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Operation Veritas

18. Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on Operation Veritas. [8368]

Mr. Hoon: Operation Veritas is the United Kingdom's military contribution to the global response to the terrorist atrocities in the United States on 11 September.

The aims of military action over the past three weeks are clear: to destroy the terrorist camps; to pressure the Taliban regime to end its support for Usama bin Laden; and to create the right conditions for future operations in Afghanistan to maintain that pressure.

We have already achieved the first and third of these objectives. The terrorist camps that were known to have been in use at the start of the military action campaign have successfully been put out of action. The coalition has achieved air superiority at medium and high level.

We are making good progress against the second objective. We are now focusing on Taliban forces in the field, weakening their ability to retain control of key parts of Afghanistan.


19. Mr. Wilkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many Gurkha soldiers are serving in the British Army; and with which units. [8369]

20. Mr. Bill O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to increase the number of service personnel in the Gurkha regiments; and if he will make a statement. [8370]

Mr. Ingram: The total number of trained Gurkhas in the British Army as at 1 September was 3,500.

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Gurkhas undertake a number of roles, the most significant being infantry but there are also Gurkha Engineers, Gurkha Logisticians and Gurkha Signal specialists. The number of units in the UK in which Gurkhas are currently serving are varied but their most significant collective numbers outside the main Gurkha units are in the Gurkha Reinforcement Companies.

Army Manpower

21. Mr. Djanogly: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects the Army to reach its full manning strengths. [8371]

Mr. Ingram: The Army remains firmly committed to achieving full manning by 2005.

Ethnic Minority Recruitment

22. Mr. Bailey: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what measures the armed forces are taking to improve recruitment in the armed services of people from minority ethnic communities. [8373]

Mr. Ingram: The armed forces continue to make vigorous and focused efforts to recruit more of their personnel from the British ethnic minority communities. All three Services have highly active Recruiting and Diversity Action Teams, located in areas of high ethnic minority population; they are engaged in numerous initiatives aimed specifically at encouraging more people from diverse backgrounds into joining the armed forces.

Exercise Saif Sareea II

25. Linda Gilroy: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many British troops have taken part in Exercise Saif Sareea II. [8376]

Mr. Hoon: Approximately 22,500 military personnel, drawn from all three Services, have deployed to Oman to take part in Exercise Saif Sareea II.

29. Mr. Crausby: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what programme is in place to assess the success of Exercise Saif Sareea II. [8380]

Mr. Hoon: A comprehensive process has been established to assess whether the exercise objectives have been achieved. This process covers the maritime, land, and air environments, as well as the joint task force level. We will also be working with our Omani colleagues to assess the success of the exercise from a combined perspective.


26. Mr. Kevan Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with his Russian counterpart on international terrorism. [8377]

Mr. Hoon: I met my Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, in Moscow on 9 October. We had valuable discussions on international terrorism and a range of other issues.

Together with NATO colleagues, I also discussed terrorism with Mr. Ivanov in Brussels on 26 September.

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27. Albert Owen: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with his NATO counterparts on operations in Macedonia. [8378]

Mr. Ingram: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is in regular contact with the Secretary General of NATO, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, and has discussed Macedonia with him. He has also recently attended the NATO Informal Defence Ministers meeting on 26–27 September and the EU Informal Defence Ministers meeting on 12 October where he discussed a range of matters with NATO colleagues.


28. Mr. Blunt: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the progress of the A400M programme. [8379]

Dr. Moonie: Six of the eight participating nations signed the A400M MOU in June. Since then, the focus has been on progressing contract and price negotiations. We are close to concluding these negotiations and Germany and Portugal are moving towards achieving final parliamentary and ministerial approval. On 16 October, Italy announced its decision not to continue with the programme at present, but the A400M project nevertheless remains fully viable.

European Security and Defence Policy

30. Sir Sydney Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about progress in implementing the European security and defence policy. [8381]

Mr. Hoon: A Capabilities Improvement Conference in November will review progress already made towards the capability target known as the Headline Goal, as well as future plans. It will then address further actions needed. The analysis underpinning this review has been done in full co-operation with NATO. The conference will also review the additional contributions offered by the non-EU European allies and other countries who are candidates for EU accession.

The EU's political and military bodies in the field of European Security and Defence Policy have been made permanent and have been active in preparing for the implementation of arrangements on such matters as crisis management procedures, security, exercise policy and co-operation with NATO. Work will continue on these issues. The Secretary General High Representative, Javier Solana, and the NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson, have been in close consultation, and there have been a number of meetings between alliance and European Union political and military bodies.

Recruitment (Young People)

31. Gillian Merron: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans his Department has for promoting careers in the armed forces to young people. [8382]

Mr. Ingram: We have many initiatives aimed at promoting and encouraging young people to consider a career in the Armed Services. Each Service has school presentation teams, and about 1,000 schools are visited each year. Each Service also deploys Recruiting

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Presentation Teams who, together with armed forces Careers Office staff, visit schools, careers fairs, exhibitions, youth clubs and organisations and other events. We estimate that over 10,500 visits are undertaken each year. The Services also offer direct work experience to young people through a variety of courses and visits to Service establishments and ships. We aim to offer anyone considering a service career the chance to take a closer look. Armed forces recruiting includes the use of a dedicated careers website for each of the Services. These are proving to be very successful. All these initiatives are supplemented by continued multi-media advertising campaigns.

We intend to expand this effort by increasing the number of schools presentation teams, appointing a schools adviser in the Ministry of Defence, setting up a schools page on our website and developing material for teachers and pupils. All of this will be linked in to the curricula.

International Peacekeeping

32. Mr. Win Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the future role of British forces in international peacekeeping. [8383]

Mr. Hoon: Since the Strategic Defence Review in 1998, our armed forces have been involved in both continuing and new peacekeeping operations, such as those in the Balkans, Sierra Leone, East Timor, and Cyprus. These recent experiences have shown that our armed forces are particularly effective at carrying out these difficult tasks and so acting as a force for good in the world.

We remain committed to participating, where appropriate and possible, in international peacekeeping operations.

Tactical Communications

33. Helen Southworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made in improving tactical communications for the armed forces in the last 12 months. [8384]

Dr. Moonie: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths).

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