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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place.
"It is now clear that the Taliban has been decisively defeated across Afghanistan. Carefully targeted coalition bombing of its front lines opened the way for the Northern Alliance to advance. The fall of Mazar-i Sharif on 9th November was the key to the north. It accelerated defections from the Taliban and allowed General Dostum and Mohammed Atta of the Northern Alliance to cut the lines of communication of the remaining Taliban and Al'Qaeda troops in the north-east.
"One after another, Taliban positions folded: Taloqan; Baghlan; Bamian. The major city in the west, Herat, fell without a fight, to Ismail Khan. And now we see that the strategy we have pursued is being equally successful in the Pushtun south of the country.
"Kabul fell without serious resistance on Monday night. Key cities in the Pushtun south have followed Kabul swiftly in falling, including Jalalabad. It is clear that support for the Taliban is evaporating. Though there may be pockets of resistance, the idea that this has been some kind of tactical retreat is just the latest Taliban lie. It is in total collapse.
"There are reports today that senior Taliban figures in Gardezincluding borders Minister Haqqani and intelligence chief Ahmadullahhave surrendered. Kandahar airport has reportedly been taken by anti-Taliban forces.
"Regrettable incidents have happened, as the liberated people have turned on their oppressors. This should not happen and I appeal to the Northern Alliance and all other forces in Afghanistan to be restrained; to avoid any acts of revenge; and to engage with the UN.
"I believe the whole House should welcome the progress that has been made. Though conflict is never easy, or nice, to see women and children smiling after years under one of the most brutal, oppressive regimes in the world is finally to understand the meaning of the word 'liberation'.
"I would like to pay tribute to the outstanding leadership that President Bush has given; and give heartfelt thanks to the British forces involved, now and in the future. There is no greater comfort to the British people than to know that we can call on some of the best armed forces in the world. Their work and their contribution to Britain's strength and international standing is immense.
"But there remain huge challenges. The military job is not yet done. Bin Laden is still at large. So are his close associates. The diplomatic and political situation remains difficult. The threat of a humanitarian crisis remains.
"I should tell the House that the United Kingdom will continue to play a full role in the military, the diplomatic and humanitarian tracks of this campaign, the objectives of which remain as set out in the document published in the House Library on 16th October.
"Our forces, so far, have been involved in the air strikes using Tomahawk missiles and through providing support to US bombers. On the ground, our forces have been involved in liaising with the people of the Northern Alliance, advising them and helping to co-ordinate action.
"I can confirm to the House that several thousand of our troops are being put on 48-hour notice to move in case they are required in the area. Those include elements from 3 Commando and 16 Air Assault Brigades, including 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, and 45 Commando Royal Marines, and a range of supporting assets including RAF air transport, support helicopters, engineers, logistic teams and explosive ordnance experts.
"I cannot give the House full details on how those troops may be used. Consultations with the United States and our other coalition partners continue. The main purpose of those troops would be in the context of multinational efforts to make safe the humanitarian supply routes now opening up as a result of military progress on the ground. Others may be focused on securing airfields and clearing unexploded ordnance; and ensuring the safe return of the United Nations and NGOs to Afghanistan, permitting the construction of the broad-based government that is so badly needed. They will only remain in place for a strictly limited period of time while an international force to work alongside Afghan military commanders is prepared. We cannot of course rule out some of our troops being used in offensive front line operations. 40 Commando Royal Marines remain at a high state of readiness for contingency operations.
"On the humanitarian front, I should say that an average of over 2,000 tonnes of food a day has been despatched since 4th November. That is four times the rate at the start of October when it was 500 tonnes a day. The WFP is optimistic about reaching its targets: it has despatched over 50,000 metric tonnes of food to Afghanistan since the beginning of Octobersufficient for 5 million people for one month.
"We look forward to the opening of a corridor from the liberated areas to the borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. In particular, the Friendship Bridge between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan will be made safe for the passage of those supplies.
"The UN and ICRC should now be able to improve delivery of food, healthcare and other assistance to 2 million vulnerable people in the northern region of Afghanistan. Plans are now being made for the international staff of the UN, Red Cross and NGOs to return to Afghanistan. In addition, we will be able to accelerate deliveries to areas in central Afghanistan which will become harder to access as winter sets in so that sufficient stockpiles can be built up closer to the people who need them.
"That will further reduce the suffering of the Afghan people and show the rest of Afghanistan that life for the entire nation will be better once the Taliban are gone.
"The advance of the anti-Taliban forces has been assisted by defections from disillusioned supporters. It is time for the rest of Afghanistanparticularly the ethnic groups in the southto join the uprising against the Taliban and throw off its oppressive rule. The sooner they act, the greater the benefit.
