Defence Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 413

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Defence Committee

on Tuesday 26 June 2012

Members present:

Mr James Arbuthnot (Chair)

John Glen

Mr Dai Havard

Mrs Madeleine Moon

Penny Mordaunt

Bob Stewart

Ms Gisela Stuart


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Robert Fox, Defence Correspondent, Evening Standard and Francis Tusa, Defence Journalist, Defence Analysis, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Welcome, both of you, to this meeting on Afghanistan. Although you have both appeared before the Committee-at the very least for informal briefings, and I suspect for formal evidence sessions too-I would be grateful if you introduced yourselves for the sake of the record.

Robert Fox: I am Robert Fox, Defence Correspondent of the London Evening Standard, but I am also an Associate Fellow of the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s. I have just been invited to join the new Strategic Studies department at Exeter as an Honorary Fellow.

Francis Tusa: I am Francis Tusa, editor of the newsletter Defence Analysis, an independent defence journal. I am present before the Committee specifically because I have written pretty much the only open-source material on withdrawal costs from Afghanistan and some of the key issues that not will face but are facing logistics plans today, which are becoming more and more crucial by the day.

Q2 Chair: Thank you both very much. This is a question to both of you. How effective would you say current operations by UK forces are in Helmand?

Robert Fox: Within their limitations, they are effective because they benefit from the very high force ratios that they had with the arrival of the US marine corps two or three years ago. But I would stress that the aims must be very limited indeed. Largely, if you are looking for effect, it is within the lozenge, the food zone. Roughly, that lozenge embraces Gereshk to the north, and not much further north of Gereshk, Lashkar Gah, the rich river valley opposite-Nawa, and places like that, particularly Marja, are a bit more difficult-and Garmsir in the south.

A lot of marginal land is being cultivated that is beyond the security envelope, I would say, of US-UK forces and even the ANSF. I think there is now a very clear distinction that there is poppy cultivation going on without control, largely predicated on fuelling the insurgency.

Q3 Chair: We will come to the poppy issues in a moment or two. Are you saying that this operation ought to be limited to that lozenge, or that it is limited to that lozenge?

Robert Fox: I think the answer to both might well prove to be yes, because I think this is where it went wrong in 2006. As you may remember, on the invitation of the governor of the day, when Brigadier Ed Butler was COMBRITFOR-rather, he was commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, so he was not technically COMBRITFOR, which was Charlie Naggs-they went up to Musa Qala, Now Zad and places way to the north, because that is where a security interest was divined by the Government. That was a brutal introduction for the British to the mosaic of tribal politics, which appears at all levels.

Going back to the achievement, yes, there is commerce and tremendous activity. There have been gains in education, as we hear about and I have witnessed, particularly in places like Gereshk and, above all, Lashkar Gah. But I fear that, unless you could guarantee such a heavy security presence, those gains may prove fragile; they are reversible.

Francis Tusa: I would only add that, certainly when the US marines came into the theatre and British forces were able to concentrate on a far more compact portion of ground, the effectiveness went up. Yes, there are areas where maybe it is difficult to say that life goes on as normal, but certainly from experience there were routes in and out of the green zone regarded as far less dangerous-a few of them, even benign.

Tactics change, but I know of no one who believes that in many, if any, places, there has been an irreversible change in the security situation. As another observation, any time a force says, "Yes, we will be here, but only until the following time and after that we are gone", you have pretty much played some of your trumps into the hands of your opponents.

Q4 Chair: Is the implication of what you are saying that there ought to be more ISAF personnel there; or are you saying that there could never be enough ISAF personnel to achieve a wider effect?

Francis Tusa: If you unfortunately had to go back to stage 1, there should have been more straight off. Enough people have written about the fact that in 2001, NATO, ISAF, US-led forces went in and very quickly, after a victory, forgot about Afghanistan to move on to Iraq. That would have been the time to start flooding the place with forces-to have the surge before the surge was talked about.

Unfortunately, I suspect that once you have pretty much everyone heading for the door in 2014, it is too late. For something like this, unfortunately, unless you say that you are there for as long at it will take, then you have pretty much lost your main cards to your opponents.

Q5 Chair: You have also abandoned the pressure on the Afghan Government to become a more effective governmental force. What do you think about that argument?

Francis Tusa: If you stay for ever?

Q6 Chair: If you say we will stay for as long as it takes, you are abandoning-

Francis Tusa: Perhaps we are facing the wonderful dichotomy that democracies are rarely able to look beyond a four or five-year democratic turn, but some of these wars will take far longer to conceive and fight. Perhaps if we went back to some of the campaigns from the 19th century and the so-called little wars, then they were taking decades. Perversely, of course, so did Northern Ireland.

Perhaps we have a change in view that democracies are not willing to send their troops overseas for limitless periods of time. In which case, there is something that needs to be learned and considered for future operations.

Robert Fox: I have a slightly different take on that, but you probably do not want to-

Chair: No, I do.

Robert Fox: I think you have to go back to Phases 1 and 2. We have gone through four phases of this war so far, if you prefer a journalist’s to historiographic shorthand. We are into Phase 5, which is the withdrawal. Phase 2 came on very quickly, I think at the moment when President Karzai was informed by British and American envoys that there was going to be draw-down in February 2002 and they were heading off to Iraq. Interlocutors, people who know him well-not British and American necessarily-said that he had never forgiven us for that. That is why I said at a meeting of RUSI that there was almost an element that, in terms of control from Washington and London, he had gone rogue. He was going to do his own thing and it was about Karzai’s survival.

Where I disagree with my colleague here is that I do not think it could ever have been done by kinetic means. We were looking at the wrong spectrum and this has been a continuing weakness and proclivity. Probably unwisely, there was great praise-and I lavished praise-on the COIN concept as developed by Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus, but it was far too kinetic and still is. It cannot deliver the kind of governance that we dreamed of and laid down at the Bonn conference at the end of 2001.

This is a generational game. It is quite clear that in the areas that I have visited, the greatest qualitative success is happening-and last year, I visited Afghanistan more extensively than I have visited the territory before in 23 years-where the direct input of the ISAF military and of the western, that is European/US/NGO, presence is lightest. The most astonishing example of that is Bamiyan province. It is a particular case, I grant you, but what is notable is how light the footprint was and how they had got on and done it themselves.

Q7 Mrs Moon: What do you think the ISAF forces’ priorities are at the moment? Are they looking towards the exit, to consolidate or to make a sudden burst of progress? Where is the focus? What is the orientation that the forces are taking at the moment?

Robert Fox: ISAF is far more variegated-a much bigger mosaic than is generally appreciated. We are very Helmand-centric, and the British media have been, to a fault. The Americans have, on the whole, been better, but on the whole the really good reporters, correspondents and colleagues-Dexter Filkins, Carlotta Gall; you know them all-have tended to get the best information when there has been an American footprint. It is fascinating to go to areas where they are not there.

What people do not realise is that it has been very thin indeed, particularly in areas in the north and east. In the east, a very dramatic war has been going on, involving the Americans and local forces. But if you go to astonishingly dramatic provinces in terms of their physical aspect, such as Nangarhar-in either Nangarhar or Nuristan, the security presence of Afghan police in the whole province is only 120. This is the thing that is so difficult.

To draw back to your question about the main aim and object, you get aims and objects when you go to ISAF headquarters-they are to get out and get out as well as possible. It is the draw-down time. To corroborate that, it is well worth looking at the literature. Each of these American regimes has its own court and court chronicler-Bob Woodward for George W. Bush.

Have a look at the David E. Sanger book, "Confront and Conceal", which is not nearly as well written as Woodward’s. It was finished about four or five weeks ago and it is quite clear that Afghanistan is not priority No. 1 for the region. That colours the whole of ISAF. Priority No.1 is, as you would have heard from my colleague and friend Ahmed Rashid, the potential implosion of Pakistan. That is the focus now.

This is the thing that in various discussions in think-tanks in this capital we do not appreciate enough-we are following an American lead. The American priorities are shifting all the time. They are following the Holbrooke script now; although long gone, his presence looms over this. It is AfPak, but in fact PakAf is the main emphasis. That is where you are going to see the action. It is very interesting that where things are really tough for the Americans-places in the east such as Kunar province and around it, where the cross-border incidents have taken place-they are looking for a score draw at best, and to get out. It is a war that they know they cannot win. They are facing a very difficult enemy because it is so complex.

Q8 Mrs Moon: Those are ISAF’s priorities, but what are the ANSF’s priorities?

Robert Fox: The ANSF priority is to get as much training as they possibly can. There are two things about the ANSF. They are now just over 340,000, but nobody believes for a minute that that number could be sustained on the funding that is likely to be available after 2014. The big question with the ANSF-I am sorry to be circular-where we go back to Phase 1 of this war, is whether that force can stay together or whether it is going to break up into its constituent parts.

I know that we hear a lot of, "This is a national army. Oh yes, there is a slight excess of Tajik, particularly, Uzbek and, to a certain extent, Hazara officers and NCOs." That is quite marked because the real question you have to ask again and again is whether you are recruiting and retaining southern Pashtuns. The disproportionate element among the Pashtuns are the northern Pashtuns.

