Select Committee on Defence Thirteenth Report

3  UK operations in Southern Afghanistan

UK force package

76. The UK troops deployed to Southern Afghanistan have increased significantly since the initial deployment was announced on 26 January 2006 by the then Secretary of State, Rt Hon Dr John Reid MP.[76] At the head of the 3,300-strong UK force was 16 Air Assault Brigade of which 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment was a key component. The main force would be based at the newly-created Camp Bastion. The Headquarters of the PRT would be based at Lashkar Gah. A squadron of Harrier GR7 / GR9 aircraft was deployed to Kandahar airfield along with elements of the Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan) which had Chinook, Lynx and Apache helicopters at its disposal.

77. In July 2006, two months into the deployment, the newly-appointed Secretary of State, Rt Hon Des Browne MP, told the House that UK Forces would be enhanced following the roulement of 16 Air Assault Brigade, on completion of its six-month tour in October 2006.[77] The main component of UK Forces would then be 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, again for a period of six months. Following requests from commanders in theatre, the force, commanded by Brigadier Jerry Thomas, would be bolstered by a further 870 personnel, additional support helicopters and one additional C130 Hercules aircraft.[78]

78. On 1 February 2007, the Secretary of State announced that when 3 Commando, Royal Marines, completed their tour in April 2007, they would be replaced by 12 Mechanised Brigade.[79] 12 Mechanised Brigade would be a larger force than 3 Commando, comprising 6,300 Service personnel. He also confirmed the deployment, until June 2009, of the Harrier GR7 / GR9s, Apache helicopters, Viking all-terrain vehicles and Royal Engineers (to support reconstruction activities).

79. On 26 February 2007, the Secretary of State announced the deployment of a further 1,400 Service personnel to form a battlegroup reserve for Regional Command (South).[80] The battlegroup would meet the need for "robust, flexible, manoeuvrable combat" in the Southern provinces.[81] The battlegroup would comprise elements of 1st Battalion, the Royal Welsh Regiment, Warrior infantry fighting vehicles and a troop of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS).[82]

80. This further deployment brings the total of UK Service personnel deployed to Afghanistan to 7,700, an increase from 3,300 troops since the initial deployment in the summer of 2006. The Secretary of State described the additional commitment as "manageable".[83] We note that the number of UK Forces, and the firepower they have at their disposal, has increased significantly since the first deployment of UK Forces to Helmand in May 2006.


81. UK Forces in Southern Afghanistan are deployed under the overall command of the ISAF mission, currently commanded by US General Dan McNeill. The ISAF mission is in turn divided into regional commands of which the majority of UK troops are deployed as part of Regional Command (South) RC(S). RC(S) encompasses the neighbouring provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Nimruz, Uruzgan, and Zabul and comprises Forces from the UK, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Jordan, the Netherlands and the US. This international force is commanded by a rotation of commanders so far drawn from Canada, the Netherlands and the UK. The UK's Major General Jacko Page took command of RC(S) on 1 May 2007 from the Dutch Major General Tan Van Loon.[84]

82. General Richards commented favourably on the performance of allies and told us that Dutch had performed particularly "brilliantly" in Uruzgan during his command of ISAF.[85] General Richards also praised the abilities of Canadian, Romanian and Portuguese Forces under his command.[86] This positive view of the performance of international Forces was confirmed to us during our visit to Helmand and Lashkar Gah.

83. During our visit in April 2007 to UK Forces in Southern Afghanistan, Service personnel emphasised the international nature of the mission in Southern Afghanistan and expressed satisfaction both with the command structure of Regional Command (South) and the professionalism of other national troops they fought alongside.

Purpose of the mission

84. UK Forces were deployed to Helmand Province until June 2009 as part of the wider ISAF Stage 3 expansion. The current Secretary of State described the UK's objective in Afghanistan as being to

It was intended that UK Forces would establish security in Southern Afghanistan and thereby create the conditions in which reconstruction and development work could be undertaken by government agencies, NGOs and Afghans themselves.[88]

85. Alongside the security and reconstruction mission, the UK has a G8 'partner nation' responsibility for assisting the Afghan Government's country-wide counter-narcotics policy (the UK's role in counter-narcotics policy is discussed in paragraphs 133-151).[89]

86. In our first report, we expressed our support for the MoD's security and stability mission in Southern Afghanistan but noted the considerable size of the challenge facing UK there.[90] During our recent visit to Kandahar and Helmand we saw some of the challenges facing UK Forces in its mission: the vast distances between towns, the lack of infrastructure and the unforgiving nature of much of the terrain. We were told that many Afghans had no experience of central government and were used to government by local elders at shuras, or meetings.

87. Some of our witnesses expressed concern that the UK's objectives in Helmand might prove unattainable. On 27 March 2007, Dr Gilbert Greenall told us that he considered attempts to impose a strong central state in Afghanistan to be counter-productive to the interests of achieving security.[91] Also on 27 March, Rory Stewart told us that:

    I believe that the deployment to Helmand is a dangerous distraction from the core activities of the Afghan Government and that we are wasting resources and valuable policy time on a mission which I cannot see succeeding.[92]

The Secretary of State acknowledged that UK Forces were operating in "a very difficult environment" which had little or no history of governance, but despite this he remained optimistic about the ultimate success of the mission.[93]

88. When we asked the Secretary of State whether the size of the task facing UK Forces would need them to be deployed in Helmand beyond June 2009, he replied that "…I think it is too early to say at this stage exactly what the nature and shape of our commitment will be beyond 2009, but I agree that we will have to have a commitment".[94] On 20 June 2007, the newly appointed British Ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles was reported as stating that the mission in Afghanistan was a "marathon and not a sprint" and would last thirty years.[95]

89. The UK's mission to bring stability to Helmand will require a long-term military and humanitarian commitment if it is to be successful. We recommend that the Government clarify its planning assumptions for the UK deployment to Afghanistan and state the likely length of the deployment beyond the summer of 2009.

The security threat in Helmand

90. The MoD describes the situation in Helmand as "challenging".[96] The threat to UK Forces in Helmand comes from a Taliban-led insurgency intent on resisting ISAF's mission. During our visit to Helmand we were told that 'the Taliban' was a loose term and that commanders preferred to subdivide Taliban into 'tier one' Taliban (irreconcilable fundamentalists who would never accept a compromise with the Government) and 'tier two' Taliban (whose allegiance was not based on ideology but who were in effect hired guns and more amenable to reconciliation).

91. The fragility of the security situation in Helmand was apparent from the beginning of the UK deployment. Media reports throughout much of the summer of 2006 carried accounts of intensive military engagements with insurgent Forces in the North Helmand districts of Sangin, Nowzad and Musa Qaleh.[97] According to the MoD, between June 2006 and 17 October 2006, there were 292 military contacts between UK and Taliban.[98]

92. The MoD did not expect that Taliban insurgents would engage with UK Forces in the way they did. The Secretary of State told us that "the Taliban reacted to our presence in a way that had not been expected in terms of the violence and the nature of the way it deployed".[99] Martin Howard told us "the tactics employed by the Taliban were unexpected in the sense that they used conventional tactics rather than asymmetric tactics".[100] Despite the unexpected nature of Taliban tactics, the MoD states that the Taliban have been defeated every time they have engaged ISAF Forces.

93. We asked the Secretary of State whether this misreading of the insurgent threat in Helmand represented a failure of intelligence. He said that knowledge of the insurgency had been limited as ISAF had previously had only 100 US Service personnel in Helmand. He told us that:

    Whatever people may now say retrospectively, the accepted wisdom was that we could expect a reaction from the Taliban and, indeed, possibly from others but that the nature of it would be what people refer to as asymmetric. We were being advised by all the experts that that would be the nature of the way in which they would deploy their violence. It turned out that they did not.[101]

94. After a relative lull in fighting during the winter months of 2006/07, indications are that fighting in Helmand has been at least as intensive in the spring of 2007 with reports stating that the "1st Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment, battlegroup has fired almost 400,000 rounds of small arms ammunition", [102] a figure close to the total expended by 3 Para in the summer of 2006—a period of fighting described by General Richards as "probably as intense as anything the British Army has seen since Korea".[103]

95. Before the deployment to Southern Afghanistan, the MoD anticipated that the insurgents would adopt asymmetric tactics against the deployment. That assessment was inaccurate and the MoD concedes that the conventional warfare tactics used by insurgents was unexpected.


96. During our inquiry we were keen to discover the effect that UK operations against insurgents had had on Afghan attitudes to UK Forces in the South. The support for the Taliban among the general population in Southern Afghanistan was a matter of disagreement between our witnesses. Ms Norine MacDonald told us that an opinion poll conducted by the Senlis Council in Helmand, Kandahar and Nangahar provinces found that 26% of men supported the Taliban and 50% thought that the Taliban would defeat ISAF.[104] According to Ms MacDonald, the latest surveys suggest that support for the Taliban has increased.[105]

97. In contrast, the Secretary of State told us that, according to polling carried out on behalf of the MoD,

    overwhelmingly the majority of the people of Southern Afghanistan welcome our presence… The polling suggests that they are still optimistic, that they support our presence, that they see improvements, but at the end of the day we will need to sustain this position for a period of time.[106]

We asked the MoD to provide us with the polling data and we were subsequently provided with it on condition that we did not publish it, owing to the need to protect the anonymity of interviewers.

98. The polling conducted by the Senlis Council states that support for the insurgency is on the increase, but the MoD states that the "overwhelming majority" of Afghans continue to support UK troops.


