Defence Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 413

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Defence Committee

on Tuesday 30 October 2012

Members present:

Mr James Arbuthnot (Chair)

Mr Julian Brazier

Mr Dai Havard

Sandra Osborne

Sir Bob Russell

Bob Stewart

Ms Gisela Stuart


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Lieutenant General David Capewell, Commander Joint Forces, Brigadier Doug Chalmers, returning Commander Task Force Helmand, Dame Mariot Leslie DCMG, UK Permanent Representative to NATO and Brigadier James Stevenson, NATO Afghan National Training.

Chair: I welcome all of you to our evidence session on Afghanistan, which we are using today to look at the current state of operations there, how well the Afghan national security forces are doing, and how we will plan for withdrawal from Afghanistan. I would welcome evidence as full as you are able to give at the current state of planning, but we recognise that some of that planning may not yet be mature. Would you like to introduce yourselves, and would you like to begin, Dame Mariot?

Dame Mariot Leslie: I am Mariot Leslie, and I am the UK Permanent Representative to NATO.

Lt-Gen Capewell: I am David Capewell, the Chief of Joint Operations. I work out of the Northwood headquarters.

Brigadier Chalmers: I am Doug Chalmers, Commander, 12th Mechanized Brigade. I commanded Task Force Helmand between April and October this year.

Brigadier Stevenson: I am James Stevenson. I am currently a member at the Royal College of Defence Studies. I came out of Afghanistan about two and a half months ago, having been Deputy Commander Army within the NATO training mission in Afghanistan.

Q139 Chair: Thank you very much indeed.

Let us begin with a general question. How are things going in Helmand in terms of the level of violence? Give us a rundown of how things are going and whether you think that it will get better, stay the same or get worse. Who would like to begin?

Lt-Gen Capewell: I will start and then I should give the recent Task Force Commander the floor. My judgment is that progress is being delivered. We are increasingly seeing an Afghan security apparatus that is becoming more confident and vibrant. The levels of violence are beginning to go down. We are also seeing much more ownership by the Afghan National Security forces across the whole of Helmand. That is true also across the rest of Afghanistan. We are seeing much more independent thought by the Afghans, both in political terms in the provinces and by the security apparatus. To get a better sense of what it feels like on the ground, Doug should speak.

Q140 Chair: Before I come to Brigadier Chalmers, you say that the levels of violence are beginning to go down, Lt General Capewell. But the Ministry of Defence memorandum says, "violence levels in 2012 remain broadly similar to 2011." Of course, we saw in September the destruction of Harrier jets. Why do you say that violence levels are beginning to go down?

Lt-Gen Capewell: You are right to say that the levels of attack are broadly the same. We are beginning to see a 1% or 2% decline in the activity levels from the insurgents. This is a judgment about Helmand rather than a judgment about the rest of Afghanistan where there is more improvement.

Q141 Chair: Yes, I did ask about Helmand. You are right. Brigadier Chalmers.

Brigadier Chalmers: In the three central districts, the city of Lashkar Gah, Gereshk and a number of market towns, you are right that the level of violence has only dipped very slightly. What has changed is where that violence is taking place. There has been a significant change over time. The violence has been displaced out of the market town areas and the deeply farmed areas, more into the dasht or the desert areas outwith those areas. That has allowed Afghan local and economic confidence to grow over the summer, and that is now being secured by Afghan security forces.

Q142 Chair: So the violence hasn’t gone down, it has just moved position. Why is it better that it should be out in the more desert areas?

Brigadier Chalmers: It is away from the larger bulk of the population. We have mapped the heat-the level of incidents over the last couple of years-and the area that houses about 70% of the population is three central districts covering those cities and market towns. The violence is away from those areas, so the bulk of the population in those centres is now able to get on with the business of life and enjoy some form of economic move forward.

Q143 Chair: How much of Helmand is still under Taliban control?

Brigadier Chalmers: If you looked at a map, and looked at a geographical space, you could colour in parts of the outlying areas. If you look at the population centres, you will find that the bulk of the population now is under Government control.

Q144 Mr Havard: The memorandum that we have reflects what you have just said, but it expresses it by saying that they are not able to concentrate attacks; it is more dispersed. It is as you describe, but it is so partly because the ANSF operational design is to do this, and they are effectively driving the process that creates what you describe. It is their priority to deploy their forces in order to achieve the effect you just described. Is that right, or is it because of circumstance? Is it because it is the only thing they can do? And what happens when the lights go out? What happens at night?

Brigadier Chalmers: On the displacement, I think that is exactly right. Throughout my tour-this is different from my previous tours there-I very much worked in support of Afghan intent and Afghan priorities. They have prioritised the larger populated areas and those market towns, and that is where they are concentrating their efforts to make sure that those gains can be sustained.

At night, in the more densely populated areas, the pickets-if we can call them such-of particularly the Afghan police around the market towns remain very much in place. One of the things that has changed over the years I have been there is that when you do fly at night, the level of electricity and the sense of growth that you get is quite stark.

Lt-Gen Capewell: I look in the eyes of most of the Afghan leadership in Helmand, and I have done so for a number of years now. We are really now beginning to see a sense of ownership by that leadership-army leadership in particular-in the sense that they understand how they want the security apparatus to settle, and they know and can visualise what they see as an enduring footprint. That is their own design, which is, in my view, a very clear indication that they understand what they want to get out of their own security institutions. They understand how they want to police it and secure it, and they have a very clear understanding about where the edges of this footprint are.

Doug’s point about pushing the violence out to the edges is absolutely clear in their minds. They keep it away from the population and deal with the insurgency at the edges. I do not think that we can, at the moment, ask any more of them than that in terms of their design for operations-to use a military phrase-over the years.

Q145 Chair: What about Camp Bastion? The attack on Camp Bastion in September-was that a worrying phenomenon, or was it difficult to deal with or unexpected? How would you describe it?

Lt-Gen Capewell: I would describe it as a tactical setback. I do not know how recently you have been to Bastion, but it is a camp with a 40 km radius. It is now absolutely secure in terms of the redoubled efforts that have been put into trying to get to grips with where the gaps are. I am sure in my own mind that although the enemy got lucky on this occasion, it is no more than that. This is not a strategic threat in any sense.

Q146 Mr Brazier: If I may, I would like to shift the discussion to civilian casualties. Clearly, as you are describing, if you are moving the trouble away from the populated areas, that is progress. Presumably, the level of civilian casualties caused by ISAF must have fallen if you have moved the trouble out of the civilian areas. Has the number of casualties being caused by ISAF fallen?

Lt-Gen Capewell: I think it is generally correct. Now and again, there are mishaps with civilian casualties across the whole of Afghanistan, and it is something that we deeply regret. I know that both ISAF and Afghan forces deeply regret that. I just want to reassure the Committee that the actions that we take to ensure that this is minimised are: that our activity is consistent with the law of armed conflict; that we have very clearly displayed rules of engagement and targeting directives that really limit how this is done; and that this is taken very seriously at the highest levels in both ISAF and nationally. There is also the Afghan interest in this, because of course they are part of the mix. It is not just ISAF; the security effort now is a very clear combined-and increasingly Afghan-operation.

Q147 Mr Brazier: May I ask you an historical question about this? I should say that I was one of the MPs who frequently questioned on the Floor of the House whether the rules of engagement in Northern Ireland were too tight. It seemed to me that they were unreasonably tight. Do you think that our poor relationship in the early years with the civilian population may have been because they were too loose-using attack helicopters and so on in civilian areas? Do you not think the fact that we killed very large numbers of civilians in our early involvement, when we had the platoon houses strategy and so on, may have been part of the reason why so much of the population was against us in the beginning? It was a very different approach from the traditional British approach in other theatres.

Lt-Gen Capewell: I can only answer that with the answer I have just given. The rules of engagement in those days were no different, in broad terms, from what they are now. I do not know which incident you are referring to, so I cannot make a specific judgment about it. If you wanted a specific judgment about a specific incident, we would obviously give you written advice on that. Do I think it is the sole reason why there was a difficulty to start with? No. There is a complex tapestry of a number of reasons that resulted in the conditions at the time.

Dame Mariot Leslie: May I add to that? There are some recent statistics on that. UNAMA-the UN mission there-tracks this very closely, and the North Atlantic Council always takes an interest when we see the commander of ISAF forces, General Allen, in a video meeting once a month. I think the latest reports suggest that 80% of the civilian casualties are now being caused by the insurgents, that only something like 10% can be attributed to the ISAF plus ANSF forces-our effort-and that a further 10% are hard to account for.

Mr Brazier: Do not misunderstand me. There is no question but that we are doing extraordinarily well on it at the moment. My question related to 2006 and 2007.

Q148 Chair: Maybe that was for our previous inquiry on Afghanistan.