I shall throw this parting shot in. Part of the problem is that Phase 1 was seen as a Tajik victory. This is the bit that never got through in the general media narrative, particularly in this country. When John Simpson liberated Kabul and walked in there, he could not have got it more wrong or more right. He was liberating it for Tajiks. The Tajik presence thereafter, from November through, in the capital has been resented, and is resented to this day. The allies were saluting the great hero, the Lion of the Panjshir, Ahmad Shah Massoud. No. Interpreting for the first British battalion in 2 Para, a former colonel of the old Nadjibullah air force knew me and said, "I really resent this, and a lot of my family resent this. The Pashtuns in this capital resent this element."

I am just putting this down as a marker: I think we are not home and dry with the ANSF. I think there are potential troubles and we are beginning to see them with the rising number of green on blue, the detachment and defections, and some excellent reportage that I have here of collusion between mountain ANSF and local Taliban. It is a big issue and the thing that security will sink or swim on. It is still a very open question.

Q9 Mrs Moon: Is there anyone who can hold it together? Is there anyone in particular you can see?

Robert Fox: I think you will get plenty of candidates, which has always happened. In my experience that happened in Nadjibullah’s time. One of them is still the same person, one General Dostam, the Uzbek in the north. He has got his fingers in the oil pool in the north, as you probably know. I think it is bound to become a regional army; by that I mean a federated army. That is the best you could possibly do.

I can see somebody such as General Wardak or his like making a bid for power, because the situation after Karzai is still open. The ANSF is going to be a very difficult tiger to ride, particularly when you come to the local levies, which are strong: not only the ANP but the ALP-the Afghan local police-because they are not flaky drug dealers; they have been doing a hell of a lot of the communal ethnic fighting in the north.

Francis Tusa: I have just a few thoughts on the emphases and stresses of ISAF. The closer you get to 2014 and the end of the combat operations, I suspect it will be very difficult for any ground commander of any nationality to go up the chain of command and say, "Look, sir, one last push." The view will be, "Not worth it". You would have to come up with an amazing justification for another big push with lots of helicopters and so forth. The closer you get to 2014, even though it may not be written down as an order, the answer will be, "Keep it quiet."

We have already seen handing over of districts to Afghan forces quicker than perhaps might have been the case. That is part of trying to get the footprint smaller and more manageable for the draw-down phase. It is difficult to see anyone of any nationality as a commander getting even a pseudo-surge inside Afghanistan moving huge forces into one area, because someone will say, "Great. So you have a two-week concentration of force here. Then they go back to where they came from. What happens next?"

Funnily enough, I suspect there will be a politically induced reduction in major kinetic combat operations, though you will still see troops and forces continuing to patrol. After 2014, the word is that troops will not be doing anything other than mentoring. There may be the odd British unit there for overwatch. Actually, a point that can come up with withdrawal is that there will be British forces well beyond 2014 in other roles. That is one of the concerns about that period. The draw-down withdrawal is at one level the most difficult operation that will be faced, and one that, at a political level, is not being considered particularly important.

Chair: Again, we will come to that in due course.

Q10 Mr Havard: I do not disagree with a lot of what you said. There is also a background timetable, isn’t there? The idea that ISAF and others were trying to shape Afghanistan-I mean, we have got to this position where it is the Afghan plan and the Afghans ought to be shaping Afghanistan. Their declarations are that they want the whole of the transition, in terms of the military lead, to have taken place by the middle of next year. So, come this time next year, it won’t be the case that the ISAF forces will be making the decisions about whether to have an extra push. These tactical and strategic questions about how to deploy forces have already passed dramatically into the hands of the Afghans. The decision-making process about what ISAF would like to do takes on a different complexion, in terms of what they are able to do and the legitimacy of what they are able to do.

Francis Tusa: But then, perhaps the area in which ISAF will have an influence, even if the de facto political and military decision making has gone, is that, while a lot of Afghan units are capable of undertaking their own combat operations at battalion level or just above, one area where they are generally regarded as not having particularly good capabilities yet, if ever, is logistics and support, especially medical. It is the biggest concern of a lot of British commanders whom I have spoken to.

When we have a joint British-Afghan operation and one of our people gets injured, of course we send out the MERT helicopter to pick them up. At the moment, they pick up the Afghans as well, bring them back to Bastion and give them the same treatment. The problem is that we are now in a stand-off position, in the last couple of years of presence there. In theory, we are meant to be taking the stabilisers off the bike and letting the Afghans stand on their own two feet, but if we are still taking our guys out of combat in the best-equipped helicopters with medical treatment and leaving the Afghans to go in a pickup truck and wait three or four days for medical treatment, there is a serious moral concern.

The ISAF influence is on support operations. I have heard no one suggest, apart from very small pockets, that the Afghan security forces have enough of a helicopter force, for example, to be able to support major operations. Here and there, there are some small units. They will be dependent on that sort of support-fixed wing combat air support and so on-from ISAF until the very last day. If that was held back from an Afghan security force push which ISAF did not want to take part in-I will leave Robert to discuss what it would do politically, but I suspect that it would have a great influence on the military outcome of such an operation.

Q11 Mr Havard: Yes, but they are not going to make the decision to actually have the push. If the Afghans decide that they want to take on an area, or they want to take on my old mate General Dostum, that will be for them to decide. Then you are in a support role, are you not?

Robert Fox: I agree. I think the real difficulty is that ISAF cannot take a political lead now. That is part of the problem. Because we are in an election year already in the United States, the criticism is that McChrystal, Petraeus and to a certain extent Mattis grabbed the steering wheel, because there was no strategy and no strategic policy when Obama came in, and they ran it.

I endorse what Francis said. The thing that it is difficult to go into, for obvious reasons, although we should, is covert operations, the special forces. Famously, when they took out Osama bin Laden with a SEAL team, it was one of 14 raids that night, and they like to say, beating their chests, that some operations were more complex than that. This has a tremendous legacy. It was part of the McChrystal/Petraeus COIN policy of concept of operations. Really, it has absolutely sod all to do with COIN. What they aimed to do was write down the middle level of command. I say to the Committee that I think that legacy still endures. They are still talking about body counts and numbers of middle-level commanders. The average age of a young commander in Kandahar or Oruzgan has gone down from mid-30s to late-20s to mid-20s.

This is very worrying. It is not a policy. It is not a way of securing a community. Despite Afghans being involved in this, being consulted and saying, "We would like to do this particular raid," ISAF is still in the driving seat, and we have to work out what that legacy will mean. On certain information that I have from highly trusted sources, it went very badly wrong on a number of occasions. When they got the body count on people taken out, on at least three occasions they were actually taking out parties of young Afghan Taliban who were coming in to negotiate.

It is a very worrying aspect of the campaign concept, but I agree with Francis. I think the watchword is caution and force protection. I think the great example is filling the gap left last year when the Americans pulled out and the Danes pulled south to Gereshk and the Upper Gereshk valley leading up to Sangin, where they could patrol the highway but nothing of the hinterland.

Q12 Ms Stuart: I want to follow up on what Francis Tusa said about medical back-up. I declare an interest: the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine is in my constituency. What should we do to avoid the very thing you describe as being a problem?

Francis Tusa: The feeling is, funnily enough, boosting the amount of training of Afghan medics. One of the problems they were told last year was you could train a lot of them up to very high standards, and there was a tendency for them to go to Kabul, or to go to the Gulf, because they could then earn much more money as a fully qualified medic there. Training them, mentoring-whether there has been enough done on that: I think people would say probably not.

There are issues, then, of supply of equipment. Some of the greatest advances from Afghanistan specifically have been in medical treatment-new bandages, clotting agents, tourniquets and so forth. It needs to be ensured that the Afghans have full supplies, and access to these, way beyond the time of any significant ISAF presence-funded. Are they getting supplies of these at the moment? In a lot of cases, yes; in other cases, no. It is going to be very patchy, depending on exactly which part of the country it is. Is there a co-ordinated plan? Almost certainly not.

Q13 Penny Mordaunt: I have a couple of questions for Mr Fox. In an article that you wrote in February this year, you said that home-made bombs are the scourge of the 21st century. My first question is: how well do you think the MoD is dealing with such devices? Secondly, you also mention the development of sticky bombs. My second question is, really: how do you think that IEDs will develop in the future?

Chair: You may not want to answer all of that question, but answer as much of it as possible.

Robert Fox: I’ll give the subbed down version. I think that was from a meeting with General Barbero. It was hardly attended by the media here. It was very interesting. He spoke at the RUSI land warfare conference. He was a most interesting man, and this is a command with a $2 billion budget, which looks at these things. This was him talking to me.

I was really becoming aware of the sticky bombs. The sticky bombs are magnetic bombs-clunk, under a car. They have been used to take out two of the Iranian nuclear scientists. They are absolutely the curse of the 21st century. You can get three, possibly four pretty good IEDs, big ones, that will blow up big vehicles, with the gear you need, for about $100. For $100 you can blow up four half-a-million dollar vehicles. That is the maths of it.

