although we do not have great experience in Mali, it includes supporting projects such as the Living Earth Foundation and its work on health and water around Timbuktu and surrounding districts—a project that has obviously now been unfortunately disrupted. That kind of work in trying to address some of the problems of the populations in northern Mali is very important.
One point that I would make in relation to Mali—it is perhaps an instructive contrast with the situation in Somalia—is that, as well as these training missions and military interventions, it is important that we have an integrated, long-term strategy for stabilisation that brings together different players and understands the complexity of the different groups. The hon. Member for Eddisbury again pointed out that there are a variety of groups in the north. We have not only the former Gaddafi loyalists who have been attempting to be reintegrated into the army, but the MNLA and Ansar Dine. This is led by someone who is indeed very charismatic and, it is fair to say, has probably adopted the Islamist agenda almost as an opportunistic approach, having failed to gain leadership of the MNLA.
To regard this as just one homogenous group of al-Qaeda type Islamists is very simplistic. A bit of subtlety in negotiating skills needs to be applied to the situation in Mali and needs to be integrated with a long-term strategy to address the genuine grievances of the Tuareg population in the north.
The contrast is with Somalia, where we have a well-integrated approach. The EU mission—not just the mission in Somalia itself, but the naval mission Atalanta in the African ocean—is integrated with the UN approach, with the African Union’s approach and AMISOM and with the progress being made politically in Somalia itself. It is right to talk about the election of the new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in September, which is a positive step forward, and to note the comments by his chief of Somali defence forces, General Dini. He said that they would never have recovered control of
That kind of integration and joined-up thinking needs to be applied to Mali as well. It is a very unstable situation now, but we need to look to the future and the kind of thinking that went behind the Building Stability Overseas strategy, which the hon. Member for Eddisbury and others championed in DFID, and which has joined up with the FCO and the MOD as well. If we can encourage that kind of development in Mali, it would be very positive indeed.
Mr Lidington: I am grateful to all hon. Members who have spoken, particularly the hon. Member for Wrexham for his expression of support on behalf of the Opposition for these two missions. I agree with what both he and others have said, that Somalia is an example of success. The success is very far from complete. However, when we think back to what Somalia was like only a few years ago, to be in the position today when we can contemplate deploying a training mission in Mogadishu, when we are considering the timing of reopening a British embassy in Mogadishu and when both my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development have been able to visit Mogadishu in the past year or so, that is a measure of how far we have come.
The debate today has obviously focused most on Mali because of the immediate crisis that the country faces. I repeat again for the record that the training mission is both distinct from the French-led military initiative now taking place, and is also strictly limited in its remit, its duration and its budget. Any change to any of those three elements would require a separate decision to be taken at EU level and be subject to scrutiny here.
I take seriously the points that have been made about the need for Parliament to be kept informed. In addition to my commitments on Somalia, I undertake to explain to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), the Minister with responsibility for Africa, the importance that members of the Committee and other hon. Members ascribe to being kept up to date with developments in Mali. I shall do whatever I can to ensure that the FCO plays its appropriate part in making sure that that takes place.
I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury for his speech. It is clear that he brings to such discussions a depth of understanding, which is welcome. I know that it has influenced considerably the thinking of senior Ministers and officials, and it adds greatly to the understanding of Members of Parliament of what is going on in the Sahel.
The hon. Member for Luton North need feel no sense of shyness at having posed some searching questions and expressed doubts and uncertainties on behalf of several Members of the House of Commons. It is right that members of the European Scrutiny Committee do that. It is part of holding the Government to account and enabling Ministers to explain why we have taken decisions in the way that we have.
The Malian Government are certainly weak, but they know that their very survival and the survival of Mali as a functioning state are now at stake. That is why they were so concerned that France should come urgently to their assistance. I agree completely with my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham that a military strategy is not enough. There needs to be a concerted international political strategy to stabilise Mali and to encourage the Malian authorities to reach out to non-terrorist groups throughout their territory, particularly including the north of Mali. We welcome the initiatives that several neighbouring states, particularly Burkina Faso, have taken in that respect, but my hon. Friend was right to highlight the importance of that work and the need for urgency and energy to be injected into those processes.
I am looking forward to tomorrow’s Foreign Affairs Council meeting, and I shall report the outcome to the House as soon as possible. Again, I am grateful for the support of members of the Committee today, and I hope that they will feel able to approve the motion before them.
That the Committee takes note of Unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum dated 13
December 2012, submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, relating to a draft Council Decision amending and extending Council Decision 2010/96/CFSP on a European Union military mission to contribute to the training of Somali security forces (EUTM Somalia) and Unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum dated 18 December 2012, submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, relating to a draft Council Decision on a European Union military mission to contribute to the training of the Malian Armed Forces (EUTM Mali); and support the Government’s intention to agree these draft decisions.