Dame Mariot, the fact that ISAF has not caused those civilian casualties does not stop ISAF being blamed for civilian casualties caused by the Taliban, does it? They still get blamed by the local population.

Dame Mariot Leslie: They get blamed for a level of violence sometimes, yes.

Brigadier Chalmers: There are two things I have seen a change in, having served there in previous times. As soon as there is any indication of civilian casualties, we very quickly launch a joint investigation with our Afghan peers and partners. Locally, it is particularly the IED that causes a lot of the civilian casualties, and the local population are actually pretty clear who has caused that. Although we might be indicated in creating the overall environment, the actual act that has caused the civilian casualties is pretty quickly attributed directly to the insurgents themselves.

Lt-Gen Capewell: A final remark from me on this issue is that protecting the civilian population is an absolute principle of this operation. Without that protection, this operation, in my view, would not be viable. I think that is the view of all my counterparts and Afghans as well. At the heart of this is-

Q149 Bob Stewart: General and Dame Mariot, I will start with you. The NAC decides the rules of engagement.

Chair: The NAC?

Bob Stewart: The North Atlantic Council.

Does the North Atlantic Council direct that in those rules of engagement, if there is the possibility of a civilian casualty, the engagement should not take place, or is that a judgment call given down to the commander at the level at which it is required to be made? In other words, if there is a possibility of a civilian being hurt by, say, a drone strike, it does not go ahead, or is it a judgment call made at a lower level?

Chair: You will not wish to give details of the rules of engagement.

Dame Mariot Leslie: Indeed, I will not. What I can say is that, no, the NAC has not given that sort of political guidance. The political guidance the NAC has always given is that the law of armed conflict needs to apply here as it would anywhere else, so any operation needs to be proportionate, and it needs to be necessary.

Q150 Bob Stewart: The Geneva conventions in that case direct that you should not actually engage a population where there is a possibility of civilian casualties. That is what the Geneva conventions say. The law of armed conflict says that, so I make the assumption that it is within our rules of engagement. What do you say, Brigadier?

Brigadier Chalmers: There are layers on it, but any chance of civilian or collateral damage-to use that word-is ruled out very quickly. That does alter the judgment call.

Q151 Mr Havard: You talked about investigations taking place when there are civilian casualties and so on. As I understand it, if there is an IED incident there may well be investigations of another sort, to see if there are forensics and if you can do something about apprehending people, prosecuting them and so on. Presumably the investigations that you describe form part of a broader investigation and discussion with the community about the context in which the incident happened. Is that right? If it isn’t, please explain what is right. Who is involved in that process-the Afghans, the Afghan police, civil society? Give us an insight into how one of those investigations would look.

Lt-Gen Capewell: Let me start and then Doug can give an on-the-ground sense of this. Whenever there is an incident that involves civilian casualties there is an investigation. It is jointly led with Afghans and is taken extremely seriously, to get to the truth. Of course, on some occasions it is difficult to do that because of the nature of the incident, but this is jointly delivered and it is recorded as such.

Brigadier Chalmers: The joint investigation team would be led by an officer who comes from RC Southwest, with his partner, an Afghan element from the provincial government side of it; calling in members of the Afghan security forces as required, and members of the district government as well. It goes on over a period of time. There would be an initial visit by that team to get to know the elements, they would also visit other areas in order to collect other pieces of evidence, to make their understanding whole. If necessary, they would then go back to the community if the investigation took them in that direction.

Lt-Gen Capewell: And of course these things aren’t straightforward. There are always allegations and counter-allegations. On many occasions we have found civilian casualties as a result of insurgent activity. As Mariot pointed out, that is an increasing factor. So it is difficult to judge to start with, but we are sure that the way to deliver the most clear exposition of what has happened is to do it together, with Afghans, under agreed protocols and principles.

Q152 Chair: Does the length of time it takes rather disconcert the local population who might be expecting more rapid justice?

Brigadier Chalmers: The key is to get the investigation team there quickly. That we have enabled every time. So long as the outcome is seen to be fair and they are seen to be heard, that is what matters most importantly to them.

Q153 Mr Havard: What compensatory or restitution arrangements are there? We hear stories about how other forces behave in other parts of Afghanistan. What do the Brits do?

Brigadier Chalmers: We are very much in line. There is a series of measures out there once the evidence is lined up and we go through that with our regional command as well. I do not think there is any separation between us and our American colleagues in that regard.

Q154 Mr Havard: So you pay compensation to certain people if certain damage has been done?

Brigadier Chalmers: If that is where the investigation goes.

Chair: We have been talking until now about general matters. We are now getting on to training and everything about the Afghan National Security Forces.

Q155 Ms Stuart: I particularly want to look at the transition period for a moment. Can you tell us generally about what has happened to areas where the ANSF has already taken over, and with a view as to how you see the transition to full takeover? Within that, I was struck by your phrases about the confident, vibrant look in the eye. It could just be that they know when we are going.

Lt-Gen Capewell: Of course, they do know that we are going. That has been clearly defined by a timeline at the end of 2014. That in itself in many ways is a forcing agent behind the Afghans as much as it is behind us in terms of delivering an Afghan security apparatus through the work of NTMA and other agencies. My general sense is that the areas that have transitioned have an Afghan security solution in place, which is what we started this endeavour to do, and that Afghan security solution is absolutely sensitive to local requirements, both in political terms and in governance and development terms, because it is a complex mixture. Transition is not simply about handing over; it is about making sure that the comprehensive approach is manifest on the ground in all its senses.

Transition is going according to plan. By the end of next year Afghans will be fully in charge of their security arrangements and that is a really good sign to me, because it means that our plan to deliver a substituting security force has occurred, that the Afghans are now absolutely competent to do what they want to do and we can take our hands off and disengage.

Q156 Ms Stuart: You say, "By the end of next year", so you think they will be completely ready to take over by the end of 2013?

Lt-Gen Capewell: That is the way that the transition process goes. It is not the end of the operation. You give them their security lead-Doug will fill in how that works-and then there is a moment of distance mentoring where we watch them, and this is jointly agreed, and then our redeployment becomes more consistent.

Q157 Ms Stuart: Just to be clear, you say that by 2013 you will start the process of stepping back?

Lt-Gen Capewell: We have started it.

Q158 Ms Stuart: And by 2014 we expect that they can take entire, full responsibility for their own security?

Lt-Gen Capewell: The principle behind transition is that it is inch by inch at the tactical level, so that at the very lowest level, we step back. That induces, later, a higher level of stepping back-it is like having your hands on a bicycle with stabilisers; you gently let go over time and that process comes to conclusion at the end of 2013, but I caveat that this is conditions-based. You have to make these judgments on the ground as a task force commander.

Dame Mariot Leslie: On the way the strategy is working, this transition process leading to the end of 2014 was first announced at the NATO Lisbon summit, and we took stock of it again at the Chicago summit this May. It envisaged what were originally going to be, I think, six tranches of transition; we have now agreed it should be five. We are in the middle of tranche 3. I am sorry-it was going to be five, it is now going to be four. What will happen when the final tranche comes in, in the middle of 2013, is that that will be the point at which the ANSF have the lead for security in every geographical bit of the country, but it does not mean that transition will be complete; it means that, geographically, they will have that lead responsibility, but they will still be moving district by district geographically, and also in institutional terms, through taking more and more responsibility for the type of operations that they are leading. They will still be moving through that process until they reach the end of 2014. There will be an important way station-an important milestone-in the middle of 2013, exact date yet to be defined because it will be conditions-based, but from that moment on they will be in the lead.

I can give you an example of how it is working in tranche 3, which we are in the middle of now. That tranche has started; it is well under way in Helmand, where the British forces are. There are some areas where the Afghans are now in the lead, but there are one or two areas where they have not yet taken over the lead and by the time tranche 3 is completed they will have taken over the lead. We are seeing a geographic transition, but also, as I said, an institutional one, so that gradually, as they take over control, ISAF forces are stepping back from going on joint patrol with them to merely mentoring them and then doing enabling, as they step back one stage further. The final stage will be when they do what is called sustaining them-helping to give them the resources and the wherewithal, but they will increasingly be doing it themselves.

We are seeing this also in the planning process; for instance, this year, for the first time, the overall joint operations plan, for March 2012-13, was drawn up jointly by the ANSF and ISAF with the ANSF in the lead. Down at tactical level there are a lot of places where it is the ANSF and not ISAF who are planning their tactics for that night’s or that week’s operation.

Q159 Ms Stuart: But that is the planning. Is it actually happening on the ground?

Dame Mariot Leslie: Yes.