I think the MoD is doing its best. I am particularly struck-and it’s counter-intuitive-with the motivation of our young men and women in doing this. The other day I was at the dining in and dining out dinner for the Corps of the Royal Engineers. I would like to talk about the Royal Engineers, because they are the good deed in a naughty world. They have done absolutely brilliantly in Afghanistan as a corps, in different ways-completely unsung, probably because of the MoD’s crass media and public relations policy.

They were the young troop commanders: a very high percentage of women-30% to 40% were women. They were graduates; they had done their troop commanders course. Over half were going to do bomb disposal, which means IEDs, and they were absolutely up for it. So the personnel are very willing, and the science is there.

We know we haven’t got the money to throw at it that the States do. We do work very closely with them. We are absolutely aware of what this is all about. I must say, in terms of operational security, speaking against my own trade, it was significant that there was no other hack-journalist-at the Barbero briefing. Nobody seeks him out. He gave me his card. It is all there. Actually, mostly when they go out there and somebody is blown up-boom-they write tosh about it.

Francis Tusa: I would just put in place as well, one problem about IEDs is people sometimes believe-and you see this in the press-that there are technical solutions. The first IED of the modern era, as it were-and actually they go back to the IRA using them in culvert bombs in the 1960s and 1970s-the one that brought it back into focus was an Israeli Merkava tank taken out in the west bank by the better part of 1,000 lb or 1,200 lb of explosive dug into a bank. The tank was blown the better part of 100 metres, in bits. That is why, unfortunately, it is, yes, the scourge of the 21st century.

If you use enough explosive, and then use it cleverly, there is nothing that will provide a perfect defence, and the best we can do-and this is the sort of level we are at, at the moment-is vehicles where the probability of surviving an explosion is high. The vehicle will be destroyed, but enough systems cause the crews to walk out, and I have seen that on two occasions. So the vehicle becomes entirely disposable, which perhaps goes against the grain with some armed forces, especially when you have mechanics whose entire job is keeping vehicles on the road. They do not like it when they see things back in ruins. I would also put some words forward for the Royal Logistic Corps, which provides the majority of the counter-IED.

The point to make between all of them is that we are potentially seeing, under Future Force 2020, significant reductions in so-called "non-teeth" arm units. For anyone who goes out to Afghanistan, you will be hard-pressed to say who is in a teeth role and who is not. You have REME mechanics out on the front line dragging bomb-damaged vehicles out under fire. I wish the words "forward area", "rear area", "teeth arm", and "sport arm" were basically binned. You look at somewhere like Afghanistan, and very few people are living the life of Riley-let’s put it that way. A lot of people are in a lot of danger, in a lot of areas, wearing a lot of different cap badges.

Q14 John Glen: Mr Fox, may I turn back to the issue of the counter-narcotics strategy? You wrote a piece in April this year, speculating about a bumper crop of opium. Could you comment on how effective you think that counter-narcotics strategy is? Spraying the crops of opium has been suggested; how effective do you think that would be?

Robert Fox: I don’t know where we are with spraying. It is a favoured technique of the Russians. We have a Russian in charge of the UNODC, and it is worrying.

Stop press-of course, it has been a lousy harvest, because rather like two or three years ago when we had a blight, there has been insect infestation and yields have plummeted in some areas. That is not entirely good news, particularly for the farming communities. It accelerates aggressively the debt cycle-the people who cannot pay their debts, and most of the farmers are in debt before they have harvested. They and their families are in bond. You have the usual sensational stuff, and I blush to say that I have contributed to it, that girls and wives are traded, and so on.

Without exaggerating, the enduring part of the Afghan economy, when the aid and war economies are taken away-if they do go away after 2014-is the narco economy. Looking at the statistics, there is a hard yield of between 5,200 and 6,000 cubic tonnes of, I think, wet opium, a year and it supplies-I mean, what are numbers?-over 90% of the world’s heroin ingestion. Despite the good intentions, not least by the Government of the UK at the time in Bonn, we have made very little difference. The kaleidoscope has shaken around a bit. People like Governor Mangal in Helmand seem very serious about it. Karzai says very serious things. The Iranians get very serious, as do the Russians and the Pakistanis, because-I have noticed this myself since 1989-the signs of indigenous addiction are getting very worrying indeed. The trouble with addiction is that most statistics are meaningless, because you get them through clinician’s reports.

I went to one of the few working rehabilitation clinics in Lashkar Gah last summer and talked to the doctor, who had worked in the Gulf in this. He thought it was a fair estimate that about 100,000 out of 800,000-I know the population of Helmand is bigger, but that is the productive population in the lozenge-are crippled by drug addiction. Some 25% of them are women, who are inhaling it, and often their infants are inhaling it from them. That has not changed.

Really serious people like the amazing MP from Takhar, Habiba Danish, who has visited this country on several occasions, are really worried about it. She and her colleagues think it is getting out of control. It is very bad in prisons. It is not static-that’s what I am saying. It is moving. You have the rock-hard statistics: 350,000 families-not individuals, but families-are dependent on the industry, and I do not see that changing much in the next few years. By the way, the Foreign Office hates me saying this. It always criticises my articles.

Q15 John Glen: Why do think that is?

Robert Fox: It told me once that they were too accurate. It is worrying. The Russians, from a security point of view, are very concerned about the deleterious effect it is having on the northern borders. I know it doesn’t adjoin as such, but they see a collapse of Kyrgyzstan and, potentially, Tajikistan, and it is having a heck of an effect on indigenous consumption in their cities, with Moscow in the lead.

Q16 Chair: Do they advise spraying?

Robert Fox: They have advised spraying. This is the new thing-the softly-softly approach, gentle eradication. There has been eradication-Mangal is serious about this and supplying the wheat-but this is a whole subset and an area that should almost be explored in a separate meeting. The problem with alternative production is, first, wheat is not a substitute crop and, secondly, a lot of the revenue and the hidden funding has gone into the insurgency. That is why I disagree with the IISS report on drugs. It focused on drugs in Afghanistan and missed the absolute key point. You cannot look at the narco economy unless you look at land tenure and how the mafia-type clans-they are very prominent and very well known; some are even Karzai’s relations-deal with land and manipulate it and the drug production that goes with it.

The three linking networks are the syndicates, the producers and the middlemen. The producers earn absolutely nothing. It is the middlemen, the land barons and, of course, the security and transportation people who earn a tremendous amount of value added, not only from transportation, but from good old extortion as well.

Q17 Bob Stewart: This question is for both of you, but I would like to start with you, Francis. Could we look at security forces and their training? Let’s take three branches. Let’s start with the Afghan national army, then the special forces, which are trained separately, and then the police. As a Committee, we have heard, as brigades have come back, how fantastically well these guys are doing, but I question that they are doing so brilliantly and that their leadership is fantastic. I am putting that presumption to you. What is your view of how well they are doing?

Francis Tusa: To go back to and expand on the comments made earlier, it will be a curate’s egg, good in places. Some units in and around Kandahar and Helmand have been doing independent operations and very basic information, saying to the NATO-ISAF forces, "I’m off to do this." They will be doing their own operations, although I wouldn’t say happily, and are regarded as being incredibly capable.

Yes, we still have issues on logistics and support. Medical is still very much dependent on ISAF. On other areas, I think you’ll find people shaking their heads. Certainly, on a visit over there last year, the view was, probably, if we had our time again, we would have invested more in the training of Afghan national security forces earlier. It wasn’t necessarily that they paid lip service to it but just didn’t put the resources in. We have seen a substantial increase in the number of people trained at all levels of training.

You could say that as soon as you have a hard withdrawal phase of, "We are out by 2014," this suddenly becomes a vital issue. Some areas were regarded as perhaps even more patchy at the time of the visit and, subsequently, with the police, although in certain parts of Helmand where there was strong leadership-you might dare call them warlords or whatever-the police were regarded as being incredibly capable. People believed that it was on an upward trend, but I didn’t hear anyone say that that was an upward trend from a particularly happy place. Again, very patchy.

Q18 Bob Stewart: Looking, Robert, at how they are equipped as some kind of check, they always look to me as though they have second-rate equipment, by comparison with us. Because they have second-rate equipment, one might assume that they have second-rate training and that they are second-rate.

Francis Tusa: Just to come back on that one, this has an impact on the withdrawal issue, because I know that planners would love basically to hand off most of the kit in Afghanistan to the Afghan security forces. If you went to the Afghan brigade camp just to the north-west of Camp Bastion-it is pretty much adjoining-there is an equipment park that has the better part of $300 million to $400 million dollars of absolutely brand spanking new US mine-protected vehicles and trucks. It is a complete army’s worth. That has been replicated across Afghanistan. No one was quite sure whether the US were putting in $8 billion or $14 billion to equip the Afghan national forces, but the answer was a lot of money.

