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Lord Judd: I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for giving way. His response to the debate has been very helpful. Will he enlighten us as to whether it is a matter of either/or? If we say that the humanitarian operation is as important as the military operation, are there effective co-ordination arrangements in place to ensure that there is full consultation between the humanitarian agencies and the military on how both objectives can best be achieved?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I believe that we have; but, if we have not, we are working towards that aim. However, in such a situation it takes time and sometimes such mechanisms are not available at the very start of the process.
I was asked specifically by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, about the Government's attitude in this respect. The humanitarian part of the project is every bit as important as any other part. Indeed, in answer to other questions raised, especially by my noble friend Lord Rea, as to how the supplies were actually getting into the country, I can tell the House that there are already stocks within the country; namely, 9,300 tonnes. Food convoys are still getting through, although they are being hindered by the Taliban, and by other problems. They average about 1,500 to 2,000 tonnes a day. They cross at various points. I am sure that the names of the towns and cities will be well known to noble Lords. The World Food Programme is planning to transport 12,000 metric tonnes into Afghanistan next week.
There is a growing problem with disruption, which lies at the door of the Taliban. There are also air-drops by C17 planes. I do not want to make more of those than I have. They exist and they are part of the food programme. However, it needs to be said that the air strikes enable the coalition to drop these supplies to refugees trapped inside Afghanistan. We hope that our actions will lead to a country that is stable, prosperous and at peace.
Let us compare that prospect to the behaviour of the Taliban. Before 11th September the Taliban interfered with the work of aid agencies. Now--scandalously--it diverts humanitarian aid supplies to its own troops--"theft" is the word for that--imposes absolutely arbitrary tariffs upon them, or loots them. That, again, is theft. As has been said, the Taliban is the biggest obstacle to the distribution of humanitarian aid. Indeed, it is worth noting that it would be impossible for the C17s to drop aid if the air defences of the Taliban were still working. It just would not be possible to do so.
We have said before that this is a new kind of conflict. We are not fighting a formidable, conventional standing army, such as we faced in Yugoslavia. Al'Qaeda and the Taliban are relatively ill equipped. Their military infrastructure is limited. They are not military powers in the traditional sense, but respectively terrorists and their protectors. We need to operate in different ways to defeat them. The scale of our operations is markedly smaller than that we would use against a conventional opponent.
I urge noble Lords not to assume that because the campaign began with air strikes it is the same in some way as our operations over Kosovo. It is not. That was then, and now is now. We are not limited to one way of thinking or to one way of operating that, put at its most plain, might be described as, "bomb until we can enter on the ground by consent". This will be different. It will be longer, more arduous, more varied, stranger, and may perhaps involve more military casualties. We have committed ourselves to this long haul, but that does not mean that operations need necessarily continue at the current level. The tempo will change; it will fluctuate. It may slow or intensify, perhaps seem to halt on occasions. Everything will depend on these
It follows that air strikes need not be the only option. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said on 11th October that we have always been aware that we have to back up air strikes with other forms of proportionate and targeted action. That could include the use of ground forces. But I should stress that the options are many. We have made no final decisions. I shall, of course, keep noble Lords informed.
I realise that there are worries in some quarters about the targets of the air strikes. Our targets are terrorist and military installations. The targeting processes are rigorous. We must comply with international law, and we do. We have no quarrel with the people of Afghanistan, nor with Islam. Enormous effort is made to minimise civilian casualties and to avoid exposing them to unnecessary risk. But accidents and errors can never be eliminated altogether, although we try very hard to do that.
When the coalition knows it has erred in terms of targeting, we admit it. We do not bomb indiscriminately. Aircraft will return to base with their bombs if they cannot strike their targets. I hope that is of some reassurance to the House in a sombre and serious situation. We do not seek to destroy the country or her people, quite the reverse. We want the country to be free from occupation by a foreign terrorist group that shelters cuckoo-like among them. We, and their friends around the world, want to help the Afghans rebuild their shattered country to create the conditions where the refugees feel safe to return home and to help that country prosper.
I should like to finish by referring to the strength of the international community's adherence to the coalition and support for military action. Before I do that, bearing in mind there has been much talk about Pakistan, I tell the House that the Secretary of State for International Development, who is, as I understand it, in Pakistan today, has announced an increase in aid pledged to that country of £15 million to the government in Islamabad, an increased bilateral aid programme to Pakistan up to £45 million per year for the next two years and discussions about other outstanding moneys and debts. I tell the House that as it is current news.
It is not just the United Kingdom and the United States who are involved in this matter, but many, many countries. Action has been taken: terrorists have been arrested around the world; intelligence is shared; terrorists' assets are being frozen; basing and overflight rights are being granted and, crucially, armed forces are offered and deployed. NATO has invoked Article 5; namely, that an attack on one is an attack on all. It has sent the Standing Naval Force Mediterranean--a multinational force now under British command--to the eastern Mediterranean, where it stands ready to engage in force protection of high value assets. Five NATO AWACs aircraft have deployed to the eastern United States so that America can send its own AWACs aircraft to operate over
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down--I believe that he is on the last page of his brief--it would be a pity if he did not say anything at all about the future political prospect and how the role of the Northern Alliance is seen as these are current issues of which the newspapers are full. We ought to hear a little about them.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I believe that in opening the debate my noble friend made reference to the political matters that the noble Lord raises. There is no doubt that we want to see a future government in Afghanistan made up of multi-ethnic groups. That will, of course, include groups such as the Northern Alliance and others. But it is important that these are multi-ethnic groups and that no one body is predominant. That is our aim. It is not just the aim of the United Kingdom but of the coalition.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I remind him that half the population of Afghanistan is female. It would be a great shame to leave them out altogether.
Lord Bach: My Lords, of course that is right. Involving women in government there--or even in ordinary life, which has not been allowed under the Taliban--is a big problem. The United Nations is looking into ways of bringing that issue forward. We want not just multi-ethnic, but multi-gender government.
Lord Carter: There are only two genders.
Lord Bach: Well, my Lords, two is more than one. That is as far as I am prepared to go this evening. I do not know whether that satisfies the noble Lord, Lord Howell. We are not looking to impose one group on Afghanistan instead of another; we are looking for a multi-ethnic solution to the problem, with a broad-based government who can act and govern in the interests of all Afghans.
I am grateful to all those who have spoken in the debate. If I have not covered specific questions, I shall be happy to do so in writing. The price of not continuing with the action is too great to contemplate. It is vital that not just the House, but the country stays together in support of a very worthy cause.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
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