Brigadier Chalmers: May I paint a tactical picture? If you take the district of Nad Ali, which is a good example, it went into transition in tranche 2. It was an area I had been in as a battalion commander a couple of years before. I have seen it progress over time, so I know it quite well. There were 10 precincts within that district during that period of time, and last summer, as the transition started, I re-entered it. There was then a process of transferring the security responsibility by area, according to the conditions that have just been mentioned.

Over time, we have been able to transfer responsibility across to them, and as we have done so we have reduced our footprint in those areas and taken a step back. To draw that greater colour, last summer there were five rifle companies inside the centre of the district enabling that security framework to be held together; at the end of this summer-we have now handed over full responsibility for nine of the precincts of Nad Ali-we were able to shut down more than 60% of our bases and move them out of that area and on to the fringes. What you see is very real, Afghan-led security inside the area. It can be quite frustrating, to be honest. We are no longer in the lead in those areas.

Q160 Ms Stuart: What were the major challenges that you faced in this process?

Brigadier Chalmers: Understanding Afghan intent and what matters to them, working to their timeline-the Afghans can move very quickly sometimes, and sometimes they move more slowly than us-and aligning ourselves to them. It was more of a challenge for us to get properly into the mindset of enabling their activity than a real challenge, if that makes sense.

Q161 Ms Stuart: As a matter of interest, because the troop surge strength was 352,000, where are we at the moment?

Dame Mariot Leslie: We are there.

Q162 Ms Stuart: So we have the full strength, and we are in that process. Even if you hand over completely to the ANSF, they will be saying that there are some capabilities they simply will not have. They will not have the close air support, the helicopters or the ISTAR capability. How do we assume that they can take full responsibility without that backing?

Dame Mariot Leslie: You are absolutely right. They do not have all of those now, and some of those higher end of the scale capabilities are being provided for them by ISAF. We have until the end of 2014 to gradually shift the training programme so that, increasingly, they are able to do more and more of their own enabling. The training programme is shifting more and more from general infantry skills to skills in logistics, medical evacuation, planning and some of the higher command skills, moving more and more upstream towards the NCO cadre and upwards into the higher command cadres.

Q163 Ms Stuart: Yes, but if they haven’t got the helicopters, you are not going to train them to fly, are you?

Dame Mariot Leslie: They now have some attack helicopters. I think we need to distinguish between what NATO is doing, which is the training programme, and a number of bilateral programmes, particularly the American one, working with the Afghans on equipment. Obviously, the end of 2014 is still some time away, and we will need to take stock again, but the intention is that they will have a much greater capability, in terms of both skills and equipment, to do their own enabling by then.

Brigadier Stevenson: You are quite right to highlight the Afghan air force as the element of the ANSF that presents the greatest challenge; I think that is self-evident. It is in the public domain that the Afghan air force will not be anything like developed until 2017. So we are talking about 2014 principally for ground forces, army and police, but for the air force the date that we have acknowledged is 2017. That is not to say that it will be fully developed by then, but it is to acknowledge the challenge that any nation is faced with when developing an air force.

Q164 Ms Stuart: How do we envisage that period between 2014 and 2017 being covered? Either they are not going to need it-

Brigadier Stevenson: That is still the subject of ongoing planning within NATO headquarters.

Lt-Gen Capewell: But you are right to point it out. Part of this is making sure that the effort we make now in security terms reduces the level of threat that would require that sort of sophisticated response. There is a calculus here that has a variety of pieces in it, including the development of the air force, the different local tactics that the Afghans will use-as opposed to how ISAF do their business as we disengage, as described by the transition process-and localised security solutions. All that is playing out in the period between now and 2014. As Mariot has pointed out, that is now being looked at institutionally.

Q165 Ms Stuart: Just one final question. If you say we have full strength, we are on target and the bits they have started to take over are fine and we are getting there, what keeps you awake when you think about transition at the moment, other than the pacing of the Afghan transition not being quite what it should be?

Dame Mariot Leslie: Just to correct something, we are at full strength for that 352,000. There is still a training deficit, so they have been stood up, but they are not all fully trained. There will be some attrition over time and there will need to be further recruitment. There is still a task to bring that force to full surge capacity, although the numbers are there now.

Brigadier Stevenson: From my perspective as a generator and trainer from the national end of the spectrum-Doug will be a better witness as to the effect on the ground-I merely highlight that in the early days we focused on quantity, filling the gaps and putting the quantity out into the field, and that was very Afghan-driven. We have started in earnest now to consolidate that, by which I mean introducing more technical training and, specifically, introducing collective command-level training. We bring back, for example, formation headquarters from the field, we put them through a package at the command and staff course-that plays to your initial question-which helps to consolidate and improve the ANSF’s ability to lead themselves in the field. It would not necessarily keep me awake at night, but it is an obvious challenge and the next step in developing the ANSF.

Ms Stuart: It all sounds so perfect. Everything is going just as it should.

Q166 Chair: General Capewell, does anything keep you awake at night?

Lt-Gen Capewell: Lots keep me awake at night. I can run over a range of operational issues, but in the domain of ANSF delivery what is important to me is that the momentum that we have now delivered to an Afghan system that is looking more confident and vibrant-I absolutely stand by that remark-is continued beyond 2014 in a virtuous way. We already know that the international community are determined to do that, and it is about ensuring pull-through beyond 2014 on that momentum, so that the security gains that we have made together can be consolidated, and the security gains that we have assisted the Afghan security forces in are absolutely understood so that the population are protected on the ground, and the space and governance to develop are given sufficient oxygen. That is what keeps me awake at night: delivering the promise that we have all made here to our Afghan friends and partners.

Chair: That is very positive. We will come back to that right at the end, because of the things that you have not mentioned, which we will come on to during the rest of the session.

Q167 Mr Brazier: Just as a point of history, I have just had an ex-QDG officer in my office as an intern.

Chair: QDG?

Q168 Mr Brazier: Queen’s Dragoon Guards officer. He had spent the previous couple of months flying with the Afghan air force. He said they were quite impressive except that they had to follow the roads so that they could see the street signs when it came to navigating the helicopter.

My question is for Brigadier Stevenson. I was privileged last year to host Brigadier General Shah in the House, because I happened to be the only MP who was around when he was over. I was very impressed by both his determination and his obvious intelligence. Pressing him, it became fairly clear that a high proportion of the people around him, like him, come from the northern end of the country. Are you satisfied, both in terms of language and connection with the population, that the Afghan army and police are seen by the people there as their forces, rather than occupying forces?

Brigadier Stevenson: Again, from my Kabul end of the telescope-Doug will have a view as well-I was privileged to meet Shirin Shah a few times.

Q169 Mr Brazier: Sorry, I did not hear that.

Brigadier Stevenson: I was privileged to meet Shirin Shah. He is a particularly dynamic, bullish, impressive, tactical leader. You are right to point to a slight imbalance at the moment of Tajiks from the north in the officer corps at the middle rank. They are good quality people and what we have always tried to do in the recruiting and selection of officers is include more, not so much of the Pashtun, but of the southern Pashtun specifically. There is an issue there for two reasons. First, geographically it is a little bit more difficult to prise them away from their homelands to attend training and courses thereafter in Kabul, and that is a very real issue. Secondly, they are perhaps more entrenched in their places of origin. Ethnically they are different from the others. I will let Doug continue.

Chair: We are just about to come back to this issue, in any event. We will leave that for now.

Q170 Mr Havard: I want to ask about dependencies in terms of doing some of this stuff, but can I just be clear about what you were saying? The plan is to have the security transition by the end of 2013, which can then consolidate itself. There are presidential elections in 2014, so your point about conditions-based withdrawal following that, or reaction to, and longer term agreement on status of forces, development forces, whatever, depends partly on circumstances that come from that. That, as I understand it, is the transition plan. Is that right?

Dame Mariot Leslie: There are two aspects. There is one fixed date. The international community has said-ISAF has said, NATO has said-that the current NATO mission will come to an end at the end of 2014. The pace at which transition proceeds within that end stop is conditions based. I’m afraid I muddled up my tranches. We are in the middle of 3 now. We expect 4 to be announced before the end of this year and then 5 will be the one that comes in in the middle of 2013. The exact timing, pace and speed of the implementation of those tranches will depend on conditions both at tactical and at strategic level. But that 2014 end date is fixed.

What we have also said-the NATO Chicago summit said and the North Atlantic Council has repeated since-is that NATO will run a new training, advisory and assistance operation after that. So one operation will come to an end and another one will start. That will be at a time when the Afghan Government is in full control of its own sovereignty, and the current UN Security Council resolution basis for the current ISAF operation will have come to an end. We will need a new sound legal basis for the new operation. We will need status of forces agreements for the NATO forces, and the North Atlantic Council is just engaging with the Afghan Government on what the shape of that new mission will be.