99. The UK's initial strategy in Helmand was to deploy a small force to government buildings in districts such as Musa Qaleh and Sangin with the aim of demonstrating the presence of UK Forces to the local population. This 'Platoon House strategy' led to some criticism in the press in the summer of 2006, following reports that soldiers from the Parachute Regiment had been pinned down by insurgent forces in Musa Qaleh for 52 days.[107] When we asked the Secretary of State whether the Platoon House strategy had been a mistake he told us that the strategy had been conducted at the request of the Governor of Helmand, Engineer Daoud, and that he remained confident that "in the fullness of time they will turn out to be quite a significant contribution to the strategic success of our operation".[108]

100. General Richards who was ISAF commander at the time the strategy was adopted was less certain of the impact of platoon houses:

    clearly the immediate vicinities of the Platoon Houses became areas where the average civilian with any sense left and his home was destroyed, etc, so I am sure that they probably in most cases did have a negative influence on opinion. Whether or not they achieved some sort of ascendancy over the Taliban in a military sense is something that one might debate, but in terms of hearts and minds they probably are not very helpful.[109]

101. The Platoon Houses in Northern Helmand were established at the request of the then Governor of Helmand Province—in other words at the request of the civilian power. The long-term military consequence of this strategy is unclear.


102. In October 2006, Governor Daoud adopted an approach different from the Platoon House strategy to demonstrate the reach of his authority. The MoD submission states that the Musa Qaleh agreement between Governor Daoud and the tribal elders of Musa Qaleh established an exclusion zone around the town in which ISAF troops would not enter in return for the tribal elders denying Taliban Forces access.[110] The agreement, which General Richards told us had not been supported fully by the US,[111] broke down on 2 February 2007, when the Taliban commander Mullah Ghafour and his forces entered the town.

103. During our visit to Afghanistan in April 2007, some of the Helmand MPs we met in Kabul expressed disquiet at the agreement and clearly believed that a deal had been struck between the UK and the Taliban. General Richards told us categorically that, "I did not do a deal with the Taliban; it was something that came out of Governor Daoud and was endorsed by President Karzai for a while".[112] General Richards also said that the agreement, which had lasted for 143 days, had had unintended positive consequences:

    Musa Qaleh in one sense was successful in that 5,000 odd people now bitterly dislike the Taliban because they have seen them in their true light, and do not forget in early February they rebelled against the Taliban in the area and fought against them and arrested Mullah Ghafour, who was then subsequently killed I think on the morning that I left.[113]

104. General Richards told us that similar agreements between the new Governor of Helmand, Asadullah Wafa, and tribal leaders had been negotiated in other parts of Helmand, and also by the US in the East of the country.[114] Such agreements, he said,

    allow the local population to take the war into their own hands, if you like, and to govern themselves. Some of them will be successful, others will not, but at some point we will hit on the right formula. If you do not try it, what is the alternative? You are constantly fighting the population, or there is a risk of you constantly fighting the population.[115]

105. The agreement brokered in October 2006 between the Governor of Helmand and tribal elders to exclude Taliban Forces from Musa Qaleh Province proved ultimately unsuccessful. However, the achievement of establishing peaceful conditions in the town for 143 days should not be underestimated. We were told that similar agreements are being negotiated in Helmand and elsewhere. While agreements of this kind carry risks, it is only through dialogue with local communities that a lasting peace will be achieved.


106. During the winter of 2006/07 there was media speculation that insurgents would launch a spring offensive against ISAF in the South.[116] During our visit to Kabul in April 2007, General Dan McNeill explained that ISAF had not waited for the Taliban to launch an offensive, but had instead taken the initiative against them. The Secretary of State told us that Operation Achilles in Helmand Province had been launched with two aims: first, to keep the Taliban on the back-foot and second, to create an environment in the upper part of Helmand in the area of Kajaki to allow development work on the Kajaki Dam.[117] Within the overall operation, ISAF was conducting Operation Silver, the purpose of which was to "clear the Taliban from the upper Sangin Valley and…from the Southern part of Sangin down to Gereshk".[118]

107. The anticipated insurgent Spring 2007 offensive in Helmand did not materialise, probably owing to the pre-emptive tactics of the ISAF mission.