The strange thing was that in a lot of cases, when you spoke to the Afghans and the troops themselves, faced with the choice between some incredibly high-tech mine protected vehicles or just going out in a pick-up truck, they far preferred going out in the pick-up truck because they understood it. If one of those very expensive mine-protected vehicles broke down-British forces had trouble in the early introduction of the Husky vehicles, because they are very computer-controlled, and there were a lot of problems in the early days-the Afghans were just taking one look at it and saying, "Nope, thank you very much." At least when your Ford pick-up truck-that is pretty much the standard-breaks down, they know exactly how to mend it. Strangely, even though it had absolutely no mine protection and the ballistic protection of tissue paper, they had all these vehicles they could draw on and in most cases they preferred to use those commercial vehicles.

Q19 Bob Stewart: Can I finish by going back to the macro question and asking you, Robert, how good the training is? What is your assessment of the training?

Robert Fox: I think it is much too brief. I have been shown endless demonstrations, and I have even been out to field exercises just north of Kabul. The Afghans are very willing and they are very well programmed to say, "I want to fight for my country," but even the 60 hours or so of literacy does not get you terribly far. On the question of vehicle maintenance, look at the number of dead tractors you see around even in an agriculturally productive area. The land is fertile around the Helmand river, although all the rest is desert. Mechanical skills are very low in Afghanistan, and basic mechanical schools are needed enormously.

I want to go back to your first question that you asked me about special forces. It is not so accessible, but I think we have had tremendous benefit from the layering of our special forces. It is the mentoring of the second level of what was 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment and is now the Special Forces Support Group. They have achieved a great deal, because you get highly motivated young men-I am talking about British men-who learn enough of the language to be able to communicate with their squads. It is what we should have seen in the football match against Italy the other day; they are squad players, and they are young men having the time of their lives. We have to ask ourselves the serious point about force 333 and 444-the so-called Tigers-is how they are going to fit in with hierarchical, structural, village shura society, because that is going to be very difficult. The police are going to be a continuing difficulty, because despite the claim to have an Afghan national police force, large parts of the police force attain to local power structures and local power politics, some of which are extremely difficult to discern. That is why I agree with you. I think the equipment is basic. Actually, it is a third-world army, and we are trying to pretend it is a second-world army-the sort of thing at the top end that actually the Soviets did very well with the Najibullah air force and some of the armoured units. They hung on, as we know, for three years against the mujaheddin in those days.

Qualitatively, we are faced with the same problems. We are not asking ourselves the blood questions enough. Where are their loyalties going to lie? I think they can forget our training overnight. I am very struck by how much we large up how important it is that we are giving them literacy and a bit of civics. It is really too thin. Taking Francis’s point, if you look at the time scale, if we think we are going to produce an army in three and a half years, which is what we are trying to pretend, given what goes on in that part of the world and given the friable and fragile loyalties, it is going to be a big ask. I am not saying that it is impossible, or that it is defeat already, but there are some very big questions, which are not in public debate now because the great spotlight has moved on.

Q20 Chair: Can we talk about transition to ANSF control? What about Helmand and Lashkar Gah? How has it gone and what do you think the obstacles to transition are elsewhere? What do you think the time scales are?

Robert Fox: We have had the time scale. I am led to believe that, despite the public pronouncements, we are going to step down from major combat offensive operations from the middle of next year, with a draw-down by a little over a year later, by the late summer of 2014. I think that is extremely difficult. In terms of Lashkar Gah, which you have asked me about, I think a lot of people will run for the Gulf. There is a young businessman’s association, which is extremely effective, run by a chap who runs the first independent commercial cotton gin. It employs about a seventh of what the Government cotton gin employs. I would put it at probably three or four times as much. He said: "I keep my fortune on me", and he showed me his belt. "I don’t believe in banks. As soon I see the security crumbling, I know that myself and my colleagues are just going to run for it". Which is sad, because there have been incredible efforts to bring in business education and literacy.

You get a certain aspirant teenager or early 20-something-women as well as men-who say: "I want to make sure that I can read and write really well. I want accounts, I want English and IT". This is very important and, again, I think we have been really very weak in reporting it. In most villages, with most headmen-and the older generation will be literate, in that they can read a document-very few people, if any at all, know how to keep a simple account. Even in places where we have been putting a lot of effort in, like Nad Ali, they do not know the basic elements of book-keeping. Hence the whole thing of corruption. You go and ask for the subsidy for what you can get and so on. We are coming from an extraordinarily low base. To answer your question, I think the time scale is too short and there is a great awareness of this. We know why it is and they are going to get on with it.

Francis Tusa: My understanding from last year and early this year is that, from a British point of view, there will be a progressive and accelerating handover of districts to ANSF: basically, everything pulling back to Camp Bastion and/or the north of the Helmand river for over-watch of the Afghan National Security Forces. From there, a draw-down, withdrawal, redisposition will be conducted along many of the routes. Looking at the advance statement made about six weeks ago on forces for Operation Herrick, kicking off in October this year, I found it interesting that the size of forces did not seem to have come down. They can change at any stage, they can stand down units as and when, but the planning figures still seem to be right up-9,500-and there is no sign of the first of the battle groups being cut off. So, on that basis, unless something happens as deroulement takes place, you would be anticipating that the next Herrick will still have the same number of troops. In which case, you would be looking at April next year when you start seeing the first of the reduced Herrick deployments.

Q21 Mr Havard: I think that is right. The transition is happening and there is a common language about what "transition" means. That is happening on the ground there. Can I come back to what has been said earlier? In Afghanistan from the start there was the ISAF mission and the parallel CT mission Operation Enduring Freedom. At some point or another, these changed after McChrystal and Co. Ostensibly, a large part of the CT operation was merged in, but a counter-terrorism operation still ran and is running-this is the Afghanistan-Pakistan border question. So the transition is going to take place as described but, at the same time, this counter-terrorism operation that you, Robert, referred to-the Holbrooke mission and all of that stuff-is going to continue. What is your assessment of what should happen in relation to those two things together? Because there are special forces being deployed to involve themselves in the counter-terrorism, to defend itself against terrorism in the future-how do you see these things, the one influencing the other?

Robert Fox: I agree with you. I think that CT is going to take the lead now. I think that there is a lot being undeclared, and for very obvious reasons, if we can be quite blunt about it. These things are said in Sanger’s book and the Peter Bergen book on killing bin Laden. That is part of the real-action narrative for Barack Obama. You know, that we have had a success-in both books, though Sanger is more cautious than Bergen, with more of a sense that we have destroyed al-Qaeda in the region, which we absolutely have not at all. I have talked to people who were very willing to talk to me-special organised crime officers who are particularly good on this area-and you have to look at it organically. If you take what has happened in the area that we have described, particularly in the east, or what happened to poor Linda Norgrove, when she was killed, new elements have been entering in. What has been different is that the al-Qaeda focus, particularly because of the relationship between Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, has largely been Arab-based, but it is absolutely clear that the recrudescent or resurgent is not so Arab-based, and it is particularly so in that slew of the east, going right up into the Stans. There do seem to be exchanges, with Chechens, and a lot of Uzbeks and minority people, but these are very hard characters, and they will live off that kind of chaos. Rashid suspects it is happening and fears it is going to happen. It is particularly important for this country because there are discrete connections and, although it seems to be moving very actively in a particular region, it is global and of course it is attached to the Kashmir cause as well. But to draw in, Mr Havard, to say that al-Qaeda has been defeated, which has been a populist American narrative-I am talking about in the populist media there-just does not bear scrutiny at all.

Q22 Mr Havard: The transition is pretty well set out. As Francis said, everyone is expecting that this is the linear process that is now going to happen-nothing in Afghanistan is binary-job No. 1. Our politicians and others say that transition is all supposed to be conditions-based, but what happens when transition falls back, possibly, because of these interactions?

Robert Fox: Whoever goes to the White House after November-whoever is sworn in in January-will be facing a very large CT campaign in the region, to answer your question yes. It is not something that they can take the foot off the accelerator, because it is discretely connected with equivalent hot spots-not only the Caucasuses-such as al-Shabaab which we are now seeing in central, northern sub-Saharan Africa, so yes they do have links, and we are talking about an acknowledged training ground.

Q23 Mr Havard: If transition goes and ISAF transition happens-

Robert Fox: The Americans will keep 20,000 troops, and most of them will be-

Q24 Mr Havard: What do you see that being? Do you see that being a new mission?

Robert Fox: No, I think the king is dead, long live the king-the CT mission will continue.

Q25 Mrs Moon: Can we look at the withdrawal of ISAF forces? I would like you both to look at this, but may I start with you, Mr Tusa, having read your excellent article? It was somewhat depressing, however, I have to say. What do you think that the practical problems are going to be? How are they going to be exacerbated by the current difficulties with Pakistan? Are those difficulties surmountable? Are there other routes that we can find? Are there negotiations that we can have with the Pakistanis? Tell us your thoughts on those.