There is a mixture of conditions-based in the implementation of the current plan to the end of 2014 and then there are the beginnings of the negotiations about what the next mission will be. But, as I said, it will not be a combat mission. It will be a training, advisory and assistance mission, which is part of the very long-term commitment of the international community to Afghanistan over what is called the transformation decade, as agreed at the Tokyo summit this summer. There is going to be a mixture of what NATO is doing on, in effect, military capability building; what the international community in a much broader sense is doing for the very substantial problems of poverty, development and governance in Afghanistan; and then what individual countries like our own are doing in their bilateral programmes, which will be part of that whole approach to Afghanistan, led of course by the Afghan Government.

Q171 Mr Havard: We will doubtless want to ask questions about post-14 at some point and about how enduring and sustainable a lot of that process is.

Currently, there is a dependency. We have a dependency. ISAF has a dependency and so do the Afghans, particularly on contractors in order to get supply and matériel. On the question about how sustainable they are going to be logistically beyond 2014, some people will now say that, effectively, this is just giving money to the Taliban, because they have captured the contracting process and so on.

That is one end of the spectrum of argument; another is that the money is just going to contractors outside the country and not developing the country. So we already have a debate about where contractors play in this whole discussion. What is your view of the country’s dependencies in terms of being able to maintain its logistical supply against your plan?

Lt-Gen Capewell: Are you talking in terms of support to the Afghan National Security Council?

Mr Havard: Yes, absolutely.

Lt-Gen Capewell: Because I can only make a judgment about that. The effort that NTM-A are making-

Q172 Chair: NTM-A?

Brigadier Stevenson: It is the NATO training mission in Afghanistan.

Lt-Gen Capewell: Thank you, James. They are making an effort to absolutely isolate those constituent parts of the Afghan security apparatus that are to do with combat service support-combat support-so the rear area functions as much as the fighting echelon functions. A great deal of effort is now being placed on that in terms of the schools required to support that and the project development required to deliver it. That is being seriously addressed now as we move from transition at the front end of the Afghan fighting force through its more rear area constituency. That is a development that is now in train.

As for support to Government and wider contracts, that is well outside my remit.

Brigadier Stevenson: Certainly with effect two and a half months ago, NTM-A had really ratcheted up its effort to get ahead of two specific challenges for the Afghans. One was infrastructure management and the other was, as you say, contract management-two relatively technical and sophisticated areas that we had hitherto been doing very much on their behalf, but NTM-A is very aware of the need to get the Afghans "smart", as the Americans would say, on that. I cannot speak for what has happened in the last two and a half months, but I have no doubt at all that a lot of effort is going into that.

Q173 Mr Havard: One of the things is about leadership and their ability to have leadership. There have been some comments about what the Brits will do in terms of officer training and so on. Can you say something about where and how that leadership deficit is being addressed?

Lt-Gen Capewell: There is a range of leadership development projects. Specifically, in UK terms, you will have heard the phrase "Sandhurst in the sand". That project-the Afghan national army officer academy-is well in train, signed up to by the Prime Minister. That is emblematic of the effort that we are making in terms of junior leadership to bring this forward.

I spoke earlier about how keeping this momentum going is vital. Mariot has linked that now to the transformation decade, so there is a sense of continuity and equilibrium developing. I am confident that the investment we are making is the right thing.

Brigadier Stevenson: The international community is spending $234 million on a site in Qargha about 20 km to the west of the city centre of Kabul. It is to be known as the Afghan national defence university, a complex that will house a number of schools-one being the officer academy sponsored by this country.

There is the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, which is very much the officer training school based on the US West Point model. The command and staff college will be based there. The sergeant-major’s academy will be based there. On the basis that that is developing relatively junior to middle-ranking leadership, that is a huge investment, and it is one that certainly I was enormously encouraged by as I watched it develop. However, that will not fully be in operation until towards the end of 2013 when, as I am sure you are aware, the officer academy will take its first course.

Q174 Mr Havard: Can you say something about how the generational change process that you are describing, where younger officers come through and sustain their future forces, fits with the reconstruction and reconciliation process? There is a worry that some express about people coming back, but they are coming back with expectations and they are being put back into a process. Is there any conflict between these processes? How is that working with the present military structures developing up to 2014 and how does it affect the plans beyond?

Dame Mariot Leslie: I would just say two things. First, I think that they are different issues, actually. There is a NATO reintegration programme.

Mr Havard: That is the word I was looking for.

Dame Mariot Leslie: That tends to involve relatively junior fighters coming back: I think that the numbers are now something like 5,000, mostly in the north of the country. They tend to be people who have gone into the insurgency relatively unskilled, and they are being reabsorbed into different destinies in Afghan life-some into the security forces, but some just back into civilian life in their villages and communities. That is one programme, although I am not sure that it actually has a lot of bearing on the development of an NCO cadre and then a junior officer cadre.

The point I was going to make is that it is not something that will start only in 2013 or beyond; we are already seeing a very much more effective and confident lot of young Afghan officers. The North Atlantic Council was in Afghanistan about 10 days ago and we visited, for instance, the Special Forces training centre. Something like more than 80% of the instruction there is being done by Afghans; we have trained the trainers and they are now training other Afghans. While it is still there until the end of 2014, ISAF is steadily trying to put in place the ability of Afghan forces to sustain and regenerate themselves by giving them the skills that they will be able communicate to other people. In the training centre that we saw, that process was certainly very much under way.

Brigadier Stevenson: And this is helped enormously by the fact that internationally-in the UK we are reflecting it with the officer academy-we are very deliberately feeding western-trained Afghan officers, those who have been, for example, to West Point or Sandhurst as cadets, back into their own system. That should create this self-generation and re-generation of Afghan expertise. In that positive sense, there will be an effect, but on your first point, reintegration, I am not as sure, because I don’t know enough about it.

Brigadier Chalmers: To follow that up, I made exactly the same observation. For example, at the police training centre outside Lashkar Gah, we are seeing that the course instruction is now predominantly given by instructors allocated and designated by the MOI-Ministry of Interior-who are posted there, which is a huge change from the last couple of years. Our instructors are now staying behind.

I also think that, on the level of advisors, as you see, the academies are on their way, but in the meantime a lot of the on-the-job training and other elements are done with a lot of mentorship and advising by the teams to build up that experience base. Of course, we have been at this for quite some time, so if you look at, for example, the elements we have been at, that advice over time means you now have young officers who have been engaged for seven-plus years. They have actually been gaining a strength and experience bank over that time.

Q175 Mr Havard: May I ask you about one other area, which is health and medical care for Afghans themselves, and the sustainability of that? Currently, they are hugely dependent on health care in the country. However, in terms of future medevac capability, for example, what is going to happen with the sustainability of their ability to treat themselves, should they be engaged in future operations? The very sophisticated medical processes that we have in place are not going to be there.

Dame Mariot Leslie: Two things on that. First, as I was saying previously, that has been identified as a key enabler for the current level of fighting-we very much hope that there may not be the same level of fighting after 2014, but let us see. That is one of the areas in which we are busy training Afghans to take over more and more capabilities themselves.

Then there will be the issue of equipment, helicopters, medevac and so on. NATO is not addressing that directly, but some countries are doing so bilaterally, and I think that the question of quite where that will be by 2015, when the current ISAF force is finished, is some way down the track and will be addressed again before then. But the planning for the future NATO mission does not envisage enablers like that; it envisages training, advising and assisting.

Brigadier Stevenson: But in the meantime, we are training many Afghan medics to operate at the tactical level-at the point of wounding, if you will. That effort will continue to accelerate. I think you have touched on the valid point that, in terms of the more expensive, more ambitious enablers, clearly, planning is under way to ensure that the transition takes into account the fact that the capability will not be that of, say, the United States or the United Kingdom-that is self-evident.

Mr Havard: From our own reserve forces, and others who do medical work for Brits, we know how that process runs. I know that some regions are capable-to some degree, the Afghans are probably capable of dealing with category A casualties themselves-but it is a variable picture, so we are asking a general question.

Q176 Bob Stewart: Dame Mariot, as we are lucky enough to have you as a representative at the North Atlantic Council, you said in your evidence that there will be no combat mission after the end of 2014. Could you define "combat mission"?

Dame Mariot Leslie: I can define what it is not.

Q177 Bob Stewart: No. What I mean is, what do you, in the North Atlantic Council, suggest will not be possible after 2014? For example, on the ground mentoring of Afghan national forces, whether police or army, with one of our officers who is actually with a company commander or battalion commander. Or, more sensitive-you will probably tell me to wind my neck in, which I accept-Special Forces operations. I am worried by the definition of a "combat mission", as it can mean many things to many people and many nations, as you know in the North Atlantic Council.