108. Robert Fox told us that ISAF did not capitalise on the success of Operation Medusa in September 2006 because troops were not deployed in sufficient numbers immediately following the clearance of insurgents.[119] We asked the Secretary of State what plans were in place to ensure that areas remained clear of insurgents, once current operations were concluded. He told us that:

    the intention, once an area has been secured is to have Afghan National Army deployed into government centres …to consolidate the security.[120]

On 31 May 2007, ISAF reported that operations in Sangin had achieved a number of successes including "a permanent Afghan National Army presence in the Sangin Valley and regular shuras, or tribal meetings, with local officials regarding reconstruction projects".[121]


109. In our previous report we called on the MoD to ensure that, in the light of the increased threat to the Army's Snatch Land Rovers from IEDs and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), UK troops were given sufficient force protection when travelling in medium-weight armoured vehicles. In our recent Report, The Army's requirement for armoured vehicles: the FRES programme,[122] we examined the challenges of developing a long-term medium-weight vehicle. In the short-term the MoD has announced the following measures to provide enhanced protection for its Service personnel:

  • the procurement of 162 Vector protected patrol vehicles (to replace Snatch Land Rovers) to be delivered to Afghanistan from February 2007;[123]
  • the procurement of 108 Mastiff "well-protected patrol vehicles" to be deployed from March 2007;[124] and
  • upgraded protection to the FV430 Bulldog vehicles.[125]

110. General Houghton told us that the deployment of both Mastiff and Vector was on schedule and would be complete by autumn 2007.[126] Once Vector had been deployed fully, the more vulnerable Snatch would be withdrawn from service in Afghanistan.[127] The Secretary of State told us that his aim was to ensure that UK Forces had a wide range of vehicles at their disposal in Afghanistan: from WMIK[128] Land Rover (and the new generation of E-WMIKs), Vector and Mastiff, Viking vehicles (used by the Marines) through to Warrior armoured fighting vehicles.[129] When we asked General Houghton whether there was any foundation to the BBC report of 2 April 2007 that the WMIK had experienced maintenance problems in Afghanistan and a lack of spare parts, he replied that the report was based on inaccurate maintenance figures and WMIK repairs were well within target.[130]

111. We note that the MoD is in the process of providing the Army with a range of vehicles which provide Service personnel with greater protection. We welcome the MoD's assurance that Mastiff and Vector are being deployed to Afghanistan according to schedule. It is essential that UK Forces have the opportunity to train on appropriate vehicles prior to deployment.


112. Our visits to Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007 have brought home to us the huge distances over which troops, supplies and materiel need to be transported within Afghanistan. The current lack of passable roads means that sufficient tactical air-lift is vital to the success of the operation. The initial deployment of 16 Air Assault Brigade to Helmand was supported by four Lynx and six battlefield support Chinook helicopters, supplemented by 20 US helicopters and "some Dutch helicopters".[131] In our first report into operations in Afghanistan, we expressed concern that this air-lift package might prove insufficient.[132]

113. When we put these concerns to the Secretary of State he told us that he recognised the need for more helicopters and that he had taken measures to provide additional helicopters and improve support arrangements so that the availability of helicopters was extended. He was satisfied that commanders had what they needed.[133]

114. Following the evidence session, the Secretary of State announced on 30 March 2007 further additions to the UK's airlift fleet. In a package costing £230 million, the MoD had purchased six Merlin helicopters from the Danish Government (which would be deployable within one year) and would convert eight stored Chinook Mark 3 helicopters (which would be overhauled to Mark 2 standard and made deployable within two years).[134]

115. During our visit to UK Forces in Helmand in 2007, we heard from Service personnel about the importance of air-lift to operations and some concern that there was insufficient air-lift available in theatre. In Kandahar we met UK helicopter crews who were clearly flying extremely long hours, often under enemy fire, in the most hazardous desert and night conditions.

116. While we welcome the additional commitment of helicopters since the initial deployment in 2006, we recommend that the MoD make even greater efforts to increase the provision of appropriate helicopters to UK Forces and sufficient trained air and ground crew. UK helicopter operations in Afghanistan are not sustainable at the present intensity.


117. In Helmand and Kabul, we heard some complaints from Service personnel about the reliability of the airbridge which transported Service personnel between the UK and Afghanistan. When we put these concerns to General Houghton, he told us that 84% of outbound flights departed and 75% of return flights within a three-hour tolerance.[135] We examine in more detail the wider issues of Strategic air-lift in our report, Strategic Lift, which was published on July 2007.[136] A reliable airbridge is key to the morale of Service personnel and ultimately operational effectiveness.

Close air support

118. Close air support, provided by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, is coordinated by the Coalition Combined Air Operations Control Centre (CAOC), Al Udeid, Qatar. Robert Fox, who had recently spent time with UK Forces in Helmand Province, stressed the importance of close air support to current operations in the Sangin and Kajaki dam districts of Helmand.[137] We were told when we visited Kandahar that when UK soldiers called in assistance, CAOC allocated appropriate aircraft and that they were as likely to be of US or Dutch origin as RAF or Royal Navy aircraft.

