Securing the Future of Afghanistan - Defence Committee Contents

1  Introduction

Our inquiry

1. The Defence Committee announced an inquiry into Securing the Future of Afghanistan on 18 June 2012. Our inquiry has been conducted against the planned withdrawal of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) combat troops at the end of 2014 and the transfer of responsibility for security to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). We decided that the inquiry would examine progress towards a secure and stable Afghanistan within the wider region, including Pakistan, and the plans by the UK, NATO and other allies for a smooth transition of responsibility for security to the Afghan Government and the ANSF.

2. We have taken oral and written evidence from a wide range of witnesses and have had several informal briefings from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and others about Afghanistan and the surrounding region. The MoD provided written evidence to the Committee at the start of the inquiry and further information in response to our detailed questions which arose in the course of the inquiry.

3. We visited Afghanistan in November 2012 and spent time in Kabul and Helmand including a patrol base, Sparta. We spoke with members of the Afghan Government including President Karzai, Defence Minister Bismullah Khan, Minister Patang at the Ministry for the Interior and the Women's Minister Ghazanfar. We received extensive briefings from Sir Richard Stagg, the UK Ambassador to Afghanistan, Lt General Nick Carter, the Deputy Commander of ISAF, and Ambassador Maurits Jochems, the NATO Senior Civilian Representative to Afghanistan. In addition, we spoke to Afghans involved in the peace process, the ANSF and other aspects of the Afghan Government and with members of ISAF and UK Forces and others. We also saw new court and prison facilities near Kabul. We are grateful to our special advisers and staff for their assistance in this inquiry.

Previous inquiries

4. During this inquiry, we have also been mindful of the recent report on the UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan by the Foreign Affairs Committee[1] and also that of the International Development Committee on Afghanistan: Development progress and prospects after 2014.[2]

5. We last reported on Operations in Afghanistan in July 2011.[3] In that report we focused on:

  Operations in Helmand in 2006;

  Military operations since 2009;

  Training of the Afghan National Security Forces;

  The impact on the civilian population; and

  Transition and withdrawal.

The previous Defence Committee reported on operations in Afghanistan in July 2007: UK operations in Afghanistan.[4] Many of the issues raised in that Report remain of concern today. One of the Committee's primary concerns was the necessity that the international community should focus on establishing security and denying the Taliban and al- Qaeda the environment in which to operate.[5]

Background to the situation in Afghanistan

6. In its written evidence on this inquiry, the Government described the current situation in Afghanistan. We consider this assessment to be of sufficient importance to repeat it in Box 1 as the backdrop to our inquiry into Securing the Future of Afghanistan.
Box 1: Government assessment of the situation in Afghanistan[6]

    Over 30 years of conflict have left Afghanistan one of the poorest countries in the world. Afghanistan ranks 172 out of 187 countries and territories on the UN's Human Development Index—the lowest outside of Africa.[7] A third of Afghans live below the poverty line; one in six children die before their fifth birthday; and average life expectancy is just 48. Only one in four Afghans are able to read and write. Afghanistan remains off-track on all the Millennium Development Goals and has agreed a five year extension until 2020. Corruption is a problem felt personally by many Afghans, fuelled by patronage politics and a war economy. Women and girls still face enormous challenges and huge disadvantages in the areas of political participation and decision-making.

    A weak and politically unstable state fosters insecurity and holds back social and economic development. Afghanistan's diverse cultural and ethnic mix, and resistance to change from external influences, are contributing factors. Poor governance and corruption undermine trust in the government, while weak public sector capacity hinders service delivery. The transition process is now well underway but it will likely be another decade before the Afghan Government is able to pay for its own security costs without external support.

      From this low base, progress has been made over the last ten years. 5.8 million children now attend school, over a third of whom are girls, up from virtually none under the Taliban. 85% of Afghans are now covered by basic health services, compared to 9% in 2002. The economy has grown by an average of 11% per annum since 2002, and tax revenue has risen from $200m in 2004 to a preliminary estimate of $2bn in 2011-2012; progress is being made on strengthening public financial management, and local government is improving in some areas.

      The Afghan government is increasingly taking the lead, in working for better security, governance, social and economic opportunities for Afghan people. Long term stability in Afghanistan will also be dependent on increased regional cooperation and integration, particularly on issues such as security, trade and economic infrastructure. While improvements have been made, considerable challenges still lie ahead.

    Source: MoD

    Armed Forces and civilian personnel

    7. We wish to pay tribute to all the British personnel, both military and civilian, who are currently serving or have served in Afghanistan but, in particular, to those who have lost their lives, and the many more who have sustained life-changing injuries as a result of the conflict there. We also express our deep gratitude for the vital contribution made by the families of Armed Forces personnel. We are mindful that some of the conclusions in this Report could be interpreted as a criticism of the men and women who have worked in extremely hazardous, hostile and difficult conditions. We wish to place on record that no such criticism is intended: the Armed Forces and civilian personnel in Afghanistan have our full support in tackling the challenges before them.

    8. The major cost of operations has been the loss of lives of Armed Forces personnel and the number of personnel receiving very severe injuries. From the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001to 31 January 2013, 440 personnel were killed with a further 596 very seriously or seriously wounded. We wish to pay tribute to the dedication of the Armed Forces and the sacrifices they and their families have made and continue to make.

      1   Foreign Affairs Committee, The UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Fourth Report of 2010-11 HC 514 Back

      2   International Development Committee, Afghanistan: Development progress and prospects after 2014, Sixth Report of 2012­13, HC 403 Back

      3   Defence Committee, Operations in Afghanistan , Fourth Report of Session 2010-12, HC 554 Back

      4   Defence Committee, UK Operations in Afghanistan , Thirteenth Report of Session 2006-07, HC 408 Back

      5   Ibid  Back

      6   Ev 82 Back

      7  Back

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      Prepared 10 April 2013