Dame Mariot Leslie: The North Atlantic Council, at heads of State and Government level, said at Chicago that this would not be a combat mission-we would be doing training, advising and assisting. There may be nations who are willing to do combat alongside Afghans, but that will not be part of the NATO mission.

At the moment, NATO is building up the North Atlantic Council initiating directive-it has just been passed and accepted-which starts the planning process. There is nothing in that that is really different from what was said at Chicago, which is what I just said. It means that I expect NATO will be ready to train, advise and assist Afghan forces engaged in counter-terrorism operations, counter-narcotic operations and counter-insurgency operations, but they will not be doing that by engaging in combat themselves. They will not be going out and aggressively engaging in combat; they will be training, giving advice and giving them some enabling assistance but not giving combat support in the sense of actively participating themselves.

What that means, when you get down into much more detail, is something that needs to be defined, and that planning process is starting just now. We will be looking for a concept of operations and an operating plan and rules of engagement. But I understand that that means that we will not have NATO forces-including British forces in a NATO operation-going out on combat aggressively, under the law of armed combat, anywhere where we or anybody else has forces. Self-defence may operate if people find themselves in a dangerous situation, but that is not combat.

Q178 Chair: We heard Brigadier Chalmers say that there is a shortage of helicopters and attack aircraft in the Afghan air force. Would you count a combat helicopter as "being involved in combat"?

Dame Mariot Leslie: I think that if you have British pilots in a combat helicopter, they would be involved in combat if they were using it for combat.

Q179 Chair: So there will not be British pilots in combat helicopters after 2014?

Dame Mariot Leslie: Our Ministers have yet to take exact decisions, but it is very clear that-they have said this-they will not be engaged in combat operations in a NATO mission in Afghanistan after 2014.

Bob Stewart: The reason why we ask that, Dame Mariot, is that the Defence Committee understands the difference in style between the United States approach and the British approach to mentoring. The British approach, as the senior officers on your board will know, implies that mentoring is on the ground with companies and battalions, whereas the American approach is further back. We are slightly worried that there will be a difference in interpretation about what a combat mission is. That is why I asked the question, and I think I will wind it up there because the Chairman might bring this up, if he wants to, at the end.

Q180 Sir Bob Russell: This is a less problematic question. What happens to the hospital at Camp Bastion after 2014?

Lt-Gen Capewell: That depends on a number of issues. One is the ownership of Bastion over time, which is part of this longer-term development of Afghan infrastructure and basing, which is not yet clear or decided. It also depends on how the Afghans see their own medical solution. You have already heard evidence of how that feels on the ground.

Of course one of the constituent parts of that debate is how much the Afghans are prepared to contract medical support, because it does not necessarily have to be grown organically; although we are trying to do that in combat terms, there is a wider question about how you sustain a medical facility that is more broad than just support to the Afghan security forces. There are a number of things in the debate here, but we have good facilities at Bastion at the moment and it is clearly of interest to the Afghans. Over time, we will come to negotiate a position.

Chair: We will come back to that very briefly at the end.

Q181 Ms Stuart: I have a quick question for Brigadier Stevenson on health care. That comes to an end post 2014, but it would still be open for a bilateral arrangement for injured Afghans to come to the Centre for Defence Medicine. We have some provisions in Birmingham which are so specialist that Afghans have wanted to contract them. Have I understood correctly that that will have to be a bilateral arrangement, rather than being part of ISAF?

Dame Mariot Leslie: I think so.

Brigadier Stevenson: I would probably defer to General Capewell for that.

Chair: We are still with the training of the ANA, and it may be that some of the things that Sandra Osborne would like to ask you have already been answered. I rather suspect that that is true.

Q182 Sandra Osborne: We have covered some of it. You have said that you have reached a target for recruitment of 352,000. I believe that that is as part of the surge, but in the future will be brought down again to a much smaller number. What sort of time scale will that be done on, and how will it be achieved?

Lt-Gen Capewell: Let us first of all address the question of 352,000. As Dame Mariot has pointed out, that isn’t totally fielded yet, so that is in the training system. It has yet to be fielded. What do I mean by that? It has yet to be delivered on the ground in some cases-it has yet to be placed on the ground. It is in the system, but not necessarily fielded.

My view about the 352,000 over time is that it is funded through international contribution; it may well decline, as Afghans decide on where this settles in terms of what they can support, as they begin to fund it over time. But I am sure in my own mind that we can clearly see those figures being maintained, certainly to 2017.

Q183 Sandra Osborne: In terms of the situation after 2014, will the Afghan security forces be able to direct and carry out their own training?

Lt-Gen Capewell: James will want to add to this. That is the whole basis of our approach: in everything that we do, whether it is in terms of security operations in the field or training systems in the rear areas, we transfer this responsibility to Afghans. You have already heard about the reintroduction of western-trained officers to that system, and that encourages that momentum to continue. The mentoring in the rear areas on combat service support and combat support, through specialist schools, is part of that.

Brigadier Stevenson: The word "transition" meant something slightly different to me in NTM-A, as it did to Brigadier Chalmers, because within NTM-A we were involved in training institution transition. That plays exactly to your question in that, by the end of 2014 at the latest-and there was an intent to bring this forward, possibly by as much as a year-the aim was that the Afghans would be running their own training institutions. That would be training ranging from the initial nine-week package to train a basic warrior through to what we call branch schools, which are more specific training-for example, signals training, engineer training and so on, less some of the more sophisticated areas within that-through to what we would call command and staff training in the Afghan national defence university.

By the end of 2014, the aim is that the Afghans are in charge and are running all of those. That is not to say that there will not be embedded staff from other nations. That will be under an entirely different arrangement. They would be there on an exchange basis or gift basis or whatever it might be, but the Afghans will be in charge by that time.

Q184 Sandra Osborne: Does that include the police?

Brigadier Stevenson: That will include the police, though, as I am sure you are well aware, the police are somewhat behind the army. That tends to be the tradition. It was certainly the case in Iraq, for example. It took longer to develop the police for various reasons, but that is the intent.

Q185 Sandra Osborne: Could you comment on the levels of corruption within the police in particular?

Brigadier Stevenson: All I would say is that corruption means different things to different people. What I saw in Afghanistan was an absolute determination, albeit from the middle and more senior ranking Afghans that I met, both in the army and the police, first, to understand what was considered unacceptable behaviour and to eradicate it from their ranks, if it existed. When you get lower down into the more localised arrangements that are made, it is probably not for me to comment as a non-indigenous Afghan on how local business is conducted.

Brigadier Chalmers: I can add a little to that on the tactical front. We can also compare and contrast. My first tour in Helmand was in 2008, and I reflect on the police I saw then and the police I saw this summer. It is quite a stark difference. As you say, there is a level of pragmatism in Afghan society. The word "corruption" for us, for them it is multi-layered. It is the tolerable or intolerable nature of it. Back in 2008 there was a lot of intolerable corruption that was really affecting the will of the people. That is definitely policed out now.

We had a number of occasions where our advisers would identify something, and we would watch before I would go in at the higher level of the police, to see whether they would deal with it themselves. They are increasingly dealing with it themselves. That means they are policing their own policemen out of the game, moving them away from certain areas. That is not to say that it is corruption-free; it is not by our standards. However, in terms of what is tolerable to the local population it is much more in balance than it was several years ago.

Q186 Sandra Osborne: You referred to the difficulties of recruiting Pashtuns from the south. What are the implications for that at the moment? What would be the implications after 2014, if they are not reasonably represented in the security forces?

Brigadier Chalmers: I might step in on this one. What was referred to earlier was the Afghan National Army, which is spread out. There are quite a few Pashtuns in the Afghan National Army and that percentage has risen over the past couple of years. A lot of them are northern rather than southern Pashtuns.

The police in Helmand is predominantly southern Pashtun, as is the local police. You have a combined security force that is a blend of the two, and in many ways that sometimes acts as a check and a balance. The locals believe that sometimes the outsiders, who are not engaged in some of the local dynamics, are fairer, and act almost as a check and balance on it. So that ethnic balance is not a completely bad thing; it sort of equals itself out, particularly in the eyes of some of the local population.

Q187 Sandra Osborne: The attrition rate is quite high at 2.3%, against a target of 1.4%. Why is that?

Brigadier Stevenson: I can start here. That is an average attrition rate across the country. It goes without saying that we discovered-I am sure Doug will back this up with further detail-that for those Afghan corps that were in the fight in the south and east, the attrition rates were higher than those based in the north, the west and in the capital. An attrition working group has been set up under the chairmanship of the Vice Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant-General Akram, just to demonstrate how seriously the Afghans are taking this, and progress is being made.

When an army is in a fight and when they are still getting their heads around rotations in and out of the fight to leave and so on, the impact on morale is inevitably going to be higher than when they have eventually got themselves sorted with some form of rotational process, which they have not quite done yet. That is the principal reason why we see people going absent from their duty. The other is that a lot of them are asked to move out of area-we are, after all, creating an Afghan National Army-and a lot of them feel homesick.

Q188 Mr Havard: May I press you a little bit on what you have said about the figure being 352,000, possibly? From what I understand, it is 228,000.

Brigadier Stevenson: Point five.

Q189 Mr Havard: Whatever. On this question about funding, I want to be very clear. Are you saying that at the NAC donors conference somebody has agreed the funding will be provided up to 2017 to sustain the 352,000, or whatever it is? Is that right?

Dame Mariot Leslie: It was announced at the Chicago summit and then ratified and confirmed at the Tokyo donors meeting this summer that the international community will produce something like $4.1 billion up to 2017 for the Afghan national security forces-that is the army, the air force and the various manifestations of the police.

That was worked out on an indicative figure of 228,500. We know that there will be a gap between that and the higher figure-the surge figure-of 352,000, which we are at now, and which is due to come down towards 2017. How that is going to be funded has not been addressed, to be frank, but I think it will be addressed bilaterally between the Afghan Government and the donors.

The international community has committed to $4.1 billion as an indicative figure. Of course, by then the Afghans will be in control of their own figures, so the funding has been committed subject to things like the delivery, the accountability, the good governance and all the other things that were discussed at Tokyo under a so-called Mutual Accountability framework. However, the actual numbers will be within the control of the Afghan Government at the time, in the light of what it perceives to be its needs and in dialogue with the international community.

Q190 Mr Havard: And that would be for their new President to determine?

Chair: But it is not clear that there will be 352,000 until 2017.

Dame Mariot Leslie: That is the plan. The funding does not support that number.

Chair: It is the unfunded plan. I see.

Q191 Bob Stewart: I am sure you are aware that two soldiers have just died. It has just been announced publicly, so I presume you have been briefed privately that two soldiers from the Gurkhas were killed by a man purportedly in Afghan national police uniform in Helmand. In your opinion, General Capewell, of the 56 ISAF deaths this year attributed to people who are meant to be wearing uniforms-I do not like the phrase "green on blue"; I call it murder-are they all caused by the Taliban or are tribes getting in on it, or is there any other reason? Is it Taliban only or not?

Lt-Gen Capewell: The reasons for these attacks are complex, but there is no question in my mind that this is an insurgent tactic. I think deeply about this every day, as do my international counterparts in theatre, as do my Afghan counterparts in theatre. In the collective sense of owning this problem, we are all aligned. It is difficult to deal with.

You know as well as I do, Mr Stewart, how hard it is to determine what might happen on the ground in circumstances that are often dynamic. However, we are all determined-the international community is determined to get to grips with this. You will know the measures we are taking from right at the top of the ISAF structure and the Afghan Government to come to terms with this. There is a four-step approach that looks at how we prevent this, how we educate everybody to deal with it, what the training requirement is, both nationally and internationally before people go to theatre-and, indeed, in theatre-and what the force protection requirements are to come to terms with it.

I think you have been briefed on the Guardian Angel approach. I think you also know about the institutional approach to vetting Afghans in security forces, which includes all sorts of guarantees-screening, medical screening, biometric data collection. We look at this on a daily basis, nationally, to look at the training and how this is delivered on the ground, but you can never have a perfect system, because people take the opportunities that present. But we are all thinking about it.

Brigadier Chalmers: For 12 Brigade we lost seven of our soldiers to these type of attacks. They are definitely the hardest to bear. But I think what really reassured us was that, both tactically-those Afghans that we worked closely with were equally as shocked and, definitely, at my level the level of real shock was quite palpable.

There is an eight-step Afghan process, as you know, to bring their individuals in, but what I saw in our time is a real push by them to grip it and take better control of it. But a lot of that is about re-vetting as much of the force that is in place now-and it is a big force; we have spoken about some of these figures already-and for them to go through that process to get up to speed with it. But in our tour we saw a number of occasions where the Afghan army moved people that they suddenly grew suspicious of and therefore they were proactive in trying to mitigate the results. The details of today, which you have mentioned, will come out in due course, as time moves on.

Q192 Bob Stewart: So the answer to the question is, you are not sure what percentage of these attacks are actually Taliban. The general used the word "insurgent". Do you actually mean Taliban?

Lt-Gen Capewell: You could describe it how you want. It is a tactic on the ground that is employed by the enemy.

Q193 Bob Stewart: And you never know who the enemy are?

Brigadier Stevenson: It is difficult to attribute.

Q194 Bob Stewart: I will not go further on this thing, because we know where we are going on this matter.

Brigadier, how has your mentoring changed as a result of these attacks over the last few months? I know the precautions you are putting in place, but I also know the British strategy, tactics and mentoring approach, which is anathema to trying to stand back, but really encourages involvement with people on the ground in order to mentor. How are you dealing with this dichotomy?

Brigadier Chalmers: We have adjusted our tactics, techniques and procedures as you would expect us to do after each incident, but we went in having learned from those that had gone before, and that training was pretty much in place. We have worked harder on it, but the real thing that has moved on is that engagement.

You say "we"; I viewed the "we" as the collective-Afghans and ourselves, together-in dealing with this problem as one. They did not want this to be seen as anything that would divide us. I think it has been mentioned that it is an insurgent tactic. Exactly what a trigger is on a variety of occasions, as you have heard the Secretary of State say before, is sometimes difficult to divine, but we are clear that we do not want to open up any space that would allow the insurgents to separate us.

The real change on our tenure, which we saw, which we worked hard on, at my level and down all the level of command, was to stay as tight as possible. So in terms of that mentoring-for example, me to the provincial chief of police-that did not change. If anything, it pushed us closer together.

Q195 Bob Stewart: At top level, I totally understand that you all stand at one, and they loathe it; they loathe it at your level as much as possible. Put yourself down to a private soldier’s situation. I ask you, how have these sort of attacks impacted on the morale, not of high-level commanders like yourselves, but of the low-level soldiers who actually have to work with these people without the back-up that you have? What is morale like with regard to this matter at low level?

Brigadier Chalmers: You would not be surprised to know, sir, that I spent quite a lot of time visiting my adviser teams to get exactly that feel. I went to every adviser team that had suffered one of these attacks, to get a sense of them. They were convinced of the purpose that they were achieving-the reason they were there every day-and they firmly believe that this was the way of getting the Afghans, as we have spoken about, on the front foot to be able to look after their own population in due course. They believed that they were adding real, tangible value in the delivery of that.

It was really noticeable to them that the Afghans they worked with and knew were never the ones who conducted the deed; it was always someone further out on the fringe or the margin and very loosely connected, if at all. The attacks we had over this time added to the level of pressure and risk, but did not dent morale. Their belief in what they were doing remained solid. Indeed, every one of the teams I have just mentioned-we had three teams that were hit-continued on with that task. I always came away from visiting those teams-you will remember this very well-actually more reassured. I had probably had taken more counsel of my own fears until I came back from visiting them on the ground.

Q196 Bob Stewart: So the answer to the question is that morale is largely undiminished by these attacks, because the people on the ground feel that their job is so important that they can take hits like this, and they are prepared to take that risk for the greater good.

Brigadier Chalmers: Yes, but it does add to the stress that is on those soldiers.

Q197 Bob Stewart: Particularly, I am thinking, and we are thinking, of their families when they are informed that they are going to be working with the Afghan National Security Forces. That must send panic through quarter patches throughout the country.

Brigadier Stevenson: I detect that there is a tendency to believe that the British armed forces are significantly closer at the tactical level in terms of mentoring than, say, any other out in the coalition. In my experience, which included commanding, for want of a better description, within a NATO construct, the Kabul military training centre, within which there were hundreds and thousands of raw Afghan recruits passing through-so those who were possibly presenting a greater threat in this regard than those who had already been trained and educated and so on-the overriding view across NTMA, across nations, was that the way to instruct and mentor was to get alongside these Afghans. I was in Kabul when the two US officers were shot in the National Military Police Co-Ordination Centre in the MOI. There was an absolute desire, from those who were even present on the day, to get back in, because if they stepped back and remoted themselves from the Afghans they would make the problem worse. Doug touched on this. Proximity to the Afghans, intimacy with the Afghans, is very often the best form of defending against this form of attack.

Q198 Sir Bob Russell: General, will you be able to achieve a successful withdrawal of UK combat troops by the end of 2014?

Lt-Gen Capewell: I hope so. I will be sacked if I don’t. But let me give you a straight answer.

Sir Bob Russell: I thought you did give a straight answer.

Lt-Gen Capewell: This is the biggest redeployment operation in a generation. Noting the investment in theatre that has taken place over 10 years, so there is a lot of equipment and a lot of matériel, I and my headquarters absolutely understand how much we have to move over the time available.