"The structure of post-Taliban Afghanistan will be for the Afghan people to determine. But we will provide strong diplomatic and economic support to the aspirations of Afghan parties committed to an inclusive, democratic political structure, committed to the welfare of all Afghan men, women and children, and providing substantial local autonomy.
"I spoke yesterday to Kofi Annan who outlined to me the process that will now follow. The first step will be an early UN-convened meeting of representatives of the various Afghan anti-Taliban groups (including Pushtuns) under the United Nations Special Representative, Mr Brahimi. That would lead to a transitional administration. To support that process under Mr Brahimi, the UN Security Council will be adopting a resolution to underpin the principles on which Mr Brahimi is working.
"The immediate next step is for the United Nations to establish a presence in Kabul. I am delighted that Mr Vendrell (UN Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan) and Mike Sackett (UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Afghanistan) plan to travel there on Friday. We plan to have a UK diplomatic presence in Kabul by the weekend.
"I have also spoken today to President Bush and to Chancellor Schroeder. The coalition is as strong today as it has ever been.
"As I said on 11th September, and have repeated many times since, although there can be no excuses for terrorism we must do what we can to address the causes and the injustices that the terrorists exploit. That is why we want progress towards peace in the Middle East.
"We must never forget why we are engaged in this action: it is because on 11th September Al'Qaeda perpetrated the worst terrorist outrage in history. It is to bring them to justice, and to eliminate them as a threat to world affairs that we are acting as we are.
"Today, I have put in the Library an updated version of the evidence document we first published on 4th October. The new document will be translated into Arabic and Urdu and other languages.
"The intelligence material now leaves no doubt whatever of the guilt of bin Laden and his associates. On 4th October we knew that three of the hijackers were linked to Al'Qaeda. Now we know that the majority were. Indeed, the utterances from his and their own mouths leave no doubt either. Far from hiding their guilt, they gloat. On 9th October one of his spokesmen praised the September 11th atrocities as, 'a good deed' which,
'transferred the battle into the US heartland'.
'If avenging the killing of our people is terrorism, let history be a witness that we are terrorists'.
"They are guilty. They will face justice and today they have far fewer places to hide and far fewer people who wish to protect them.
"As we have made clear from the outset, the campaign against terrorism is much more than a military campaignit is diplomatic, humanitarian, economic, legal. It has meant changing our laws to protect ourselves at home, working with others to protect ourselves abroad.
"And I say this to the people of Afghanistan: as we hunt down the murdering terrorists hiding in your country, they, not you, are our enemy. This time we will not walk away. Your future is in your hands, but our hands are there in friendship to help you shape that future.
"The people of Afghanistan have suffered grievously from a brutal regime, from conflict, from famine and from drought. We want to see a country with a government representing all the people of Afghanistan, occupying a proud place in the community of nations, growing economically, enriching its people, liberating their potential. A country that has suffered so much deserves no less.
"And let us be clear. The way the world embraces and supports the new Afghanistan will be the clearest possible indication that the dreadful events of 11th September have resulted in a triumph for the international community as a force for good, and the defeat of the evil that is international terrorism. A safer world is built out of secure countries representing all their people living in peace with
"Whatever the challenges, whatever the setbacks that lie along the way, I believe that is a vision, and a world, worth fighting for".
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement. It is entirely right that the Prime Minister came to Parliament to deliver it. Does the noble and learned Lord agree that we have seen a complete vindication of the strategy pursued by the coalition over the past four weeks, and indeed, of the wholesome and fulsome support given by these Benches? Had we heeded the cause of those who demanded a pause in the bombing, the coalition would not have achieved the successes it has. Nor would we be any closer to a situation in which effective humanitarian aid could get through. That is now a priority which faces the coalition.
The Prime Minister has been greatly strengthened by the support of a united Parliament. That broad parliamentary support will be needed in the long haul ahead. Can the Leader of the House give the House an assurance that there will soon be a debate on the Afghan situation and the role of British troops so that the whole question can be debated more fully?
We meet against a fast-changing political and military background. A major deployment of British troops could now be involved. That alone underlines the importance of further debate. It also reinforces the need for clarity in our purpose. What are our war aims? We began with the aim of destroying Al'Quaeda and bin Laden. Can the noble and learned Lord assure the House that it remains our central aim to pursue not only bin Laden but the whole international terrorist network relentlessly and ruthlessly for so long as it takes until the threat is destroyed?
To secure bin Laden we set out to remove from power the Taliban which was sheltering him. I am glad to say that that has now been done. The Taliban has been removed from power. Is it also now our aim to remove its capability to do further damage within Afghanistan? Given the welcome collapse of Taliban authority in many Afghan cities, will the coalition now be seeking to harass and destroy Taliban forces in the mountains? Is the Leader of the House in a position to say whether British forces will be involved in that process?