119. The UK's initial deployment of close air support to Southern Afghanistan comprised eight Apache helicopters and six Harrier GR7 / GR9 aircraft based at Kandahar air field. A further four Harrier GR7 / 9 aircraft were to be deployed in the summer of 2007. During our visit to Kandahar airfield in April 2007, we spoke with ground crew supporting the UK's Joint Helicopter Force (JHF) which comprised Chinook, Apache, and Lynx helicopters. The Secretary of State told us that he was aware of the importance of helicopters to operations in Afghanistan and had increased the air support package over the last year.[138]

120. In our previous report, we recommended that the Harrier squadron should remain at Kandahar as long as necessary.[139] On 26 February 2007, the MoD announced that the deployment of Apache helicopters and a squadron of Harrier GR7 / GR 9 aircraft at Kandahar would be extended until June 2009.[140]

121. The MoD should continue to press NATO allies to provide sufficient air support to operations in the South. In the meantime, we welcome the MoD's commitment to extend the deployment of Apache helicopters and the Harrier GR7 / GR 9 squadron until June 2009.

Reconstruction and development in Helmand

122. The MoD divides its development activity into two categories: "local community based rapid effect programmes; and, longer term national development programmes".[141] Community-based programmes are carried out under the MoD's Quick Impact Project (QIPs) programme and to date the MoD states that "103 projects at a value of $12.3 million have been authorised for development (19 security projects, 10 governance projects, 60 social and economic development projects and 14 for counter-narcotics)".[142]

123. For longer-term development, DfID has allocated around $60 million over three years (2006/07-2008/09) for the Helmand Agriculture and Rural Development Programme, and micro-finance funds for business start-ups. The Secretary of State told us that the UK effort had so far focused on short-term reconstruction:

    we are increasingly providing in Lashkar Gah, in Gereshk, for example and in other areas in central Helmand province, reconstruction, which is having an effect on those communities. [143]

124. Despite the assurances from the Secretary of State that progress was being made, during our visit to Helmand we heard the frustrations of local representatives of NGOs that reconstruction and development work in Helmand was not progressing quickly enough. We were told that the threat of violence had meant that civilian workers were reluctant to work outside secure areas. Indeed, during our visit to Lashkar Gah, the PRT was "locked-down" (not allowed to leave the military compound) because of the threat of attack. Although the NGO representatives appreciated that the military's first objective must be to establish security, we were given the impression that the patience of people living in Helmand was wearing thin and that progress had to be demonstrated soon, or else faith would be lost in the ISAF mission.

125. The submission from BAAG, which represents development organisations working in Afghanistan, highlights two main areas where it considers the UK development policy is lacking: insufficient engagement between military and civil organisations; and an over-emphasis on delivery through Afghan institutions which results in aid not being delivered to areas where central government's reach does not extend.[144]

126. During our visit to the PRT at Lashkar Gah in April 2007, we met representatives of the Helmand Executive Group (HEG) which is made up of representatives of the MoD, FCO and DfID and tasked with coordinating the UK development programme in Helmand. They told us that, with the establishment of the HEG, coordination between the military and other government departments had improved significantly since our previous visit in July 2006. This view was reinforced by General Richards, who also told us that coordination between the military and DfID had improved during the time he commanded ISAF.[145]

127. The MoD acknowledges that reconstruction and development, rather than military power alone, is the key to winning Afghan hearts and minds in Helmand. After a slow start, it seems that coordination between the military and government departments has improved and development work has begun. The people of Helmand will need to see tangible improvements soon or else ISAF and the UK will lose support for the mission.

128. Rory Stewart told us that it was important that the international community was associated with permanent development projects so that

    in 50 years' time they could point to and say, "This is a gift from the international community to the Afghan nation". There are very few permanent symbols of our commitment. There is very little that Afghans can point to when they are asked what we have done for them.[146]

During our April 2007 visit to Helmand, we discussed the need for enduring development projects with members of the Helmand Provincial Council. They told us that the Province desperately required investment in factories which would provide long-term employment opportunities.

129. General Houghton told us that one of the objectives of the ongoing Operation Achilles mission in Northern Helmand was to establish security near the Kajaki dam, a $150 million USAID project designed to bring electricity to Helmand and Kandahar Provinces.

130. On the other hand, General Richards considered that commanders should be provided with increased funds to enable them to implement quick impact, short-term projects such as wells and road building. He saw such projects as vital, particularly when military engagements with insurgents had damaged buildings and infrastructure and pointed to the US military's Commanders' Emergency Relief Programme (CERPS) which he described as a "Commander's pot of gold".[147]

131. When we asked Lindy Cameron whether commanders should be provided with more funds for quick impact projects, she agreed that this approach might prove productive as long as Afghans were involved in the delivery.[148] General Houghton, while noting that increased funds had been given to UK commanders, told us that the advantage of working through Afghan government institutions was that development projects gained greater legitimacy through a sense of ownership by Afghans.[149]

132. The consent of the people living in Helmand province will not be gained through the deployment of superior military force alone. Once security has been established, it is vital that development projects follow swiftly. The military has provided much-needed immediate reconstruction in Helmand. A balance has to be struck between quick impact reconstruction provided by the military and longer-term development best delivered by Government and NGOs in close cooperation with Afghans. Projects such as the ambitious Kajaki dam project will, in time, create jobs and demonstrate to Afghans the commitment of the international community; however, the Government should also ensure that smaller-scale projects are undertaken which involve Afghans closely in their design and construction.

The UK role in counter-narcotics

The scale of the problem

133. According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) "2007 World Drug Report", Afghanistan is responsible for the production of over 90% of the world's supply of opium.[150] Indeed Afghanistan is a "narco-State", an economy reliant on the production and trade of opium. Since 2006, the UK has had Partner Nation (previously G8 Lead Nation) responsibility for developing the counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan. The extent of the reliance of Afghanistan on narcotics was identified in the UNODC report of November 2006 which states that, "opium permeates much of the rural economy with critical links to employment generation, access to land and credit".[151] During our visit to Afghanistan in April 2007, we were told that involvement with the drugs trade permeates all sections of society including members of central and provincial government.

134. Helmand Province is the largest single opium-growing province in Afghanistan, accounting for 42% of Afghanistan's total opium production and 30% of the world's production.[152] The UNODC describes the irrigated areas of Helmand as "almost ideal for high-yielding opium poppy cultivation", and estimates that 70,000 hectares in the Province are being cultivated for poppy growing. The UNODC also estimates that the area contains between 1,000-1,500 small opium traders and between 300-500 larger traders.[153]

Table 3: Opium facts
Opium facts and figures
Opium accounts for about 30% of Afghanistan's total economy
12.6% of the Afghan population is involved in the illicit drugs trade"
In 2006: total opium cultivation in Helmand was 165,000 hectares (104,000 in 2005)
Helmand Province accounted for 42% of Afghanistan's total opium poppy cultivation
Helmand Province accounted for 30% of the world's supply of opium

Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan Opium Survey 2006


135. The UK's task, as G8 partner nation, is to assist the Afghan Ministry of Counter-Narcotics in developing its counter-narcotics policy. The submission from ADIDU states that this policy has four priorities:

136. The ADIDU submission states that by focusing on these priorities, the counter-narcotics strategy has decreased opium cultivation in "parts of the North and the centre of the country".[155] In contrast however, Peter Holland told us on 8 May 2007 that in the Southern Provinces, he expected poppy cultivation to increase during 2007.[156] When we questioned the Secretary of State whether the counter-narcotics policy was working, he told us that he did not measure the success of the counter-narcotics policy in terms of reduced production but in terms of whether there had been an increase in alternative livelihoods for farmers.[157]


137. In our first report into UK operations in Afghanistan, we saw a "fundamental tension between the UK's twin mission in Helmand to establish security and check opium production" because of the involvement of large parts of Afghan society in all parts of the opium supply chain.[158] According to ADIDU, in the past year 3,000 drug traffickers have been apprehended in Afghanistan but no information is given about whether those arrested were significant players in the narcotics industry or whether they were small-scale dealers. During our visit to Afghanistan in April 2007, we were told that owing to the failings in the judicial system, many of these people were never charged and those that were, were rarely convicted.

138. During this inquiry the MoD told us that the Taliban insurgents were developing their links with opium farmers and the narcotics industry more generally:

    ….drug traffickers and the Taliban have a common interest in resisting the authority of ISAF…. There are indications of extensive financial and logistical links between Taliban and traffickers at all levels.[159]

139. The Government should continue to support the Government of Afghanistan in its attempts to bring drug traffickers to justice. To have maximum impact, the particular focus should be on punishing those people involved in the funding and large-scale trafficking of narcotics.

140. We are very concerned at the indications of closer links between the Taliban and the narcotics trade.


141. The issue of eradication is the subject of much debate within Afghanistan. Eradication, where it takes place, is largely the responsibility of the Afghan Eradication Force (AEF) which reports to the Afghan Ministry of Counter-Narcotics and some eradication is undertaken by teams reporting to Provincial Governors. Only "manual eradication" of poppy crops is undertaken. This policy was reaffirmed by the Government of Afghanistan in January 2007 after the US Administration, frustrated at the slow progress in checking Afghanistan's opium production, reportedly put pressure on the Government to consider aerial spraying of poppy crops with herbicides.[160]

142. Peter Holland told us that ISAF did not advocate eradication of poppy crops where there was an absence of alternative livelihoods for farmers. Lindy Cameron told us that Helmand Province offered many opportunities for poppy farmers to grow alternative crops because

    the Helmand river valley means that people can grow almost anything they want to there, so in Helmand in particular we are quite confident that extensive parts of the river valley are within what we think is an area where people have choices about what they can grow.[161]

143. Norine MacDonald told us that eradication of poppy fields had been undertaken in the Province by the AEF working with a US company, Dyncorp. Ms MacDonald told us that there had been instances of farmers attacking AEF and Dyncorp personnel in protest at what they considered to be an attack on their livelihood. She added that the farmers most affected by eradication policy were the poorer farmers because they were "unable to pay the bribes" to avoid eradication.[162] According to Ms MacDonald most Afghan farmers did not distinguish between ISAF soldiers and Dyncorp and AEF personnel carrying out eradication. As a consequence, she suggested that even though ISAF troops did not take part in eradication, they had become a potential target for opium farmers concerned at losing their livelihoods.[163]

144. During our visit to Helmand and Kabul in April 2007, we noted some uncertainty among Afghans about the counter-narcotics policy and whether the agencies involved in implementing the policy were sufficiently joined-up in approach. This uncertainty was reinforced when, soon after we returned from Helmand, there were media reports that ISAF had broadcast an advert on Helmand radio which implied that farmers were free to continue growing poppy without anybody trying to stop them.[164]

145. We support ADIDU's focus on working with the Government of Afghanistan to encourage opium farmers to pursue alternative livelihoods. We note that Helmand provides the potential for alternative livelihoods to be pursued.

146. The MoD's position is that it will not take part in the eradication of poppy until alternative livelihood schemes are available. We call on the Government to ensure that this message is communicated clearly to farmers in Helmand. We are deeply concerned that uncertainty has arisen among Afghans about ISAF's policy towards, and role in, poppy eradication and that UK Forces, under ISAF command, may consequently have been put at risk. This uncertainty undermines the effectiveness of the entire ISAF mission.


147. The Senlis Council argues that until alternative livelihoods are made available for poppy farmers, the threat of eradication of their crop will result in them becoming increasingly involved with the Taliban. In places where alternatives to growing poppy do not exist, the Senlis Council advocates a pilot scheme in which farmers in designated areas are licensed to grow poppy in return for a guarantee that the State would buy their harvest.[165] The Senlis Council asserts that the legal production of opium in Afghanistan would help address a world-wide shortage of morphine and that similar trials had taken place successfully in India.

148. During our visit to Afghanistan we met with much scepticism about the Senlis Council proposals. We were told that Southern Afghanistan, where much of Afghanistan's poppy crop grows, currently lacks the necessary security in which trial schemes could take place without being taken over by those involved in the illegal narcotics industry. When we asked the Secretary of State to comment on the Senlis Council's proposals, he expressed concern that the introduction of licensed opium trials would encourage farmers to start growing poppy crops and have the unintended consequence of increasing supply:

    If I thought that buying the crop would solve the problem I would be first in the queue to persuade people to do that. My view is…that proposing to buy the crop currently would double the crop.[166]

149. During our visit to Afghanistan in April 2007, we were told by officials involved in counter-narcotics policy that the world market price for illegally produced opium was up to three times that of legally produced opium. With that being the case, there would be little incentive for opium farmers to join any legal scheme.

150. Ending opium production in Helmand will require a long-term commitment by the international community to create a secure environment in which farmers can be encouraged to pursue alternative livelihoods. We recommend that the Government continue to pursue imaginative ways to policies to address narcotics production in Afghanistan but we are not persuaded that licensed production is a viable alternative strategy at this time.

151. Success in combating the narcotics trade will be crucial to the future stability of Afghanistan. We remain concerned that the coalition's counter-narcotics policy lacks clarity and coherence. We recommend that, in its response to this report, the Government set out in detail the international counter-narcotics strategy for Afghanistan, including its assessment of progress to date and targets for the years ahead.

The information campaign

152. Since the deployment of UK Forces to the less stable Helmand Province in the summer of 2006, media coverage of operations in Afghanistan has increased significantly. Despite this, there remains some uncertainty about whether the British people have been made sufficiently aware of either the purpose of the mission to Helmand Province or of the role of the UK military and DfID officials.

153. Dr Gilbert Greenall's submission describes a confusion among the British people about the purpose of the UK deployment, with many believing that it is concerned with enforcing a narcotics policy rather than aiding reconstruction.[167] His submission states. "The British public need to understand exactly why we are involved in Afghanistan if they are to be supportive and accept the considerable cost over the next few years".[168]

154. We are concerned that the Government is not communicating key messages to the British public about the purpose of its operations in Afghanistan effectively enough.

155. Dr Greenall also had concerns about the effectiveness of the UK and ISAF information campaign within Helmand and Afghanistan. His submission states that:

    the information initiative is held by the Taliban who have had no difficulty in persuading Afghans to see British troops as the invader, the destroyers of their livelihoods and the enemies of their fellow Muslims in Iraq. The British military information campaign is now a key priority.[169]

156. We were told, during our visit to Helmand in April 2007, about the importance of psychological operations in separating 'tier 2 Taliban' from supporting the irreconcilable insurgent extremists. Radio and leaflet drops were used to communicate key messages to Afghans, often living in remote places, and these methods were judged important in undermining the propaganda of the Taliban. General Richards told us that "an information operation has to be rooted in substance for it to work".[170] He added that the most effective messages are those based on publicising tangible improvements that had been made, such as providing electricity or jobs to an area.

