1. We wish to pay tribute to all the British personnel,
both military and civilian, who are currently serving or have
served in Afghanistan but, in particular, to those who lost their
lives in Afghanistan, and the many more who have sustained life-changing
injuries as a result of the conflict there. We also express our
deep gratitude for the vital contribution made by the families
of Armed Forces personnel. We are mindful that some of the conclusions
in this Report, because they are critical of the actions of successive
Governments and their senior military advisers, may be interpreted
as a criticism of the men and women who have served in extremely
hazardous, hostile and difficult conditions. We wish to place
on record that no such criticism is made. The Armed Forces and
civilian personnel in Afghanistan have our full support in tackling
the challenges before them.
2. The Defence Committee announced an inquiry into
Operations in Afghanistan on 28 July 2010. We decided that the
inquiry would have an operational focus and would examine progress
in Afghanistan within the strategic framework of Afghanistan and
Pakistan. We wished
to examine the success of military operations in providing security
to local nationals; the stabilisation and reconstruction work
of the Provincial Reconstruction Team; and the training of the
Afghan National Security Forces. We also decided to consider the
provision of support to the UK Armed Forces including equipment
3. As this Report focuses on the work of UK military
and civilian personnel in Afghanistan, it naturally concentrates
on their work in Helmand. We recognise that Helmand is not necessarily
representative of the rest of Afghanistan, parts of which are
stable. We also recognise that a long term solution to the situation
in Afghanistan requires a political solution which must involve
the whole region including Pakistan. During this inquiry, we have
also been mindful of the recent report on the UK's foreign policy
approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan by the Foreign Affairs Committee.
4. During our inquiry, we decided to extend our investigation
into looking in some detail at the deployment of UK Forces to
Helmand in 2006. We did so because, in our first evidence session
on 26 October 2010, we asked General Messenger about his experience
commanding forces in Helmand and he revealed that the deployment
in Helmand had been short of troops until the surge in 2010:
I came back in April '09, so we're about 18 months
since then. At the time, insufficient resources were being allocated
to the challenge in Southern Afghanistan. I commanded a brigade,
alongside an Afghan brigade commander, that was stretched and
not able to go to certain key areas where we knew we would ultimately
have to go to secure the population. What has happened since has
been an enormous inflow, principally American but also from other
NATO nations, and a huge upsurge in the number of Afghan National
Army and Afghan National Police who are in the line providing
5. We subsequently asked other Ministry of Defence
(MoD) witnesses on 10 November 2010 about the deployment to Helmand
in 2006 including the size of the deployment and the intelligence
on which it was based. The answers we received were far from satisfactory:
we were left with the impression that the MoD intended to minimise
what we were told about how decisions were made to deploy to Helmand
in 2006 and then to expand the deployment. As a result we decided
to take evidence from those responsible at the time and had four
further hearings which, unusually, we held in privatefrom
former Secretaries of State and retired senior military personnel.
These evidence sessions were extremely informative. The redacted
transcripts of these hearings are attached to this Report and
are published on our website. We then had a further hearing in
public with serving senior personnel the Chief of Defence
Staff (CDS), the Vice Chief of Defence Staff (VCDS) and the Chief
of the General Staff (CGS)where the witnesses were open
and provided much better evidence than some of the earlier witnesses.
6. We have taken oral and written evidence from a
wide range of witnesses and have had several informal briefings
by the MoD and others about Afghanistan and the surrounding region.
The MoD provided a Memorandum to the Committee at the start of
the inquiry and further information in response to our detailed
questions which arose in the course of the inquiry. These two
sets of information are published with this Report. We took oral
evidence from the following groups of witnesses:
- 26 October 2010 Major General Gordon Messenger,
Strategic Communication Officer for the Armed Forces and formerly
the Brigadier commanding UK Forces in Helmand; Commander Stephen
Tatham, former director of advanced communication research at
the Defence Academy; Nick Gurr, Director of Media and Communications
in the MoD; Matt Tee, Permanent Secretary for Government Communications
in the Cabinet Office; and Colonel (retired) Christopher Langton,
conflict research analyst and formerly of the British Army.
- 3 November 2010 Professor Theo Farrell, Professor
of War in the Modern World, King's College London; Colonel (retired)
Richard Kemp, formerly of the British Army; and Professor Anthony
King, Professor of Sociology, Exeter University researching military
transformation, working with the Armed Forces in Afghanistan.
- 10 November 2010 Lindy Cameron, former Head of
the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand and NATO Senior
Civilian for Regional Command South-West; Air Marshal Sir Stuart
Peach, Chief of Joint Operations; Major General David Capewell,
Assistant Chief of Defence Staff for Operations; