Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Hoon: I will deal in due course with the kind of bombing that is likely to be an increasing feature of the campaign, but the targeting of military assets—fixed assets—has been largely completed in Afghanistan, and turning to the deployed military assets of the regime to facilitate an advance by the Northern Alliance is an entirely sensible military strategy.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that many Afghans who oppose the Taliban are criticising the action, saying that not enough has been done to attack the Taliban's front-line forces and calling for far more action against the Taliban military?

Mr. Hoon: That is now being addressed very emphatically and effectively.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): What the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday made it far from clear whether the total removal of the Taliban was an objective in the campaign. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether there is any possibility that hostilities could cease and the Taliban could still exist, which would enable them to harbour terrorists in future?

Mr. Hoon: There is no possibility of the Taliban's continuing to exist if they intend to harbour future terrorists and allow terrorist training camps. As we have made clear all along, if the existing regime chooses to give up Osama bin Laden and his main associates and to abandon its support for terrorism, and allows us to verify

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1019

that, the military action could end very quickly; but I see no sign of the regime's agreeing to those perfectly reasonable requests.

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): Does my right hon. Friend believe, and does the intelligence community believe, that bin Laden and his associates will themselves pause in their planning and activities during Ramadan? Has there been any statement from the Northern Alliance or the current Afghan Government that either will pause in their activities? Finally, when my right hon. Friend reaches the subject of targets, will he tell us whether the poppy fields in Afghanistan that cause so much drug-connected trouble throughout the world are a potential future target?

Mr. Hoon: It is certainly important to disrupt the Taliban's ability to sustain their operations, and their support for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. That disruption will continue in a variety of ways. I see no signs of a let-up in the Northern Alliance's efforts against the Taliban regime during Ramadan; nor indeed do I see any signs of international terrorism abandoning its efforts during that period.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hoon: I will give way one last time. I have given way rather a lot.

Donald Anderson: Ancillary to the military campaign is the campaign for hearts and minds. Bin Laden has been extremely skilful in exploiting modern techniques with mediaeval imagery, as Khomeini did in 1979. What are we doing to counter that? Are we going to recruit people from the private sector, as the United States has done, to put over the coalition's case?

Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important for us to get the case across. I can give one example of what we are doing: we have recently spent some time talking to the Arab media. I think it very important, certainly on the basis of my visits to the middle east, to get our case across to those who are influencing public opinion in the region, and that effort will continue.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) rose

Mr. Hoon: I will give way.

Mr. Campbell: I am grateful. Indeed, I am sure the whole House is grateful to the Secretary of State for being so generous.

May I return the right hon. Gentleman to the issue of the air campaign? Will he make it clear that there is no question of a separate air campaign and a separate ground campaign? We are embarking on military operations of which both air and ground operations are components. What we require is a fully integrated set of military operations. It is not possible to turn off the air campaign or turn on the ground campaign simply because of a particular date or time of the year.

Mr. Hoon: The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a very good point, which I shall address in due course.

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1020

I was dealing with military objectives. On our third military objective, we have certainly created the conditions for future military operations in Afghanistan. Nine of the Taliban's airfields have been attacked and put out of action; their air force is effectively no more; their air defence and early warning systems have been wrecked. The coalition has air supremacy at medium and high altitude; coalition aircraft can fly lower and engage targets in the Taliban's front line. Ground troops can be deployed, as the United States proved in the raids on Kandahar nearly two weeks ago.

We never expected military action to be easy or to produce instant results. It will take time and it will take patience. Some people, perhaps, have become too ready in recent years to assume that military force will bring rapid and effortless success. They assume that the campaign in Afghanistan will be like those to expel Iraq from Kuwait or to drive Milosevic's forces out of Kosovo. There are, of course, some similarities. An obvious example is the early use of air power; its use to gain air superiority enables other operations to proceed with much lower risk than would otherwise be the case. Another comparison is the need to deploy and sustain forces far from their usual bases. Yet another example is the importance of wide international support. The Gulf conflict saw, as now, a great global coalition, standing against Saddam Hussein. The Kosovo campaign, too, although led by NATO, involved many countries from outside the Alliance.