Francis Tusa: I will start by saying that there are people sitting at desks at Camp Bastion with the permanent joint logistics headquarters today who will continue to update and write the plans for the draw-down, withdrawal or whatever you want to call it. The real worry is whenever any question about what happens to equipment from Afghanistan gets asked in the House, the answer always come back that those decisions have not yet been made. One of the problems was accurate as of January this year: if you were just to rely on the airlift that the UK could reasonably call upon and you assumed everything else was benign, and we could move stuff from out bases to Camp Bastion with no obstruction, it would still take the best part of three complete years to draw all the equipment. Forget the people; the people would be extra. Three complete years to withdraw the equipment we have in Afghanistan.

That is also assuming we would burn a lot of ammunition in place, try to sell off a lot of equipment and throw a lot of it away. Three years to complete. There is an idea that it is a simple operation and one about which we can say, "Don’t worry, it will all happen." I was struck and very worried when you had the Secretary of State saying, very off-hand, "It will be about £100 million to withdraw." Much like the costs for Operation Ellamy, that seems to fly in the face of reality.

Bear in mind that Operation Brockdale, the draw-down from Kuwait, which was conducted in an entirely benign environment-anyone who had been hostile to us was quite happy to watch us go, most of the equipment had already been withdrawn, we had a secure base in Kuwait, basically a free port, all within 100-120 kilometres of where we were drawing down-cost a minimum of £170 million.

For Operation Brockdale there were slightly fewer than 4,000 containers of equipment left. At the moment there are at least 12,000, possibly 16,000 in Afghanistan and it is going up daily. Almost every day more equipment is going to theatre; there is certainly more equipment going in than coming out. There are at least 3,500 vehicles. For Brockdale there were about 500, a lot of which were things like civilian Land Rovers, which they were able to sell.

This is an immense issue to solve and is not something that can be wished away. Two years ago, you would have found people, especially with the Army, saying, "Don’t worry. We’ll be able to get rid of all our new vehicles we bought for Afghanistan, leave them in Afghanistan, and then we can come back to Britain and buy new ones." That is certainly not the case now.

None of that answers a particular problem, which is that the equipment we have been using in Afghanistan has been trashed. It has been used to the limits of capabilities. I refer you back to a parliamentary written answer from last week on Viking and the regeneration of the Viking amphibious all-terrain vehicle, where the answer from the Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology was that they are still working out how much it is going to cost to reset that capability. The stresses and strains those vehicles were put under, just with the amount of equipment, armour and extra things, have caused structural fatigue. It is not just the Viking fleet that has happened to; it is every fleet of vehicles.

The particular answer for Viking was, "We’ll work out how much this will cost." The money will be found in the so-called £8 billion headroom-as if. That is going to be the same answer given for every single other vehicle fleet: "We’ll find the money somewhere." When I first looked at the potential costs of regeneration capabilities, on an assumption that about 75% of the vehicles we had in Afghanistan in 2010 would be brought home and regenerated, I came to figures that I then passed in front of the relevant two stars, and it was about £1.5 billion to £2 billion. One of them said that he wasn’t sure whether to be more worried that the figures I had come up with were very similar to a paper that had been on his desk only two days previously, or that I had been able to reverse engineer them from what was in public. Those were certainly the regeneration figures: at least £1.5 billion. It is not in the budget; it is not in PR12, the balanced budget. That money is coming from somewhere else.

One of the real worries is that again we have not really looked after our equipment as well, ever since the start of operations in Afghanistan and then Iraq, and now the heavier phase of Afghanistan. If you look at the sums of money the United States army and marine corps spend on annual maintenance of their kit, they range from six to 12 times more per vehicle for year. They probably gold-plate their support, but it does mean that their equipment is in a much better situation.

To go back to the other point you made about getting out of Afghanistan, at the moment one of the problems is that at least 85% of all the equipment, stores and stock are flown in. It is the most expensive way by a factor of four or five. Do we want to reverse that and fly 85% back? No. It will cost at least £400 million to £500 million, if not £600 million, if we do it that way. That is a long way away from "about £100 million".

The problem is a question that I cannot get any serious answer to. We have had praise that we have opened great agreements with the Stans that they will let us use bases for the northern line of communication, the NLOC. You fly, almost certainly, to a base somewhere in a Stan. You then trans-ship on to a spur of the Trans-Siberian railway. You get all the way to Riga, where one of the MoD’s ro-ro ships picks it up and drops it off at Marchwood-if they haven’t already sold Marchwood, which is of course another issue.

The problem that I cannot get an answer to is this. To date, Russia has always said it will not allow warlike equipment to be moved through its country or its airspace. I am led to believe that that still stands. In that case, you might be able to move all your stuff into Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan or whatever, but if all the vehicles and other warlike equipment then cannot go on the nice train to Riga, you will still have to fly it all back, and it is going to be incredibly expensive.

Coming back to the first point about how long it would take to move by air, unless we start moving stuff back today and seriously start thinning out-Herrick 14, the permanent joint logistics headquarters, was the first one to start actively managing getting stuff back. They were very pleased in one six-month period to have been able to move about 120 containers of stuff back to the UK, but let us come back to the fact that there are 12,000 to 14,000 or 15,000 containers. With 120 over four months, you are barely scratching at the problem.

An example given by a one-star at Permanent Joint Headquarters was that in the last rotation of Herrick, they moved about 7,000 extra containers of kit out to Afghanistan. They did not move 7,000 containers back from Afghanistan at the same time. The air bridge is working great at getting stuff out there. The problem is that the imperative is always to get stuff out there. You can understand it: "Hi, we’ve got new armour for the vehicles." "Get it out to Afghanistan." That is the priority.

People would love to start using the air bridge back as efficiently as possible, but at the moment, it is not happening. Equipment is piling up at Camp Bastion. It is piling up in some of the forward operating bases. Efforts are being made to manage it, but perversely, as the so-called combat troops reduce in number in 2013 and into 2014, there may have to be a logistics surge of up to 1,000 people to help clear up all the stuff-unless, by the way, we just want to abandon the better part of £6 billion of stock. That is the last audited figure I have from the logisticians. If we want to just abandon £6 billion of equipment in Afghanistan, fine, but I suspect this Committee might have something to say about that in two to three years’ time.

This is why some of the original calculations and assumptions made about the withdrawal from Afghanistan-one was that we would be able to sell off or gift all our vehicles to the Afghans. If you saw the equipment that the Afghan kandak had in the camp next to Camp Bastion, why on earth they would want our tatty, second-hand, knackered equipment, without any of the sexy counter-ID stuff? I fail to see why they would want our equipment.

As for selling things off, we will have an opportunity to sell things off. Without a doubt, there will be white vehicles, air conditioning units and televisions. I have no doubt we will be able to sell those. Are these things the bulk of the problem? No, they are not. This is tinkering around the edges. The real problem is vehicles, the equipment that goes with them, the tentage that makes up the expeditionary campaign infrastructure and so forth. The logisticians at Camp Bastion today will have a pretty good figure, not even plus or minus 5%, about what there is in country.

The problem is that I get the very firm impression that every time they try to tell people a long way up the chain of command, "You’ve got to start now or else," they are told one of two things. Either it is, "Oh, Afghanistan is yesterday’s war. We’re now concerned with contingent operations," or it is, "Stop bothering me with these boring facts." That is literally the attitude. One comparison heard from a logistician about three months ago was that they had had to use scare tactics. They showed a picture of what was actually the beach at Dunkirk the day after Operation Dynamo ended, and said "If you want Camp Bastion to look like that, you are on the right path, because we will just have to destroy everything in place."

It is depressing and frightening. Operation Brockdale started from scratch and was run on a shoestring. No one, not least those involved, would claim it was perfect, but it achieved what was demanded. One of those things was that it was POGO-proof of good order. "What was left in Iraq and Kuwait? Did you bring it home? If you did not bring it home, what did you do with it?" They are actually still finishing the accounts for Iraq, to work out who got what and pass it on to whoever else, but they were able to provide a degree of assurance, so that the NAO, from what it has seen, has said, "That’s not bad."

The question is: will someone authorise a physical reverse supply chain move, getting stuff out of Afghanistan now, so that when we get to the really difficult bit, when there are potentially just two battle groups left and the circle is being drawn in, you do not want to be left with warehouses just full of kit. As I say, the risk is that it literally gets destroyed in place.

Q26 Mrs Moon: Mr Fox, do you want to add anything?

Robert Fox: I think the prospects of opening up the routes through Pakistan in the way that they were before are slim, but you have to remember that between 40% and 60% of all the revenue to the Afghan state comes through the Torkham gate, known to us as the Khyber pass. It is a big revenue earner, but the Pakistan army will be extremely sticky, because it has taken such a battering in public opinion, so it will not happen any time soon. I agree with Francis that it will be very difficult going through the north and the "Stans". We have been so warned by Colonel General Boris Gromov, who led the 40th shock army. I was there on the day to wave him goodbye as he crossed the bridge of peace and friendship.

