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Mr. Hoon: As I said in answer to earlier questions, it is vital for us to understand the cause of the outbreak to ensure that no further difficulty occurs in future. The hon. Gentleman specifically mentioned the way in which malaria affected operations in Sierra Leone. I assure him that checks have been made in relation to the forces in Afghanistan to ensure that appropriate medication has been available.
Let me emphasise that all appropriate action has been taken in relation to quarantine measures. I have described a series of steps that have been taken. The hon. Gentleman has had a copy of my statement, and I assure him that the best possible medical and prevention advice has been made available and acted on.
As for the defence medical services, I have spoken a number of times in the House about the difficulties that we inherited with regard to that vital contribution to our armed forces. We are making determined efforts to improve the positionwhich indeed already has been improved. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) is muttering about the time that that has taken. He knows, or should know, how long it takes to train doctors and others with appropriate experience; if he does not know, I must tell him that it takes rather longer than five years. None the less, we are taking appropriate action to resolve the problems affecting that important contribution to the health and success of our armed forces.
I hope that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), and the House, will bear with me, but ensuring that Turkey takes over the ISAF leadership has been a long and careful process. If the House will forgive me, I will not speculate on what further negotiations might be necessary in the future. I congratulate Turkey on its decision, and feel that, as a European nation, it is making an important contribution to ISAF.
As for co-operation with Pakistan, it is important that we work with Pakistan's forces, as we have done in the recent past. They have played a valuable role along the border, and in that regard I should like to see improvement.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): I join others in congratulating our forces on their work in Afghanistan, and on their efforts to liberate the Muslim people of Afghanistan from Taliban tyranny. The Secretary of State mentioned the wider, non-military aspects of the campaign. Does he agree that one of those is the information campaign, and that it is vital that we redouble our efforts internationally to correct the distortions and downright fabrications put out by some organisations? In particular, I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to ummahnews.coma website edited by Faisal Bodi, terrorist apologist and columnist for The Guardianwhich includes articles claiming that the attacks on 11 September were carried out at the instigation of the CIA
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who clearly has rather more time available for surfing the web than I do. He raises an important issue that is not limited to websites; difficulties with information distortion also occur rather closer to home. He rightly points out that it is crucial that we set out our aims and objectives, and that they are properly understood and represented.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): The Secretary of State is right to highlight the successes of Operation Snipe, but he will be the first to admit that such an operation will necessarily be less effective without the existence of operations of equal, or greater, intensity on the other side of the border. He touched on that matter in his reply to the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), but could he tell us more about operations conducted by Pakistan's military, or by other forces, on that side of the border to root out al-Qaeda terrorists?
Mr. Hoon: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand if I do not go into too much detail about the precise nature of those operations. However, with his characteristic common sense on such matters, he has identified an important change in the way in which those particular deployments will be made. They will be much more responsive to intelligence on the ground, and the concept of operations will reflect not only the nature of information about current conditions, but the importance of co-operation of the type that he rightly identifies as necessary.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): I agree with my right hon. Friend that by destroying weapons and terrorist infrastructure our troops are playing a valuable role, and I join others in wishing those who are ill in quarantine a speedy recovery. Does the announcement that medical reservists will be called up imply that our troops are likely to be involved in combat in the near future, and is it still a campaign objective to apprehend and bring to justice Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders? My right hon. Friend said that had the troops engaged in Operation Snipe found terrorists, they would have dealt with them. What does he mean by that phraseology? How will the British Government ensure that terrorists who might be detained in such circumstances receive justice by due process?
Mr. Hoon: I assure my hon. Friend that medical reservists have been called up to ensure that appropriate medical cover is available to our armed forces in the event of their being engaged in combat and requiring appropriate treatment. There is no specific connection between the two issues, other than the importance of having available the right people to deal with any problems as they arise. The specific reasons for the call-up at this stage are to give those who have been serving in the area so far a break, to allow us to rotate new people into that theatre and related theatres, and to ensure that we have appropriate resources available for the length of the current operation.
In connection with encounters with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, I used the words "dealt with" advisedly. In the event of suspect terrorists surrendering, they will be dealt with according to proper procedures under international law, which has always been the British Government's position. In the event of the terrorists offering resistance to our armed forces, we have robust rules of engagement that will allow them to deal with any threat effectively.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): I thank the Secretary of State for his very long-winded statement, and I agree with him that Operation Snipe was clearly a success in that it denied the ground to al-Qaeda. An important role remains to be playednot dissimilar to that carried out with great brilliance and distinction by British troops in Sierra Leonein the increasing stabilisation of Afghanistan, and allowing its fledgling Government to take root and their writ to run throughout the country.
However, all the indications and suggestions from this end that this was to be a major operation, in which it was likely that casualties would be sustained and contact would be made with the enemy, were ill judged. The hyping of military operations is unhelpful, and causes great anxiety to the families and frustration to the soldiers. There was no reason to assume that they would bump into al-Qaeda. On this occasion our intelligence was not good, because it is difficult to have good intelligence on the ground in Afghanistan.
Mr. Hoon: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman, who normally deploys good sense and sound judgment in his military observations, has allowed himself to make an uncharacteristic misjudgment of the nature of the operations. Perhaps he has been away from the Ministry of Defence for too long; I would certainly allow him the opportunity to refresh his knowledge and understanding, because he normally speaks with much thoughtfulness.
I invite the hon. Gentleman to return to the statement that I made at the start of the operations and read what I said to the House. He would, rightly, have been the first to criticise me if I had not warned the House of the potential risks of such an operation. If he thought a little more carefully, he would bear in mind that it followed Operation Anaconda, in which the United States conducted a similar sweep through territory in Afghanistan in order to conduct the same sort of operation as the Royal Marines have recently undertaken, but instead of taking to the hills or fleeing to Pakistan, al-Qaeda stood its ground and fought fiercely. That was the context in which I made the statement to the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, whose statements are not usually long-winded, will reflect on what I have said and return to his normal good humour and good form.
Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West): It would be a serious mistake to look at the present situation and claim that al-Qaeda had fled in the face of the brilliance of our Royal Marinesalthough I have no doubt that they are