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Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, as the noble Lord said, this is a serious commitment which has been announced to Parliament today. Does it arise from a revised assessment by the Americans and ourselves following Operation Anaconda or was it always envisaged that after the earlier and brilliant successes in kicking the Taliban out of positions of power there would be, in a way rather reminiscent of Afghan history, a long and difficult follow through such as the noble Lord is now describing?

Perhaps I may raise another issue where we have a national and a European interest which the Americans do not seem entirely to have. If it is true that 90 per cent of the heroin which reaches Europe comes from Afghanistan, what steps are our forces or agencies taking to check that flow? Would it not be a bitter paradox if, as a result of all this energy and new commitments, the flow of heroin which can poison so many of our children were increased?

Lord Bach: My Lords, with his great experience in this field, the noble Lord is absolutely right. The Statement I have repeated this afternoon is indeed a serious one. I am not in a position to say whether such an event as I have announced was forecast months ago. As the noble Lord will know, these analyses change with time. As he rightly said, there were great successes which were perhaps achieved more quickly than some anticipated last autumn. It may be that the Anaconda campaign has affected both the United States and its allies in realising that the Al'Qaeda and Taliban would not just disappear. The United States has always said that it was going to be a long haul as regards the Afghanistan part of the warfare against terrorism. I do not believe that it is true that the coalition has been caught by surprise. But what is absolutely vital is that the battle against Al'Qaeda and terrorism is finally won in Afghanistan because if it is not, then why have we bothered to risk the lives of our troops and those of the coalition?

I am grateful to the noble Lord for having given me advance warning about his last question concerning drugs. That is a very important issue. It has not been

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the task of British forces to destroy opium crops. We do not specifically target heroin stockpiles. Some may have been destroyed during coalition military attacks on terrorist targets. It is impossible to say how many. But the Afghan Interim Authority is planning to destroy this month the Spring opium crop. ISAF is not strictly responsible for the areas of Afghanistan where these crops are largely grown. The interim authority has put on record its determination to stamp out opium production and the signs are encouraging. That is the latest information. The prediction is that this year's crop will be about one-third of what it was under the Taliban, which is one-third too much. But it is an improvement. We are working hard with the Afghan interim administration and the rest of the international community, with the funding that was promised at the Tokyo conference, as the noble Lord will recall. Some of that money will be used for crop substitution and other schemes to help wean Afghan farmers from their opium production, which was basically the result of Afghanistan being a failed state. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his questions.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, can the noble Lord say when the Czech field hospital is likely to be deployed? Will that mean that our own field hospital, currently there in support of ISAF, will return home or will it be used in support of 45 Commando?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord when the Czech hospital will be deployed and neither can I answer his second question. I shall write to the noble Lord with the answers when they are available.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, I shall be brief. I welcome this afternoon's Statement and offer my support and that of my noble friends of the Ulster Unionist Party, for those additional troops who will now be deployed in Afghanistan. Having spent some time with Brigadier Lane and 45 Commando, Royal Marines, in the Omani desert towards the end of last year, I know that they are well equipped, that they have high morale and that they can deal with any challenge that they may face. I, and I am sure all the Members of this House, wish them well.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his party's support for this undertaking.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, the Minister has made a very serious Statement committing our forces to a war-fighting role. There was reference by the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, to the speech of the Chief of Defence staff as to whether we were going to be caught in the mangle. It certainly does not look like a short engagement, but a long haul. The issue of overstretch is not just whether 45 Commando can go there now, but who may replace them and who is going to undertake this continuing assignment in the future.

I do not think that the noble Lord responded to one question from the noble Lord, Lord Vivian; namely, what was the total commitment now of British troops to theatre? I am referring not just to the Royal

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Anglians or 45 Commando, but the total commitment we have now of forces to this theatre of operations, which will have to be sustained by further planning about which there appears to be no commitment at present.

The dates which the noble Lord has given to the House sound rather extraordinary. As I understand it, he is hoping that the Turks will take over ISAF by 15th April—

Lord Bach: My Lords, 30th April.

Lord King of Bridgwater: And then that ISAF itself is due to wind up because its commitment runs to 20th June, as I understand it. I have some experience of Turkey. While I am delighted that Prime Minister Ecevit is supportive of the Prime Minister, everyone knows the power of the armed forces in Turkey and that they are unlikely to take on anything unless they are persuaded that they are going forward on a proper basis. It does look as though the commitment may stay with us and that with those we are taking on now, for what looks like a much more difficult undertaking than it might appear in the initial stages, they present a significant military commitment. We clearly have to deal with the terrorists, but we should not underrate the scale of the commitment that we are taking on.

Lord Bach: My Lords, it is difficult to give a precise answer to the noble Lord's first and important question about how many of our Armed Forces are involved. If one includes the large number at Tampa Central Command, those working on this issue in London, those on our ships in the Arabian Sea, the troops who are already in Afghanistan and the troops in Britain who are ready to go, the figure of about 9,000 would not be wildly wrong. That is a frank answer to the noble Lord at present.

I take the point made by the noble Lord about the 30th April and 20th June dates. We hope that the Turks will soon make a decision and will take over shortly after, if not on, 30th April.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will the Minister give the House an indication of when these grave matters will be discussed by Parliament? Until recent months, it has long been the tradition for affairs of national moment to be laid before Parliament and for Parliament to give its views. Successful military and political leaders in the past have always insisted that Parliament must reign supreme and that parliamentary consent on behalf of the nation is an indispensable condition to the successful prosecution of any course that the country finally decides to take.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, with his vast experience. However, I must gently point out that we are making this announcement in Parliament at the first available opportunity. The country first knows of it as a result of my right honourable friend's Statement in the

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House of Commons and my repetition of it here. I think the House will agree that that is the appropriate way to announce a decision of this kind.

My right honourable friend was asked in the Commons exchanges a short time ago about the matter of debate. His reply—the one that Ministers make on all these occasions—was that it would have to take place through the usual channels. However, I find it difficult to believe that these serious matters will not be debated very soon.

Lord Inge: My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for that statement and endorse what the noble Lord, Lord King, said about the importance of this commitment.

Touching on the remark that has just been made, I should like to add how important it is for the Armed Forces to feel that the nation is behind them when they are deployed. That is an enormously important point, which is sometimes underestimated by those who send them on these kinds of difficult missions.

I should also like to ask the Minister whether it is right that 45 Commando will be commanded by the Americans rather than by ISAF. For what length of tour of duty does he expect 45 Commando to be deployed in Afghanistan? Was it considered—it would be the usual practice—that a force deployed on a dangerous operation such as this would take with it its own air support? I assume that we shall be relying on the Americans for that close air support. However, will the Minister tell us whether consideration was given to sending our own close air support and, if not, the reason for not doing so?

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