Select Committee on Defence Thirteenth Report

1  Introduction


1. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre, New York, on 11 September 2001, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was blamed by the United States (US) Administration (and the United Kingdom Government) for harbouring Al Qaeda terrorists, including its leader Osama Bin Laden, who had claimed responsibility for the attack. In October 2001, the US launched a military campaign—Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)—in conjunction with the Afghan Northern Alliance to remove the Taliban from power. The military campaign, for which the US provided air power and the Northern Alliance provided ground forces, ended with the fall of the Taliban in December 2001.

2. Following the end of the military campaign, prominent Afghans met in December 2001 in Bonn, Germany, under the auspices of the United Nations to determine the post-Taliban future for Afghanistan. The resulting Bonn Agreement set out a twin-track political and stabilisation process for Afghanistan. Nationwide presidential and parliamentary elections followed in 2004 and 2005; and a 5,000 strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was deployed under United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1386, to ensure stability in Kabul.[1] The US-led OEF counter-terrorism mission continued to operate separately from ISAF, primarily in the Eastern provinces of Afghanistan.

3. Since March 2002, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has coordinated the international political and diplomatic effort in Afghanistan. The UNAMA's stated mission in Afghanistan is to provide assistance to the Afghanistan Government in developing its institutions, protecting human rights and promoting development. The UNAMA is headed by Tom Koenigs, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan (SRSG), who has overall responsibility for all UN activities in the country.[2]

4. In addition to the UNAMA mission, many other international institutions have a presence in Afghanistan. In January 2006, 53 countries negotiated the Afghanistan Compact which committed the Afghanistan Government and the international community to achieving three overarching goals by 2011: security; governance; and economic development. The Afghanistan Compact was also signed by the Asian Development Bank, the G8, the European Union and the World Bank. Governments and institutions pledged $10.5 billion to put the plan into effect.[3]

The security mission

5. On 11 August 2003 ISAF became a NATO-led operation and began to extend its area of operation over Afghanistan. In June 2004, ISAF extended into the Northern and Western Provinces, as authorised by UNSCR 1510. In July 2006, ISAF extended into Afghanistan's Southern provinces and 12,000 US troops, previously deployed as part of OEF, came under ISAF command.[4] In October 2006, UNSCR 1707 extended ISAF's authority into Afghanistan's Eastern Provinces so that the whole country came under its authority.

6. Alongside the ISAF mission, the US-led OEF counter-terrorism mission continues to operate, albeit in reduced numbers, in Afghanistan's Eastern provinces. The ISAF stability mission (discussed further in Chapter 2) and the 4,000 strong OEF counter-terrorism mission remain separate in purpose, but during 2006 the missions became more closely coordinated. The respective command structures merged with the deputy Commander of ISAF, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, continuing to lead the OEF mission. The air support for both missions was coordinated from the US Coalition Combined Air Operations Control Centre (CAOC) base at Al Udeid, in Qatar.[5]

The UK contribution to ISAF

7. Between 2002 and 2006 the UK contribution to ISAF comprised:

8. Since May 2006, the UK military presence in Afghanistan has comprised:

  • the leadership, between May 2006 and February 2007, of the ISAF IX mission by the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) and its support Brigade, 1 Signal Brigade. In total, approximately 2,000 UK personnel were deployed in, or in support of, HQ ARRC;
  • since February 2007, 136 personnel deployed to the ISAF X Headquarters (including the ISAF Deputy Commander Stability);[7]
  • since May 2006 the deployment of UK forces to Southern Afghanistan as part of the ISAF mission. The initial deployment comprised a 3,300 strong force whose main component was 16 Air Assault Brigade. Since April 2007, the Force has been spearheaded by the 5,800 strong 12 Mechanised Brigade and supported by the Joint Helicopter Force-Afghanistan comprising Apache, Chinook and Lynx helicopters; and
  • Eight Harrier GR7 / 9 aircraft, based at Kandahar, which provide both ISAF and OEF with air support and air reconnaissance.

On 26 February 2007, the Secretary of State announced the deployment of an additional 1,400 Service personnel comprising a battlegroup to be deployed in the South, an additional four Harrier GR9s, four Sea King helicopters and an additional C-130 Hercules.[8]

Our inquiry

9. This is our second report into UK operations in Afghanistan. In our first report, The UK deployment to Afghanistan, published on 4 April 2006, we examined the challenges facing the ARRC ahead of its mission to lead ISAF in Afghanistan.[9] We also examined the proposed deployment of 16 Air Assault Brigade to Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan. In our first report we announced our intention to hold a further inquiry into Afghanistan to examine the lessons learned from those deployments. Since we published our first report, we have continued to monitor developments in Afghanistan. In July 2006, we visited Islamabad, Pakistan, and then Kabul, Helmand and Kandahar, Afghanistan, for meetings with officials, politicians and military personnel.

10. We announced our second inquiry on 31 January 2007.[10] We have assessed the progress made in Afghanistan during the ARRC's leadership of ISAF. We have also examined the experiences of UK Forces in Southern Afghanistan since their initial deployment in May 2006. As part of our inquiry, on 16 April 2007, we travelled to New Delhi, India, and met with senior government and military representatives to discuss the issues facing Afghanistan and the wider region. On 18 April 2007, we travelled on to Afghanistan for a series of meetings in Kabul with UK officials and Afghan politicians and then to Kandahar and Lashkar Gah in Southern Afghanistan to meet UK military personnel, local politicians and local representatives of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) based in Helmand Province.

11. We took evidence on 20 March 2007 from Rt Hon Des Browne MP, Secretary of State for Defence; Mr Martin Howard CB, Director General Operations Policy at the MoD; Lieutenant General Nick Houghton CBE, Chief of Joint Operations (MoD); and Mr Peter Holland, Head of the Afghan Drugs Inter-Departmental Unit (ADIDU).

12. On 27 March 2007, we took oral evidence from a range of experts: Dr Shirin Akiner, Lecturer in Central Asian Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS); Mr Robert Fox, journalist and historian; Dr Gilbert Greenall, Government Adviser on humanitarian issues; Ms Norine MacDonald QC, President of the Senlis Council; Mr Rory Stewart, Chief Executive of the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, Kabul, and Dr Michael Williams, Head of the Transatlantic Programme at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

13. On 24 April 2007, we took oral evidence from General David Richards CBE, Commander of the ARRC and Commander of ISAF from May 2006 until February 2007.

14. In our concluding evidence session on 8 May 2007, we took further oral evidence from Rt Hon Des Browne MP; Lieutenant General Nick Houghton CBE and Mr Peter Holland. We also took evidence from Mr Desmond Bowen CMG, Policy Director at the MoD, and Lindy Cameron, Head of the Department for International Development (DfID) in Afghanistan.

15. We received written evidence from ADIDU; the British and Irish Afghanistan Agencies Group (BAAG), the MoD; the Senlis Council; Dr Shirin Akiner; Dr Gilbert Greenall; Olivia Holdsworth, an expert on the judicial system in Afghanistan and Philip Wilkinson. We are grateful to those who gave evidence to our inquiry and assisted with our visits. We are also grateful to our specialist advisers who assisted us in our inquiry.

Key developments since April 2006

16. Our first inquiry into operations in Afghanistan was concluded in April 2006 before both the full deployment of the ARRC to lead ISAF and the main deployment of 16 Air Assault Brigade to Helmand Province. Last year, public awareness of the aims and objectives of the UK deployment to Afghanistan—Operation Herrick—was low. A year on, operations in Afghanistan have become the subject of increased media and public focus in the light of UK Forces conducting sustained operations against tenacious insurgent fighters.

17. The scale of the threat is demonstrated by the fact that as of 1 July 2007, 40 of our Service personnel have been killed in, or as a result of, action in Afghanistan (63 have died in total in Afghanistan).[11] We pay tribute to those Service people who have lost their lives or suffered injury and extend our deep sympathies to their families. The commitment given by our entire Armed Services has been shown to be outstanding.

18. The table below identifies the recent key developments in Afghanistan.

Table 1: Key developments in Afghanistan since May 2006
May 2006Deployment of the ARRC to lead ISAF for nine months.
UK Forces , led by 16 Air Assault Brigade, deploy to Helmand province.
June 2006UK are deployed to towns in Northern Helmand as part of a 'Platoon House' strategy.
10 July 2006 Secretary of State for Defence announces that, following fierce engagements with insurgents, UK will be increased during next roulement.
31 July 2006ISAF authority extended to Afghanistan's Southern provinces.
2 September 2006Nimrod MR2 reconnaissance aircraft crashes. 14 UK Service personnel are killed.
September 2006Operation Medusa—a campaign against insurgents in Kandahar Province—begins. ISAF claims a significant victory.
3 October 2006ISAF authority extended to cover the Eastern provinces of Afghanistan. 12,000 US troops come under ISAF command.
3 Commando Brigade replaces 16 Air Assault Brigade in Helmand province.
October 2006Musa Qaleh agreement between Governor Daoud and tribal elders in which the Taliban were excluded from the town.
2 February 2006Musa Qaleh agreement breaks down as Taliban retake control of the town.
3 February 2007A NATO 'composite' headquarters replaces the ARRC as leader of ISAF (for a period of one year) US General Dan McNeill replaces the UK's General Richards as the new commander of ISAF.
April 200712 Mechanised Brigade replaces 3 Commando Brigade in Southern Helmand.
Operation Achilles begins. The aim is to clear insurgents from Helmand's northern areas to enable development work.

1   UN Resolutions can be viewed at Back

2 Back

3   "Building on Success: The Afghanistan Compact", 1 February 2006, Back

4 Back

5   Defence Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2005-06, The UK deployment to Afghanistan, HC 558, para 14 Back

6   HC (2005-06) 558, Ev 46, para 9 Back

7   Ev 118 Back

8   HC Deb, 26 February 2007, col 620 Back

9   HC (2005-06) 558 Back

10 Back

11 Back

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Prepared 18 July 2007