Q199 Chair: We will come on to the physical withdrawal in a few moments. I think Sir Bob’s point was about the overall general plan of withdrawal. Will you be able to be successful?

Lt-Gen Capewell: Yes I will, noting, of course, that the national operation is synchronised inside a wider NATO operation. A great deal of work is being done in NATO to deliver that co-ordination at the moment.

Q200 Sir Bob Russell: Can I ask the four of you along the table, are we seriously led to believe that on 1 January 2015, the Afghan National Security Forces will be sustainable?

Lt-Gen Capewell: Yes, I think that is the assumption that we have to make. Mariot has described the funding piece here. The training apparatus has been described by James in terms of the way we want to make them viable in their terms. I am confident that the transition process to deliver that self-aware security apparatus will have occurred by then.

Q201 Sir Bob Russell: Dame Mariot, what is the latest thinking about UK troops being withdrawn earlier than 2014?

Dame Mariot Leslie: I am not aware of any latest thinking on that. It is something you really need to ask somebody other than me. I am focused on the NATO plans.

Q202 Sir Bob Russell: So any suggestions prior to that have not come across your table.

Dame Mariot Leslie: I have seen, as I am sure the Committee has, what the Defence Secretary and others have said in public. Transition is going to plan. There will be opportunities next year to make further withdrawals. The Government have already announced that some 500 will have been withdrawn by the end of this year. Next year, there will almost certainly be scope to take further decisions that the Government have not yet taken. You probably need to ask the Defence Secretary when he envisages that might be possible.

Q203 Sir Bob Russell: We are talking about a time line of slightly more than two years, so things can change. I recognise that.

Dame Mariot Leslie: I think the Prime Minister has said that what we are looking for is a glide path towards the end of 2014, not a cliff edge. The Government will take those decisions when they are ready. They have not announced any so far.

Q204 Sir Bob Russell: Events will clearly dictate what happens, hopefully, rather than political decisions. I wouldn’t ask you to comment on political decisions. I hope that events will dictate what happens.

Lt-Gen Capewell: But I can reassure you and give you confidence that the figures announced by the Prime Minister-500 out by this December-will be delivered. We will be down at 9,000 by then.

Q205 Sir Bob Russell: My last question is whether anybody has heard anything about the possibility of NATO or the United States, in particular, thinking about withdrawing significant troops earlier than the end of 2014.

Dame Mariot Leslie: The United States also will want to take some decisions next year in the light of how the transition goes, particularly at the mid-2013 way point that I was talking about, when the last transition has started. I don’t speak for the US Government, but I am sure that they will be taking further decisions in the course of next year.

Q206 Ms Stuart: Post-2014, how do you envisage, Dame Mariot, NATO’s role at that stage? What is its remaining function?

Dame Mariot Leslie: It goes back to Sir Bob Russell’s question. The ANSF will be sustainable, but it won’t be on its own. NATO has already said that it will have a training, advisory and assistance mission. It would be a new one. It would be doing just that, and not in combat. But that won’t be the only thing that will be there. There will be the international community’s overall support for governance, economic development, human development and so on in Afghanistan. That will be a very important complement to what NATO will be doing. There will be other bilateral programmes as well.

The NATO process, which I was beginning to describe, is that the North Atlantic Council has just launched the planning process with an initiating directive. We have associated with that six of our current ISAF partners that are particularly keen, and have already said that they would like to take part in the future NATO mission. That is Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Georgia and Ukraine. They will be involved in the planning from now on, and other nations may choose to be so. The North Atlantic Council will decide case by case which stage of the planning process we bring them in on.

The next stage is for the military authorities at SHAPE and elsewhere to draw up a concept of operations. I expect that to be decided some time in the course of next year and, from that, an operating plan. We will then get down to the detailed process of the North Atlantic Council deciding the so-called execution directive, at which point the commanders can start deploying their resources. It will be a long-term process, with a lot of conceptual work on the concept of operations taking place next year. But the final dispositions, the numbers and who will do what, where and to what end will probably be decided a bit later in the process, because it will be decided in the light of where we have got to by 2014.

Q207 Ms Stuart: But by the end of 2013, you feel that we will have some kind of broad outline.

Dame Mariot Leslie: I would expect to have a concept of operations by then.

Q208 Ms Stuart: What about post-2014, the UK’s role after that? The General may want to comment. Will that also be clear by the end of 2013?

Dame Mariot Leslie: Ministers have yet to take decisions. They have taken decisions and announced that we will be making a contribution of £70 million towards the future ANSF and its sustainability, and they have announced that we will be acting as the lead for the Afghan National Army officers’ academy that Brigadier James Stevenson has been talking about, but they have not yet decided in detail-and I think see no need to decide quite yet-the nature of Britain’s contribution in 2015. They will decide that later in the light of events and circumstances at the time.

Q209 Ms Stuart: So in terms of specific UK capabilities or specific UK armed forces personnel remaining there, no decision has been made as yet.

Dame Mariot Leslie: No.

Q210 Ms Stuart: Would you expect that decision to be made by the end of 2013 or not?

Dame Mariot Leslie: Forgive me, but that might be something you would like to ask of the MoD officials whom you are seeing a little later, but I think those decisions are not imminent.

Q211 Ms Stuart: Finally, of any UK personnel who might be there post-2014, are you confident that their security is safe in Afghan hands?

Lt-Gen Capewell: Yes. Remember of course that this is a way away yet and security conditions are not yet clear, but I am sure that we would not commit any support forces to the training apparatus unless we were sure.

Q212 Chair: Now a few questions about the physical withdrawal of British troops. It might well be that you will have to say that plans have not yet been made and, to the extent that you must, please feel free to do so, but who will be responsible for the practical withdrawal of UK troops and equipment? Since you, General Capewell, said that you would be sacked if it did not go well, can we assume that it is you?

Lt-Gen Capewell: It is me for certain aspects of it, but perhaps I should start by describing the MoD approach to this redeployment challenge. Of course it is not just about what is delivered in theatre, in terms of redeployment, it is how it is managed once it gets back to the UK base, so there is a whole MoD approach to this. A number of governing apparatuses manage and oversee this but, in so far as my contribution to redeployment is concerned, calibrating how much equipment-how much matériel-we need to extract from theatre over the next two years or so is clear to me. I know what the physics of that look like. I also know how I am going to get it back in terms of permutations of routes, whether through Pakistan or the northern Stans. I also know what that matériel looks like in terms of its movement, whether by road or air. The co-ordination of this is through my headquarters in the PGHQ, forwarding to the Joint Forces Support Headquarters, which is the headquarters that sits in Bastion.

What is going on at the moment? Well, there is quite a lot of aggressive battlefield clearance, of equipments and matériel that we do not need. That is being properly moved back. Of course, the NAO has an interest in this, through proof of good order and in making sure that we do this properly in terms of biometric checks, to get this equipment back. The whole apparatus of this is well understood in UK terms, but of and in itself it is not just about the UK deployment because, if you envisage the theatre requirement, NATO also has a role to play in co-ordinating and synchronising the route access-how we get this out, the air space management required to get this out, the border control management needed-so this is not simply me having a good plan, it is me having a good plan that can nest inside a broader NATO plan. In that plan, it must also connect through the coupling bridge which is one of the routes that we use by air or sea back to the UK base to deliver a considerable amount of equipment necessary for future regeneration and contingency back in the UK base.

Q213 Chair: What is the time scale for all this? You are due to start the detailed planning this month, is it, or next month?

Lt-Gen Capewell: We have been planning for a long time. The major redeployment effort started on 1 October, because of course in transition you do not get any redeployment dividend until certain aspects of transition are complete. That process will now continue. It will build speed, and its speed is directly related to the progress we make on the ground in transition terms, and the bandwidth, the apertures, that we need to use to get this equipment out. So there is quite a lot of physics in this, and we are making a big effort to apply science to this redeployment.

Q214 Chair: When will you have completed the agreement with the Stans-the central Asian republics?

Lt-Gen Capewell: There are some treaty sensitivities there, clearly, but I am confident that that will be delivered by the end of this year or early next year.

Q215 Chair: Do you think that Brize Norton will be able to cope with the withdrawal?

Lt-Gen Capewell: Yes, I do. There is work going on in Brize Norton, but it is not only about Brize Norton; it is about ports of entry as well as airports of entry. This is a national effort in terms of the MoD’s oversight of the operation. What I do is to make sure that the redeployment of equipment will not in any way hinder the military operation that it is supposed to support. There is an equilibrium here about supporting transition right through to 2013 and the end, which you have heard us describe, and how much equipment we can take out. That is a fine balance, which we address and scrutinise on a regular basis.