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the role played by the coalition forces so far, including the role played by our own Armed Forces. We support the decision to place British troops on standby ready to be deployed in Afghanistan should their presence on the ground be required. Can the noble and learned Lord go further and spell out the roles which he envisages will be played by our Armed Forces? I hope that we all agree that their objectives must be clearly defined. We
The last thing we need is a power vacuum in which ancient hatreds and rivalries resurface among the people and tribes which now exist in Afghanistan. The need to form a broadly-based administration that can command widespread support has never been more urgent. Can the Leader of the House say more about when he believes that will be achieved? Is he satisfied with the urgency of the United Nations' action in that regard? Can he also tell us at what level the United Kingdom's diplomatic presence will be, and whether he envisages a long-term role for the former king in the future government of Afghanistan?
Finally, I welcome the comments in the Statement on humanitarian aid. Few will forget the prompt action taken by the British government 10 years ago to help Kurdish refugees in harsh winter conditions. We have a narrow opportunity to act in Afghanistan before the winter. What are we doing now to deliver aid to those in the refugee camps and others displaced from their homes in recent weeks? Does the noble and learned Lord agree that there now has to be an intensive humanitarian effort by all involved to ensure that the aid gets through to those in desperate need? I wonder whether British troops will be used to help in that task.
It is essential that we do not relent in the fight against international terrorism now that it has begun. We stand four square behind our Armed Forces and the coalition effort. We will continue to do so. I hope that the noble and learned Lord recognises how much we share with the Prime Minister an admiration for the outstanding leadership of President Bush in recent weeks. The unity of purpose has brought us a long way, but there is still a long way to go.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for repeating a Statement made by the Prime Minister. It would be churlish not to recognise the remarkable function and role of the Prime Minister and also of President Bush in what has happened. We also recognise the work of the special forces, both British and American, and their remarkable achievement so far.
It is worth taking a moment to reflect on the situation which the Soviet Union encountered in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Taliban disappeared into the mountains, regrouped and returned to stop a Soviet attack which was marked by heavy equipment, a large number of soldiers and the brutal behaviour of those soldiers towards civilians. Is the noble and learned Lord satisfied that reports of the collapse of the Taliban are borne out by intelligence and military information? I recognise that he cannot reveal all he
Secondly, it is vital at this stage to try to win the support of the population of Afghanistan. In that respect, I am concerned by the report that liberated peoples may be visiting their vengeance on those whom they feel to be responsible for their oppression and suffering. One must admit that the record of the Northern Alliance as warriors is outstanding, but as people with a fine sense of civilised values rather less so. There are already troubling reports from Mazar-i Sharif and elsewhere of extreme actions by the Northern Alliance. No doubt part of that is attributed to their success, but part of it is likely to be attributed to inadequate guidance on the way in which they should treat the civilian population. Can the noble and learned Lord assure the House that messages are being received by the Northern Alliance to the effect that it is vital that it needs to win the support of the civilians of Afghanistan, which requires proper behaviour towards them?
Thirdly, the noble and learned Lord was understandably encouraging about humanitarian aid, which was good to hear. Does he believe that there is any chance of getting aid through to the south? We understand that around Herat, which has fallen, many people are at the edge of starvation. The noble and learned Lord mentioned the centre and the north, and we are grateful for that information, but perhaps he can address that further issue. As regards the food which is being sent to advance positions, are there strategies for fanning it out into the villages which are being cut off, perhaps by air drops, in order to ensure that they receive the food that they desperately need?
Fourthly, I want to ask the noble and learned Lord a brief question about the rules of engagement, also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Will the rules of engagement relating to our own forces permit them to protect civilians in situations in which they may be at risk? The noble and learned Lord will recall the difference between the rules of engagement under which our forces were restrained in Bosnia, where they had no permission to protect civilians, and in Kosovo, where they had. There was then a substantial difference in the role which our troops took. If the noble and learned Lord cannot comment on the rules of engagement, perhaps he will be able to do so on another occasion.
I turn to the role of the United Nations which the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, in repeating the Statement, made clear was of vital importance. I want to ask two questions. There has been a report that the United Nations special representative indicated that the transition could last for as long as two years. No doubt that is to allow for the refugees to return and for stability to be
My final question relates to the refugee camps, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. We understand that they are still in considerable financial difficulties as regards caring for the refugees, particularly in Pakistan and Iran. Once again, we on these Benchesand we do so frequentlyrequest the Government to consider with the coalition underpinning the financial cost of the refugees in those desperately poor countries in order to show how much we want to support them in their charitable and humanitarian work.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am truly grateful for what has been said by my two colleagues on the respective Opposition Front Benches. It underlines the fact that anyone who works closely with the Prime Minister recognises what a remarkable man we have at the helm of this country in extremely difficult times.
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