I would like to add one thing to what Francis said, and I think this is core business for the Committee-not that I am here to tell you your business. It is quite clear from what Philip Hammond said the other day that they had expected, and this had been assumed, that they would leave the bulk of the vehicles behind. The FRES story comes into this-the Committee will be so familiar with the UV story, and as Francis has written very eloquently about it, the money was never there for the utility vehicle. Hammond admitted to us at a press conference that they were trying to plug the gap with a slack couple of thousand vehicles coming out of Afghanistan, although how a Mastiff, a Ridgeback or a Jackal fills the UV criteria beats me. It is a sudden swerve. Following that, it dawned on me, and I am sure it dawned on all of you, that we are going to leave behind a hell of a lot more than we are saying at the moment. I can see us leaving half that fleet behind.

Q27 Mrs Moon: Can I ask you about Camp Bastion? What will happen to it?

Francis Tusa: At the moment if things run according to plan, the hope is that, since the US Marines will have a far greater problem shifting everything out, we will try and be the ones out of the door first. We will try to sell the relevant facilities to the US Marines and other US military, and wave goodbye on the last aircraft we have out of there. Of course, that assumes that we manage to get all our ducks in a row and start our withdrawal in time, so that we finish first.

Over the past year, there has been a little jockeying in Camp Bastion, where-I exaggerate only slightly-US Marine flags have turned up on open bits of land inside Camp Bastion, which in theory is a largely British camp, simply because they wanted real estate closer to the airport, as Camp Leatherneck is on the other side. It sounds strange, for a camp that is the size of Croydon, Reading or Crawley now, that space is actually at a premium.

If you are going to be pulling back 3,000 to 4,000 vehicles in our case, and 8,000 or 9,000 in the case of the US Marines, you physically need car-parking space for that number of vehicles, so that you can process them. On that basis, Camp Bastion and Camp Leatherneck may look great from the air, but if you are looking for facilities close to runways to load things, it is problematic. It is certainly hoped that the UK would be able to sell at a reasonable price facilities in Bastion on to US forces, in much the same way that the contingency operating base at Basra was sold to the US, and they made about £25 million out of it. Whether you would be able to get that amount of money for Bastion, your guess is as good as mine. There will be people who will negotiate. I suspect that they will make some money, but it will not be the windfall-like privatisation of British Gas or anything.

Q28 Mrs Moon: On the residual capacity that we need to leave there, Bastion is the size of Reading.

Robert Fox: And it is in the middle of the desert.

Q29 Mrs Moon: It is in the middle of the desert. What will we be able to do with it if we retain it for our ongoing commitment there? How realistic is that? How much will we need to have there, both ourselves and NATO?

Francis Tusa: Thoughts are, partly look at the investment that primarily the US has put into the runway, which is a huge investment, and the facilities on the east side of the airfield. It has been suggested, if you look at the number of fighters and fighter bombers they are basing out there and the proximity to certain countries on the west side of Afghanistan, Camp Bastion in the future may have a different role from the one it has today. It may have far more relevance to US interests against Iran, than does Afghanistan. If the UK is still providing enduring support to Afghan security forces in Helmand, it is highly likely that that would be the base. There are talks of anything from one battlegroup’s-worth of troops and a battlegroup of other forces to two battlegroups left there, which would pretty much be the size of the original Camp Bastion, with helicopters to support as well. But that would be a far smaller footprint than that today, which is massive. There would of course be the issue with any of this of who would then guard the perimeter. At the moment we have been able to get other forces to do that. Would a residual rump British force and US Marine corps have to look to their own resources to do so? In which case, that would be a drain on manpower.

Robert Fox: I think we have just heard quite a rosy scenario. I do not want to throw gloom on my already gloomy parade, but a lot depends on something that we have not discussed but is very important in all of this to do with who follows Karzai. What will happen in Kabul? Will we just have a sort of rump Kabul Government, which will probably fight itself, the way it is situated at the moment? The idea that you would have an air base with the capability of strike on Iran sitting in Bastion, would be anathema to almost any Kabul Government of whatever stripe; whatever could be envisaged. I agree with you. It is looking a bit like an elephant’s child at the moment. It is an enormous facility, as you say. But I have witnessed similar things happening in Kandahar. They invested an awful lot of money, in permanent buildings around the airfield there, then they decided it was too hot to hold.

If you are going to be doing special forces operations in the area that I described, the border land to the east, probably you need to be far nearer the scene of the crime. You would probably have to be in and around Jalalabad at least, which is the main air head. But one thing that nobody is talking about in this, the other big player in the game-and we do not know how to define their intentions, because their intentions as declared at the moment are so far commercial, but also they are security, and security in terms of narco politics, as well-are the Chinese. You just look at the acquisitions they are making. It is not just Mes Aynak and the copper mine. Almost any other decent mineral-they are not getting all of them, but they are getting a lion’s share. They are getting into things in Helmand now, like rare earth elements. I think that they will have a big role in what comes in in Kabul after the Karzai clan. I think it will be very difficult for the Karzai clan to dominate things in the way that they have hitherto. I am not sure what can happen with Bastion. I would be very surprised, seeing the shape of Army 2020-such that we have seen it now-if we would keep two battalions there. I just do not see it.

Q30 Chair: Could I ask you to answer this extremely complicated and difficult question in one sentence each, please? Presumably, the difficulties that you have referred to about the withdrawal for the UK are shared on a much larger scale by the United States. Have you analysed that at all?

Francis Tusa: Absolutely, and the biggest single problem to consider is that, if everyone is heading for the door at the same time, there will be a scrabble for commercial transport assets, be they trucks from local transporters or aircraft. In that case, you end up in a bidding war with everyone trying to outbid everyone else for the same assets.

Are people trying to deconflict? Yes. I will bet you here and now that for certain assets-specifically the An-124 aircraft, the outsize aircraft-there will be a bidding war and people will end up paying two, three or four times more for a charter than they would in normal times.

Robert Fox: The problem is colossal for the United States, not least for the reasons already stated-the geopolitical landscape there-but also the political landscape. I will say one word: sequestration. They are going over the cliff in funding very soon. American commanders I talk to are very worried indeed. There is not going to be the money. The big change in the geopolitical landscape in the United States is that the gravy stops next year. Things like subvention-look at the amount of money that has been spent through CERPS and other things, which we might raise on another occasion because it is done as a model. Huge sums of money were spent in a very conflicted district like Marja. This kind of thing is not going to be available in the future. That is why the music is stopping; so much of the aid money, especially the military aid money, goes down by half.

It was very interesting at the DFID presentation the other day that the big problem was the gap in subvention. How are we going to pay for the ANSF over the next decade? The sums have not been added up yet by any manner of means. We are short by $2 billion a year at least.

Chair: Luckily, I am not very good at counting sentences.

Robert Fox: The thing is, we are over the cliff.

Q31 Ms Gisela Stuart: This follows quite neatly because I was not quite scaling it up, but I was trying to work out. Do we know what the French and Germans are going to do? Given that the French are leaving before us, they may join the bidding war. How are they dealing with the physical withdrawal of their gear?

Francis Tusa: They are going to face exactly the same problems. Most people have established bases in the United Arab Emirates, where they can take ships. Ro-ro ships take vehicles out there and then a way is found of flying them into country. Or they are flown direct. If France departs according to the Hollande time scale, they will be fortunate because they will not have the same competition for resources. They will be out of sync. If you look at what the Dutch paid with their draw-down, they were lucky that they were able to get a lot of stuff going through Pakistan, which is the cheapest route. Even if you were to assume that the Pakistanis charged $1,000 a vehicle as a sort of export licence, it would still be the cheapest route.

Germany at the moment is still on the same NATO time scale. However, you have an active northern line of communication. Since they are sitting in certain cases right next to the rail heads built by the Russians for the invasion, it will be a far simpler operation. One of the various options that the UK has for the northern line of communication is that everything comes back to Camp Bastion and is then flown to Uzbekistan or somewhere like that. Another option, which is still being discussed but is less obvious, is to hire local people to ship equipment by truck along highway 1 all the way round through Herat and so forth to the border areas. Again, it is cheaper than flying, but it is less certain, and we would not really want to trust local contractors to take MRAPs and other war-like vehicles on the back of their low-loaders, for which we would pay quite a lot.

The Germans at the moment are on the same time scale; so, in theory are the Italians. The French are getting out early, so they should be able to do it cheaper, but they will face exactly the same problems of chartering outsize aircraft. I will be very interested to see whether they physically achieve the withdrawal of all their equipment in the time scale they are talking about because they have a far less capable air transport fleet within the French air force.

Q32 Ms Stuart: The key thing is that they are not doing anything that we could be learning from. They are in denial, just as the rest of us are.

Francis Tusa: I suspect that everyone has done the same thing. Operational necessity-throw stuff into the theatre. Suddenly when you come to the draw-down, it becomes far more complicated. I was thinking about the French. They had some stuff on their MoD website about the draw-down from Libya and they were still doing things three months ago.

Q33 Chair: This is another of those really cheerful evidence sessions.

Francis Tusa: It could get worse, if you want.

