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Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that his aim to require sufficient change in Afghanistan's leadership is a sufficient aim? Over 20 years of conflict and civil war in Afghanistan have led to the conditions in which terrorism has been allowed to breed. The country has the most barbaric Government, and has done for years, regardless of whether the leadership came from the Northern Alliance or elsewhere. We need to be more forthright in saying that we require that all the people of Afghanistan should have the right to decide who should rule them.
Mr. Hoon: That is why I expressed the aim in terms of securing a Government in Afghanistan who do not support and sustain international terrorism. The hon. Gentleman rightly points out that what follows from that is a stronger and more sustainable situation in Afghanistan; but our immediate aim is to secure a situation in which that country is not supporting al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks.
As I have said, we will bring about those aims in a number of ways, but my immediate responsibility is the military aspect of the campaign. The Ministry of Defence's contribution to meeting the campaign aims is focused on achieving three specific military objectives: to destroy the terrorist camps, to pressurise the Taliban regime to end its support for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and to enable us to mount future operations in Afghanistan.
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): Will my right hon. Friend tell us how many cluster bombs, delayed action bombs or Gator bombs have been dropped during the campaign, and to which of the military objectives those bombs have been directed?
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Can my right hon. Friend give us an estimate of the number of civilian targets and international aid agency targets that have been hit by coalition forces? What estimate does he have of the number of civilian and military deaths in Afghanistan resulting from the campaign?
Mr. Hoon: Let me make it clear to my hon. Friend that there are no civilian targets. As I will make clear in due course, an enormous amount of effort is made to avoid civilian casualties. There are necessary risks involved in military operations, and although we go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, I recognise that that risk exists in a military conflict. It is not possible to give any precise figures about the number of civilian casualties, but I caution my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to avoid relying on anything that the Taliban regime says about the matter.
Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North): Will my right hon. Friend remind the House of the number of civilian targets the terrorists hit in the United States on 11 September, how many innocent people were on the aeroplanes and how many innocent civilian targets the terrorists have hit over the past few years?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a clear contrast between the appalling carnage witnessed in the United States on 11 September and the controlled, determined and precise way in which we are responding against appropriate military targets in Afghanistan.
I want to emphasise that our military objectives are being achieved. Since military action began on 7 October, nine terrorist training camps have been destroyed, including all those that were known to be in use when the campaign started. We have disrupted al-Qaeda's ability to train in the open, which will have restricted its ability to carry out further attacks. We have, therefore, achieved our first military objective, which is to destroy terrorist training camps. Of course, terrorist camps can be rebuilt and terrorists can hide and return later, so we continue to press home attacks on terrorist targets, including the caves where they hide.
Our second military objective is to pressurise the Taliban regime to end its support for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. We have attacked significant elements of their military installations. Nearly 40 Taliban military facilities have been attackedall are damaged and many are destroyed. Taliban forces deployed in the field are being attacked. Significant amounts of armour, vehicles, equipment, and stores have been destroyed, including some 150 military vehicles and over 50 artillery pieces.
The focus of recent military action has shifted significantly towards attacking Taliban forces in the field, thereby aiding the Northern Alliance and others who are also fighting them. That is increasing pressure on the Taliban regime still further.
We have not yet achieved our second military objective. The Taliban regime is still supporting Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. We do, however, have good evidence that we are getting there. The Northern Alliance is growing in strength, with reports of some areas of local disaffection with the Taliban regimeits brutality, its barbarity and its hypocrisy. There are encouraging signs that the regime is now feeling the pressure acutely.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I apologise for not being present at the beginning of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. May I ask him a question connected with what he said about dealing with the Taliban's front-line forces? Can he give us any estimate of their numbers, and can he tell us how successful the campaign has been in dealing with them over the past few days?
Mr. Hoon: I think the hon. Gentleman will understand why I do not want to go into detail about the precise numbers, as far as we are aware of them. As I shall make clear in due course, however, a very determined attempt is under way to disrupt the front line, and to ensure that the Northern Alliance has every opportunity to take ground and to advance.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): If the training camps have been seriously damaged in military terms, and if Taliban airfields and other military installations have been hit, does that not provide an argument for putting the bombing on the back burner rather than escalating it with B52s? It is having a tremendous impact on the Islamic world, and we need its support for our objectives.
Mr. Hoon: I remind my hon. Friend that B52s have been part of the military campaign from the outset. What is different now is that they are targeting the Taliban front line. As for his suggestion of a pause in the bombing, it is important to maintain pressure on the Taliban regime and on al-Qaeda. A moment ago, I mentioned the possibility of terrorist training camps being rebuilt and reconstituted. We simply cannot afford such a development, which is why the military campaign must continue until we achieve the aims that we set out at the beginning.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Following the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), may I ask what assessment the Government have made of the likely effect in the Islamic and Arab world of bombing during Ramadan?
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Does my right hon. Friend recall that, in the Iran/Iraq war, Iran bombed Iraq and Iraq bombed Iran during Ramadan? Does he recall that the Egyptians and the Syrians deliberately launched the Yom Kippur war on Israel during Ramadan? Some of my hon. Friends seem to misunderstand the nature of Ramadan, which those of us who live among thousands of Muslim constituents may understand better.
Patrick Mercer (Newark): I apologise to the Secretary of State for not being here at the beginning, but may I take him back to what was said by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes)? Following his deeply unhelpful comments, will the right hon. Gentleman explain the difference between very precise surgical strikes against targets of high value, and strikes against targets of a purely military nature in areas whereI hesitate to use this phrasecollateral damage is much less likely?