157. During our meetings with Afghan politicians in Kabul in April 2007, we became concerned that ISAF and the UK were failing to get key messages across to Helmand MPs and local people about the purpose of its mission. There was clearly much confusion about the terms of the agreement made in Musa Qalah (see paras 102-105) between the then Governor of Helmand and local tribal elders and the counter-narcotics strategy in Helmand Province. Some of the MPs we met were adamant that a "deal" had been done between the UK and the Taliban and that the UK had acted against the interests of the local people.

158. ISAF is bringing tangible improvements to the lives of Afghans, but there is evidence that news of such improvements is not being communicated effectively to Afghans. Indeed, there is a strong suggestion that the Taliban is ahead in the "information campaign". We recommend that the Government work together with its allies to coordinate more effectively the presentation of ISAF's objectives and the way in which developments in Afghanistan are reported.

76   HC Deb, 26 January 2006, col 1530 Back

77   HC Deb, 10 July 2006, col 1132 Back

78   Ibid. Back

79   HC Deb, 1 February 2007, col 20WS Back

80   HC Deb, 26 February 2007, col 620 Back

81   Ibid. Back

82   Ibid. Back

83   HC Deb, 26 February 2007, col 620 Back

84   Previously RC(S) was commanded by the Canadian Lieutenant General David Fraser whom we met in Helmand in July 2006. Back

85   Q 267 Back

86   Ibid. Back

87   Q 2 Back

88   Q 2 Back

89   "2007 World Drug Report", United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, 26 June 2007  Back

90   HC (2005-06) 558  Back

91   Q 111 Back

92   Q 167 Back

93   Qq 3, 4 Back

94   Q 298 Back

95 Back

96   Ev 84 Back

97 Back

98   HC Deb, 2 November 2006, 635WA Back

99   Q 6 Back

100   Q 13 Back

101   Q 12 Back

102   "Afghanistan approaching 'all-out war'", The Telegraph, 5 June 2007 Back

103   "3 Commando: hunting the Taliban", BBC Panaroma, 3 December 2006. Back

104   Q 107 Back

105   Ibid. Back

106   Q 308 Back

107   "Pathfinders on a four-day mission fight off eight-week Taleban siege", The Times, 28 September 2006 Back

108   Q 76 Back

109   Q 249 Back

110   Ev 84, para 6 Back

111   Q 251 Back

112   Q 250 Back

113   Q 250 Back

114   Q 251 Back

115   Ibid. Back

116, "Taliban: spring offensive is coming" 21 February 2007 Back

117   Q 302 Back

118   Ibid. Back

119   Q 194 Back

120   Q 303 Back

121 Back

122   Defence Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2006-07, The Army's requirement for armoured vehicles: the FRES programme, HC 159 Back

123   Ev 85, para 10 Back

124   Ibid. Back

125   HC (2006-07) 159 Back

126   Q 84 Back

127   Ibid. Back

128   Weapons Mounted Installation Kit Back

129   Q 86 Back

130   Q 318 Back

131   HC Deb, 26 July 2006, col 1531 Back

132   HC (2005-06) 558, para 59 Back

133   Q 87 Back



135   Q 87 Back

136   Defence Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2005-06, Strategic Lift, HC 462 Back

137   Q 184 Back

138   Q 87 Back

139   HC (2005-06) 558, para 64 Back

140   HC Deb, 26 February 2007, col 620 Back

141   Ev 118 Back

142   Ibid. Back

143   Q 40 Back

144   Ev 100 Back

145   Q 293 Back

146   Q 202 Back

147   Q 294 Back

148   Q 365 Back

149   Qq 367, 368 Back

150   "2007 World Drug Report ", UNODC, June 2007  Back

151   "Afghanistan's Drug industry", UNODC, June 2006 Back

152   "2007 World Drug Report", UNODC, June 2007 Back

153   "Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007", UNODC, 26 June 2007 Back

154   Ev 116 Back

155   Ibid. Back

156   Q 354 Back

157   Q 91 Back

158   HC (2005-06) 558 Back

159   Ev 116 Back

160   Ev 86 Back

161   Q 349 Back

162   Q 155 Back

163   Q 154 Back

164   "NATO criticised for Afghan advert",, 24 April 2007 Back

165   Ev 90 Back

166   Q 347 Back

167   Ev 91 Back

168   Ev 91, para 7 Back

169   Ev 91 Back

170   Q 238 Back

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