Q34 Chair: No, thank you. Not at the moment, unless you feel right at the end you really want to depress us. I will move on to another set of questions, unless Mr Fox wants to say something.

Robert Fox: No, I’m fine.

Q35 Bob Stewart: Let’s be more cheerful about prospects for some sort of settlement-peace you might call it. How would you assess the situation as we withdraw, when we withdraw and immediately after we withdraw? What is going to happen?

Robert Fox: I suspect that there is going to be no grand settlement. There has been an announcement today from one of the Taliban spokesman that they are opening negotiations with the Americans again. That is the key thing. It is not what they say to Karzai’s Government. Karzai is yesterday for a lot of the Taliban leaders. We have already seen it and they were up for it much earlier on. You are going to have local deals all the way round. It is very difficult because we concentrate on the film stars such as the Haqqani syndicate-when in doubt mention the Haqqani-but there are many other elements in it. I see a capacity for local deals.

There is a curious thing with some parts of the Taliban, particularly in some of the pronouncements of Mullah Omar over the past 18 months from Quetta: they are being got on education. They realise that they cannot just say no, no, no to education, although there are appalling reports from the south-east that they are already trying to close down schools in the eastern provinces. There is some sort of realisation by some of the ex-Taliban-but in fact they are interlocutors-such as Zaeff, who was their ambassador in a sense with immunity in Kabul. Journalists beat a path to his door.

One thing they have learned is how they did not really govern. Apart from beating up people and stoning them, they did not run a Government between 1996 and 2001. They know that they are not equipped for it. That is something that has got through. I am talking particularly about the Quetta shura, which is the biggest concentration. They know that they would have to come to power in a coalition. That is the good news, but they mistrust those that are there already. It is therefore very difficult. Ahmed Rashid is very close to a lot of this. It is difficult to see what kind of settlement there will be.

I knew Staffan de Mistura very well, the previous UN High Rep. He was too diplomatic; he wanted to talk at heads of sheds level. Hence you got the opening up of the office in Qatar. I think it is what comes from below. This is going to be the big shock for the Taliban. Some literate young Pashtuns I know who have got an education are very happy to be able to go to school and be able to set up their radio station or get a business going in the bazaar, import tractors from Iran and China, or whatever. They do not want to go back to what they remember or were told about was going on in Kabul and Kandahar from 1996 on.

I know our Government do not like it-Mr Hague, Mr Hammond and the Prime Minister. When we talk of a civil war, as in so many places, it is not two sides. It is not cavaliers and roundheads. In this, I think we are very much underestimating the possibility of serious communal war. Even in the so-called heartlands such as Kandahar, there are young people now who will not accept the old order. There is a huge battle of generations literally going on at the moment, but it is unrecorded. Forget about the yellow press. You are not hearing about it from Governments. You are not hearing about it from the aid authorities-the aid philosophy is a whole game that we will not get into-which seems to have been wholly unimaginative.

It seems to me that there are some things that the Anglo-Saxons should look at, for instance what was done in terms of very focused education by the Dutch PRTs in Uruzgan, where they really got into this and got hold of it. The prospect that we find is very worrying. The word that I come back to all the time is incoherence, because we have started going down one avenue, and then we go down another. Helmand-shire from 2006 was going to be a green and pleasant land and was going to be twinned with Virginia Water. Some of the aspirations were absolutely crazy, but some very good things have been done, and there are signs of progress. We are getting out at just the time when those seeds really germinate and begin to blossom.

I would like to add one thing as a footnote. In terms of our aid, the small, seemingly gestural efforts by groups of individuals, not big organisations, have had an effect out of proportion to their cost and manpower, but they have not generally been recognised. The stabilisation advisers-practically closing down the department and building a block of flats on the site, as usual. That is what happens with the conflict resolution department. The work that individuals have done in places like Garmsir and Kanashin-the back of beyond-have had an enormous effect and a lasting impact, but none of that ends up in the audit of the big ministries, and it should, because it is supposed to be the great thing of joined-up government.

The other thing I would like to highlight-I have written a bit about it-is basic infrastructure, such as road building, ditch clearing and electricity. I do not know whether the Special Team Royal Engineers have been mentioned to you. At any time there are about 30 or 40. They are one or two individuals, boy-girl or two men going out, and they have had an enormous impact in rural Helmand. They have probably had greater lasting impact than the very expansive alternative production schemes, such as the wheat scheme that I mentioned, which at times has badly sprung a leak because it has gone to the bad guys very quickly.

Q36 Chair: The food is going to the bad guys?

Robert Fox: Yes. I have colleagues and friends who are operating it, and one was in quite some distress. He and a buddy came to see me and said, "We know that the stuff has gone straight-almost ‘Do not pass go’-to help the insurgency."

Francis Tusa: Could I deal with your question on a more tactical level? By settlement and talking about transition, will there be a peaceful collapsing of the perimeter of British forces to Bastion? I do not know anyone who is planning that. We were perhaps lucky in Iraq that we were able to negotiate enough security with whichever local groups-they were multifarious-to have a more or less benign withdrawal. I do not know anyone who is making plans for a benign withdrawal.

Q37 Bob Stewart: Robert’s scenario is that they will start positioning themselves to take over. Might they actually be worrying about their position post our withdrawal? Might groups be positioning themselves to take over and, therefore, not be so worried about us because they know we are going, so we might get away with it?

Robert Fox: Very quickly on that, when Boris Gromov left, Ahmad Shah Massoud-John Simpson and Sandy Gall’s friend-had to show off. He staged a huge battle involving hundreds or possibly thousands of people on both sides to kick the backside of the remnant of the 40th shock army as it came out of the Salang tunnel going up the Salang highway. There was no tactical reason to do that whatever. They were going-they were gone. There is the warrior culture, which is what worries me. It is not just that they will have to show off; they have to say, "I am a real warrior, and I will do that." I take Francis’s point; it is not going to be an easy ride.

Bob Stewart: I am going to cut it there, because I know we are pressed for time.

Francis Tusa: One extra point on that: it means that unlike Iraq, where all the heavy formations had left Iraq and Kuwait before the draw-down happened-again, I do not know anyone who has been planning a similar operation in Afghanistan-there would have to be heavier formations left as the perimeter is drawn down. That means you are then left with more heavy equipment at the end needing to be shifted out, which presents its own special logistics problem.

Q38 Bob Stewart: My final point, rather than a question, is that it just shows that withdrawal is the most difficult act of war. Withdrawal in contact will mean that we really need some skilful generals.

Robert Fox: And the passage of lines, which we are going to have to do, too.

Q39 Chair: The role of the media-

Robert Fox: Ugh!

Q40 Mrs Moon: Oh, a groan! You mentioned Ahmed Rashid a few times today. I have to say that his "Descent into Chaos" is one of the most thumbed books in my library, and "Pakistan on the Brink" is absolutely excellent. Would you both say a few words about the role of the media in conflict? How do you operate effectively; do you feel you get appropriate support from the Ministry of Defence; are they helpful or hindering? How can that situation be improved?

Francis Tusa: I will throw in just one comment and leave it to Robert, because we had a quick chat about this. I frequently find it strange, if not bizarre, that you have a lot of conversation and talk in the MoD about information operations and how they will manage the media, then I come across so few people inside the MoD who understand how the media actually operate. I think the concept is flawed from the start. This then results in some incredibly strange decisions on how things are managed. You could say that from a strategic level, if they fundamentally do not understand how the different parts of the media work, what drives them and what they need, it is always going to be rather difficult to come up with a coherent policy.

Q41 Mrs Moon: Could you also contrast their policy and operation, informing people in the UK but also their strategy for Afghanistan and talking to the Afghans?

Francis Tusa: The Afghan side I know less about, but I would come back to this one of trying to say, "Right, we are going to have information operations, here are the messages we want to get out". Great. Those may be the messages they want to get out, but are they of any relevance to a newspaper or a TV or radio station; or have they supplied the correct media to that radio station? You come across people who do not understand that the radio station will need to do voice interviews and get noises. If you are talking about television, they will need pictures. Frequently, it is, "We have done all the camera work. Do not worry, you can just use that". People then look at the film footage and say, "It is not broadcast quality". You still come across errors like that. After a decade of constant operations, these mistakes should not be made.

Combat camera teams sometimes take some amazing footage, but on a lot of other occasions I have come across, people in newspapers have had pictures come in from the MoD and say, "They are absolutely of no relevance or value to a newspaper at all". That is the problem-people who do not understand the differences between Fleet Street newspapers, local newspapers, specialist magazines, television and radio. You cannot have a single information policy. They all require different policies, and I have seen no evidence that the MoD is capable of understanding that.

Q42 Chair: Robert Fox.

Robert Fox: How long have we got?

Chair: We are down to our basic quorum now, which is a hint to the others not to leave.

Robert Fox: My story is that in a month or two I am going to be 45 years in journalism. It would be too tempting to say that the clock has gone backwards from the Falklands, but something did happen from the Falklands. They thought they could control the message. Very much as Francis said, it is one size fits all. Then there became a culture-I do not think it is particularly of one party of one particular stripe, neither Conservative nor Labour, I think both sides got involved in it-where you were following the Minister. So much of the information policy from the MoD was following what the Minister wanted, of his views and often of his political career. This has coloured things.

