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Mr. Tom Watson accordingly presented a Bill to provide for the removal of organs for transplantation purposes, after death has been confirmed in a person aged 16 or over, except where a potential donor previously registered an objection or where a close relative objects; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 April, and to be printed [Bill 114].
Our calling of this debate on the war in Afghanistan should not be allowed to cast any doubt on our continuing support for the Government in the war against terrorism. We applauded the Prime Minister's instant and unequivocal support for the United States after 11 September. More recently, his very clear statements about the need to deal with Iraq demonstrate that he remains shoulder to shoulder with the United States. The Prime Minister will continue to have our support while he continues to do the right thing.
In the statement by the Secretary of State for Defence on Monday, the Government announced a very significant escalation of our commitment to combat operations in Afghanistan. Let there be no doubt that we support the principle of that decision; but it was wrong for the Government to make such an announcement without anticipating the need for a proper debate on the subject. I asked the Government for a debate and they could have avoided the need for me to invoke Standing Order No. 24, but Ministers ignored our polite requests.
Yesterday was an important day for Parliament. Mr. Speaker made it clear that that situation was unacceptable to the House of Commons, and his decision to accept our request for a debate clearly had support in all parts of the House. Please will you, Madam Deputy Speaker, pass those remarks and our thanks to him?
Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): May I ask whether the hon. Gentleman's judgment could be called into question? There was an Opposition-day debate yesterday, which was used to discuss the Chinook helicopter crash. This matter could have been raised yesterday, instead of using this procedure to raise it here today.
Mr. Jenkin: First, I do not think that this is going to be an occasion to make party political comments. [Interruption.] I say to the Secretary of State for Defence that I was making a point on behalf of the House of Commons, not my party. Secondly, I think that the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) will find that quite a number of his right hon. and hon. Friends are grateful that this debate is taking place.
45 Commando are trained in high-altitude mountain warfare, and it is in mountain warfare that they are now to engage. They are trained for close-quarters combat, for flexible, autonomous and lightly armed operations beyond the front line, with the minimum of logistical support. The United States made the request because, undoubtedly, they are some of the finest troops that anyone will find on this earth. They are ideally fitted to the task, which is to defeat our enemiesthose who threaten our people in our country and the peoples of our friends and allies. That is why we have our armed forces: to protect our people.
The men of 45 Commando Royal Marines understand the dangers, but they will relish the challenges ahead, provided they have a clear mission, under a clear chain of communication and command, access to tactical lift and close air support when required, and the best equipment.
The House is entitled to ask Ministers about the reasons for their decision and for assurances. In the spirit of genuine inquiry, I invite the Secretary of State to use this occasion to build confidence in this deployment and in the Government's decision.
Secondly, on the mission, the objective must be to assist United States armed forces to search out and defeat the remaining elements of largely non-Afghan al-Qaeda terrorists. Once that job is done, 45 Commando should come home. Can we be sure that that is indeed their mission? Can the Secretary of State clarify exactly who is still resisting in the mountains of Shah-i-Kot? Do we have enough intelligence to assess their number, their capabilities and their determination, and to develop a clear understanding of how they operate? What lessons have we learned from Tora Bora and Operation Anaconda? How will we improve the effectiveness of co-operation with indigenous Afghan forces, and what measures will be taken to prevent al-Qaeda from simply running away, as they have in the past?
The CIA informed the Senate armed services committee yesterday that coalition forces will face increased danger of attack from small pockets of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, who remain hidden in the mountains in what was described as "classic insurgency format". They will use very small groups of fighters to attack and perhaps to pin down much larger coalition formations. Can the Secretary of State explain how we will avoid being bogged down in such fighting, so that we can press ahead to the main objective and a swift conclusion?
There is also the question of force rotation. How long is it intended that 45 Commando remain in combat before being relieved? With each commando of 3 Commando Brigade being short of one companythat is, short of 100 men each out of some 900that will create manning challenges across the whole corps. Can the Secretary of State say something about how that will be addressed?
Thirdly, the chain of command should be clear. I understand that 45 Commando and 3 Commando brigade headquarters, which will be set up at Bagram airport, will be fully integrated into the US operational command of Operation Enduring Freedom. That is under the field command of the US General, Major-General Hagenbeck, who commands the US 10th Mountain Division. Why have we been asked to provide a brigade headquarters at all, as it is unnecessary for the deployment of this one battle group? Are we keeping an option open to deploy
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): On that point, if a brigade headquarters is effectively sitting on top of commando headquarters, it will be a top-heavy structure that will get in the way of the operational deployment of the commando itself.
My understanding is that the United States would not have made its request unless it was confident that we already shared a joint concept of operations and that Brigadier Lane already had a relationship and operational understanding with those with whom he will be working. The Royal Marines should be more than happy to work alongside 10th Mountain Division's second battalion or US 101st Airborne Division. Standard NATO operating procedures will underpin their effective co-operation.
Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many troops of all nationalities this formation will put in the front line of operations? The UK will have some 900 troops, plus some unspecified minor elements in the front line. The United States has only 2,000 troops in this theatre, as against our 1,700. How many US troops will be held forward for front-line operations? Might the British force comprise as much as 30, 40 or even 50 per cent. of the front-line fighting capability?
Fourthly, Lord Inge, former Chief of the Defence Staff, raised an important issue in the other place on Mondaythe lack of British dedicated air power, known as close air support. The Americans already have carrier-based F-14s and F-18s and land-based F-15s and A-10 ground attack aircraft alongside the Apache attack helicopters and heavy bombers based in Diego Garcia. Have we considered offering to deploy our own dedicated close air support? The Italians are flying off a carrier in theatre and the French have deployed Mirage 2000D jets based in Kyrgyzstan and Super Etandards from the carrier Charles de Gaulle in the Indian ocean.
Sadly, too many British ground-attack Jaguars are either committed to other operations or laid up waiting for new engines, other spares or pilots. If we have nothing else to deploy, has the Secretary of State been given the necessary assurances by the United States about the availability of close air support for British forces as and when required?
Will our Royal Marines on the ground be able to communicate directly with US aircraft, which is vital for quick response and to minimise the risk of friendly-fire self-inflicted casualties? Frankly, only dedicated air support to a particular operation will do.
That leads to the wider question of communications. What systems will 45 Commando be using? Will they be secure, and will they be fully interoperable at all tactical levels with the Americans and any other nation's forces in theatre?
I am sure that the House can have every confidence that a suitable welfare package will be in place for communication with families back home and that they will have the best medical support available. If we are to rely on US field hospital support, will British medical personnel be available to deal with casualties?
I shall now move on to the other British military operation in Afghanistan that is part of the war against terrorismthe international security assistance force, or ISAF, under UK command in Kabul. That, too, was originally intended to be a swift and decisive deployment, but has proved more protracted than the Government originally anticipated. There needs to be a clear understanding that ISAF is completely separate from combat operations elsewhere. We are concerned about mission creep, the open-ended commitment to our leadership of ISAF and the size of our contribution to it.
The Conservative party is not always content with the way in which the Government choose to use British armed forces. We do not always agree with the way that our limited and over-extended armed forces are spread across the globe on so many lower-level peacekeeping tasks that are more suited to a gendarmerie than a fighting army. I recall the words of a soldier of 2 Para, who was reported in the press as saying that Kabul is great experience but