There are, however, significant differences. In Kosovo, the enemy was a major and sophisticated standing army. For our forces to operate in safety required an intensive effort, much more so than we have seen over Afghanistan, to reduce the military capability and the power of the Yugoslav army. In Kosovo, the enemy was a modern state, albeit a badly governed one, but still a country with a relatively advanced infrastructure that was being used to support its military forces. There were, therefore, more targets, and they were more obvious.

Compare that with Afghanistan and the Taliban regime. Afghanistan has seen 22 years of almost continuous war. Much of its infrastructure was destroyed or damaged long before the first coalition bomb fell on 7 October. Neither al-Qaeda nor the Taliban have standing armies as we understand that term, so our approach must be different. Intelligence is always important in any conflict, but it is crucial in this one. We have to engage relatively small and often elusive targets. That is no easy task. Good intelligence, as ever, is essential.

A conventional military campaign aims to take control of specific territory; that was how we pursued our aims in the Gulf and Kosovo, but that is not how we will conduct the campaign in Afghanistan. We are fighting not a unified state, but fanatical terrorists and their obsessive supporters. At times, we may need to deploy forces within Afghanistan. At times, we will help Afghans opposed to the Taliban regime. Indeed, much of the current air campaign—80 per cent. or so—is directed against the Taliban front line with the Northern Alliance. Certainly, when the Taliban regime falls, we may need to help stabilise the situation in Afghanistan, but we do not need to focus on gaining ground to the same extent as in a conventional campaign.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): I thank the Secretary of State for giving way with his customary

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1021

generosity. A little earlier, he said that the Taliban could stop the campaign against them by yielding up bin Laden and, presumably, his closest associates. Has he thought how we should react if, when the campaign begins to press hard on the Taliban, they tried a move in which they announced that bin Laden and his closest associates had left the country, and if that were verified? Presumably, we would not just call off the campaign; we would still insist on proceeding until the rest of the network was destroyed.

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman has answered his own question. I listed a number of conditions that we would require to be met before the military campaign and the wider campaign against international terrorism could be suspended, as far as Afghanistan was concerned.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): My question arises from an earlier intervention. Will my right hon. Friend now kill the myth that the conflict will have some effect on the flow of heroin to this country and confirm what the United Nations has just said—that the Taliban have reduced their poppy cultivation by 91 per cent, but the Northern Alliance has increased its poppy cultivation threefold? A great deal of the heroin coming to this country comes from Burma, Pakistan and other countries. Whatever the outcome of the conflict, it will have no effect whatsoever on the flow of heroin into this country.

Mr. Hoon: I am afraid that I do not agree with my hon. Friend, and I caution him against relying on the argument that, somehow, the Taliban regime had reduced the supply of heroin. In fact, the Taliban regime prohibited others from producing heroin so that they could exploit substantial stockpiles of heroin. Indeed, they were seeking to raise the price to derive further cash from that appalling trade. So I do not accept that there would not be a significant disruption of the heroin trade; it would certainly prevent the regime from trading in other people's lives to sustain its own appalling activities.

It is not possible to try to predict precisely how long the military campaign will last. What I can say, and what we have always said, is that we are in this for the long haul. Our assignment last week of additional forces—forces that we can sustain and support for long periods—is a clear demonstration of our resolve to see this through to the end. The campaign will continue for as long as it takes to achieve the aims that I have set out.

There were clearly difficult times during the Kosovo campaign, but we did not falter then. Look at the result: Kosovar Albanians have been able to return home; the region is already showing signs of stability; and two years after the end of military activity, Slobodan Milosevic is now in court. We will pursue those responsible for the terrorist atrocities of 11 September with precisely the same vigour and for as long as it takes, until they are brought to account. To get there, we must be patient and determined.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the National Assembly for Wales on Tuesday that the only hope that the terrorists in Afghanistan have of victory is if we lack the will or the courage to take them on. They think that we will lose our nerve. They could not be more wrong. We will not lose our nerve, because those

1 Nov 2001 : Column 1022

responsible for the attacks of 11 September must be brought to account. They cannot be allowed to get away with the murder of thousands of innocent people.

Next Section

IndexHome Page