It would be crass and vulgar-and one is tempted to be so-to say that the MoD’s media policy on Afghanistan has been a disaster. It has not been smart enough, that is how I would prefer to put it. It has been unhelpful in explaining what we are trying to do, where and how. Yes, with the embedded policy, you have seen brave soldiers doing brave deeds, but in what context? They had great difficulty, both on the record and off the record, in saying why they were there from about 2006. I have tried, including with brigadiers and chiefs of staff, to get 40 words, which is the statutory NATO requirement for a mission statement of objectives, on "Why are we here?" I think a lot stems from that. I spent a lot of time there last year, and I was trying to nose around on development: what is going to happen? What is going on with the Afghans’ farming? Narco-politics. Child brides. You name it. Can the improving mission set down at Bonn happen, or is it happening? It is probably a more mixed story than even I have been portraying this afternoon.

What was so worrying was the management of the media operation, which, unless you are old and practically in a zimmer frame, as I am now, was almost insulting. They said, "This is not the story we would like you to write. This is not positive enough. This is not the right message." For God’s sake, once I was going to see the outstanding governor of Bamiyan, Habiba Sarabi, who has a fantastic literacy record with the Hazara people. She is everybody’s favourite cousin, aunt, or whatever, and Lyse Doucet has done some marvellous profiles of her. The FCO spokesperson was like a terrier, even in the governor’s presence, saying, "But that’s not the line we want to put out." That is an insult to intelligence, and no wonder there is an instinct, particularly in the old brigade, to metaphorically wave two fingers at them. The level of engagement is so unintelligent.

That is why I really fear what these people have done, including what they have achieved. I have mentioned the StabAds and rebuilding places to get schools really going in the back of beyond, in places like Khan Neshin. Two or three brave individuals have done as much as anybody to help. Risk goes by the board-not invented here.

I went three times through the PRT in Lashkar Gah, and I was shocked by what I found last time-I went for almost a month each time. There were five people meeting for three weeks before I arrived about what I should say and what I should be allowed to say. I discovered that because I went to look for a kidnapped boy with the commanding officer of 2 Para in February in a place called Khan Neshin, and I said, "I want to go back there." When they heard I wanted to go back, they sent three people down there for three days to see what I could see. This is bizarre, and very expensive, too.

Although I am not exactly a candidate for All Souls, I do not regard myself as totally stupid. I find the condescension of the system absolutely galling, and still do to this day. You feel like saying, "Do you really expect me to believe that?" And the people who are really good, because they are spokesmen or spokeswomen in their own cause, are the men and women in the military, and they are still naturally bloody good at it.

By contrast, I did a tour of five provinces with an American cultural team to look at cultural monuments from Herat through to Ghazni and Mes Aynak, where I went to the great copper mine. The Americans were so open, so engaging and so trading on equal terms. I was looking at stuff like the property rackets in Herat, which are the biggest single security threat there. There was no hindrance. It was, "Here is somebody you might want to talk to about it." The contrast with our own dear country and our own dear Ministry of Defence was absolutely breathtaking.

Q43 Chair: Robert Fox, you have just been speaking complete music to our ears. We feel in exactly the same position. I am thinking of having what you just said framed in gold and sent to the Secretary of State for Defence. I only hope that someone hears, reads and takes in what you have just said, because it is absolutely perfect.

Francis Tusa: As we have discussed, this attitude goes way beyond just the operations. It goes to budgets, and so on. Unfortunately, in areas like that, the MoD is frequently a stranger to anything close to the truth or accuracy, which then hinders the core MoD mission. They are spending far too much time cooking the books and they do not end up running the Ministry effectively, which applies to civil servants and the military in equal number.

Chair: Absolutely right. They seem to forget that they have friends out there who would be only too willing to help, if they were not quite so ridiculously controlled by Ministry of Defence people who are not entirely aware of what they are doing.

Ms Stuart: Far be it from me to try and defend the MoD on that point, but the Foreign Office is just as bad in many ways. They do a double act, and the only difference is that the generals wait slightly longer before they tell the politicians how stupid they were to have ever believed a word they said. Our diplomats do it the minute they leave the post, saying, "We can’t believe the politicians who came and visited us. Did you know that they believed everything we told them?"

Q44 Chair: Is there anything else that you would like to tell us?

Robert Fox: I would just like to underline the piece that I have made. It is not that I am sentimental, because you get people who are indifferent or worse than indifferent, but when you are actually doing something in the field, the blokes, the young-and not so young-men and women out there, including the best of the aid organisations, are much better in their own cause than having people who have sat around the clipboards, in a huddle for three weeks, discussing your visit. By the way, two of those people did not go out of the wire. The head of public information, the British one in the PRT, used to, under heavy armoured escort-there is no criticism of that-go to the media office of the governor once a week. That is all he saw of Lashkar Gah and Helmand. It was an absolutely Carrollian-as in Lewis Carroll-situation.

Q45 Chair: Okay. Is there anything else you would like to say? Francis Tusa, would you like to depress us a bit more?

Francis Tusa: Just to reinforce the fact that there are excellent logisticians in Afghanistan today in the entire support chain, at Permanent Joint Headquarters, and at Land Command. Royal Marines, and Navy and Air Force people are involved as well. Any problems with the withdrawal will not be as a result of any failure on their part. They are putting in a vast amount of work to quantify exactly what needs to be done. If there is going to be-I use the word-failure and we will not have proof of good order in withdrawal, it will come because the highest levels of leadership, inside the Ministry of Defence and Downing street, will not actually allow them to do their job, nor will they give them the resources.

I repeat one thing. The unpalatable point is that to achieve proof of good order, there will have to be a logistics surge; extra troops will have to be sent out to deal with this mountain of kit. However, just to repeat, the alternative to not sending out an extra 600 or 800 people will be the equivalent of going to the four big hangars that have been built on Camp Bastion, which have been populated with vast amounts of kit that have been sitting in containers, and dousing the place with petrol. If you do not send out those 600 to 800 guys and girls, you might as well set it alight, because that is the alternative. That is why it is perhaps a depressing situation.

The solutions are out there. People know exactly what needs to be done. They could tell you-offline, I can tell you some people you should speak to-tomorrow how they would do an effective draw-down in Afghanistan from today, leading to the end of 2014. The problem at the moment is that no one is allowing them to do their job. Why? As I say, unfortunately, I believe that Afghanistan now, a little like Iraq was, is yesterday’s operation. It is the forgotten operation and people do not want to be associated with it.

Robert Fox: Can I just make this point? It is the last footnote, but I think it is absolutely core business for you. We have to talk about the 2020 effect, the Force 2020 effect and the Army 2020 effect. The fact that we are going, getting out, drawing down, and we are going to be less professional is bound to have an effect. What happens in Afghanistan from now to the end of 2015 will call the bluff on two central propositions, which I know people are worried about. They are: that you can have one in three on operations from the reserves, and that we can man, train and sustain a 30,000 reserve; and, as Mr Hammond has leaked from his private office to various papers, the fact that we can cut things like the strength of the Corps of Royal Engineers and the Royal Logistic Corps almost by half, or at least 40%, and contractorise. Not so-experience already has warned us of that. Look at the problems they had with contractorisation in Basra. Damage to morale and real effect will come from that.

Q46 Mrs Moon: Can we have that enshrined in gold as well?

Chair: I am running out of gold leaf.

Robert Fox: I would say that the contractor piece is slightly more nuanced than that, because out in Afghanistan, you will not find many people who would say that contractors have failed. In a lot of cases, they have succeeded. The biggest limitations on contractors have actually been legal limits on such things as whether they can go outside the wire. I have come across field service representatives for armed equipment manufacturers who were quite happy to go out to the four operating bases to do work, but could not do it. Computer says no.

Robert Fox: That’s what happened in Basra, very badly.

Francis Tusa: Yes, but those lessons were learnt. There is room for more contractorisation, but blanket cuts in the Royal Logistic Corps and so forth would-again, there is this idea of teeth, arms and then the useless tail. Surely, if we have learnt anything from Iraq and now Afghanistan-Robert mentioned the Royal Engineers. I remember people saying even after 2003, that the days of combat bridging were gone. No one needed to put bridges across rivers. Well, if you go around Helmand, there are an awful lot of green painted bridges. I think people would probably have said that we did not need mine clearance, because that was a very cold war role. If there is any plea for Future Force 2020, it has to be balanced. Blanket talk of "Teeth, arms stay, and everyone else goes"-therein lies the path of madness.

Chair: Okay. If I may say so, thank you very much indeed. Some people on the Committee will have missed that, and I think that they will think themselves accursed that they were not here.

Robert Fox: Extremely civil of you to say so.

Chair: We have been extremely lucky to have such a fascinating, useful account. Thank you.

Prepared 8th April 2013