Q216 Chair: So if RAF Brize Norton is not going to be a pinch point, are there any other blockages that you have identified at this stage of the planning?

Lt-Gen Capewell: There are number of things that could change the calculus. We know how frustrating some of this route management question has been over time, with Pakistan. But when I look at the number of permutations available to me in terms of redeployment, I am confident that I can meet that requirement and that the UK strategic base is appropriately configured to receive the mass of that redeployment.

Q217 Chair: Dame Mariot, will NATO be co-ordinating all this?

Dame Mariot Leslie: NATO is increasingly focusing on this. SHAPE, the NATO command at Brunssum and the people in theatre at the ISAF joint command have already been giving this some thought. Some of the building blocks are in place already. The NATO training mission in Afghanistan, for instance, has a document that sets out principles for what the Afghan forces might need, if countries were minded to gift to them and leave things behind, and what they do not need, and so on.

A lot more work needs to be done in NATO, particularly in the military structures, and the United Kingdom has been very active in encouraging NATO to get on with it and co-ordinate. At the NATO Defence Ministers’ meeting earlier this month we asked, and I think the Secretary-General has agreed, that there should be a report to the next Ministers’ meeting in February, so that Ministers collectively across the whole of ISAF can get a grip on how NATO is tackling this. National plans-our own are relatively mature-need to be fitted in with the NATO ones if the whole of the theatre is to be emptied by 2014 in good order, so we are very keen that NATO proceeds.

Q218 Chair: So that February meeting will be a key meeting.

Dame Mariot Leslie: It may not be the decisive one, but it will be an important forcing point for the NATO planning.

Q219 Chair: General Capewell, how is all this going to be funded?

Lt-Gen Capewell: In so far as the NATO funding is concerned?

Chair: No, in so far as the United Kingdom funding is concerned.

Lt-Gen Capewell: I am confident that the money is in place to do this.

Q220 Chair: Will you need more people to help produce this fantastic logistical feat?

Lt-Gen Capewell: You have already got written evidence that suggests that we have got permission to surge up to 500 people into theatre to allow this to take place. I will give you a little bit more detail on that. It will not necessarily be 500 people; it could be as low as 20 people. It depends what the specific requirement is. For instance, if you have a certain fleet of vehicles that need preparing for redeployment, that requires a certain set of specialists. So this is bespokely designed, it is focused on the immediate problem and it is episodic, in the sense that we surge people in and out to deal with these technical challenges as they come along.

Q221 Chair: Has planning advanced sufficiently far for you to be able to say what proportion of the equipment you intend to bring back to the UK?

Lt-Gen Capewell: Yes, the majority of equipment. There are things that we would want either to sell or gift to the Afghans and that calculus is not yet fully defined on the ground, but it is certainly a work in progress, because it requires a deal of negotiation on the ground as transition takes place and the Afghan requirements become clear. I absolutely understand, however, how much equipment we have to get back, and it is the majority of equipment, because this equipment is required for future-proofing the Army and the other services for their Future Force 2020 design. It is equipment that we have spent a lot of money on in terms of UORs over this campaign, so I am sure that we are not leaving behind vital combat equipment that is necessary for future operations.

Q222 Chair: So these UORs-urgent operational requirement bits of equipment-will become part of the core equipment of the MoD.

Lt-Gen Capewell: Yes.

Q223 Chair: Who will pay for that?

Lt-Gen Capewell: The MoD.

Q224 Chair: Although they have in the past, because they are UORs, been paid for by the Treasury.

Lt-Gen Capewell: It moves into core over time, and I can give you further advice on that if you want.

Q225 Chair: We would like that. That would be very helpful.

In leaving equipment behind in Afghanistan and perhaps giving it to the Afghan national security forces, can we avoid leaving them with an enormous logistical problem of having to deal with a hotch-potch of different fleets of stuff from all over the world?

Lt-Gen Capewell: Absolutely. If we leave anything behind, it will be equipment that will not cause the Afghans more of a problem than the one that they have already. We would want not to put stress on their technical capacity to maintain this equipment. As you have heard, we are making efforts to improve that side of the Afghan security apparatus, but I am clear in my own mind that that is not going to be a huge amount of equipment.

Dame Mariot Leslie: That is the logic behind the NATO training mission in Afghanistan setting out a kind of specification for the kinds of things that would be good to leave behind for the Afghans and the kinds of things that would not. It will still be a national decision, but NATO is giving guidance to nations.

Q226 Chair: And the Afghans will have a say in what they accept and what they are taking.

Lt-Gen Capewell: Yes.

Q227 Chair: The question of whether Afghanistan, after we leave, is going to descend into civil war is obviously one that is on the tip of everybody’s tongue. What do you think we need to do to ensure that it does not descend into civil war after we leave?

Dame Mariot Leslie: Shall I take that? I see my military colleagues looking in my direction. I am not trying to be evasive, but this is a question that you had best pursue perhaps with the people dealing with the overall Afghan strategy.

Chair: We will do that too.

Dame Mariot Leslie: I am sure you will.

The very important thing to say is that Afghanistan’s long-term future does not depend entirely on the military instrument. It depends on the very much wider support that the international community is going to give to that country, which will remain a poor country with real developmental, human resources, human capital and economic needs, as well as needs for support in its region, for a very long time. That has been the point of some of the things that are not to do with NATO and therefore not to do with me that have been going on over this year. There has been an Istanbul process, in which regional countries got together, and that was followed up with a Kabul conference this summer. A series of regional confidence-building measures are now going on with support from the international community. For instance, the Foreign Secretary was in Kabul in the summer for the second of those conferences and promised support to that process where we can.

There is also the international aid picture. Alongside the £4.1 billion pledged to the ANSF up to 2017, there is also a further £16 billion-roughly the same amount per year-of civil development aid up until then. So there are many other actors and I am not going to speak on their behalf. It is not my job and I could mislead you, but what I will say is that what is done in ISAF and by our armed forces is a small part of that longer-term picture.

Turning to the bit that is my job-what NATO is doing now and for the future-I think we need to continue to look very closely, with full engagement, at NATO’s main effort. That is making the transition work according to the plan, fine-tuning it persistently as we go along and doing so persistently with the Afghan Government: listening to them; working with them; making it work; holding them to the accountability that we have all agreed on, but also listening to them when they have good reason to want to make changes. On the armed forces, I will not speak for the General-he can speak for himself-but they need to do their part within it.

Then we need to make sure that the post-2014 NATO mission is similarly part of a broader international effort that makes sense, that has consistency in it and that works with the grain of Afghan society while giving them the wherewithal to do the things we want. That is what the international community said at the Chicago conference, which is that Afghanistan is no longer to be, and is never to be again, a safe haven for terrorists.

That does not mean that we confidently anticipate we will reach 2014 and there will be no more insurgency in Afghanistan, that it will be a thoroughly safe environment with very high levels of development. It means that we are pretty confident that the plan we put in place is working in the way we envisaged, and that those capabilities for the Afghan forces to go on tackling their residual security problems with the support of the international community are getting our best shot and are going pretty well according to that plan.

Q228 Chair: The implication of what you have said, Dame Mariot, is that there is only so much that armed forces and security forces can do, and that it depends rather heavily on the quality of governance in Afghanistan. The implication is that if that goes wrong, there is nothing much that armed forces can do to put that back on to the right track. You have spoken in terms of inputs of international aid after 2015 rather than in terms of the fundamental quality of the governance of Afghanistan. Is that right?

Dame Mariot Leslie: What I am saying is that the Government of Afghanistan will be getting a lot of other support with issues such as governance, alongside the military support and the security support that we are offering via our own armed forces in this country and NATO and ISAF elsewhere. Afghanistan now and after 2014 will not be standing on its own on any of these issues. Equally, the responsibility for getting them right fundamentally lies with the Afghan people and the Afghan Government, but they will have support from us in other areas.

Lt-Gen Capewell: That is why we have made such a profound investment in the Afghan security apparatus. Unless there is a secure environment across Afghanistan, the space for that to occur is simply not delivered. When I view this security effort, it is in terms not only of what we have done so far-we can see the results of that on the ground today-but of taking a longer-term view about the momentum we are delivering to those Afghan security agencies to allow this polity to settle, to allow this development to occur, to keep this moving in the right direction through funding and other support, and to give it the oxygen it needs to allow accommodation to occur.

Q229 Chair: After we leave, to whom will this security force that we have created be loyal?

Lt-Gen Capewell: Well, I rather hope it will be loyal to the Afghan Government.

Chair: Thank you. That was a fascinating evidence session, and we are extremely grateful to all of you for giving such clear evidence, as you have. Given the state of decision making on some of this, it was much clearer than I was expecting. That does not mean that you need look worried, by the way. We are most grateful to you for a very good evidence session.

Prepared 8th April 2013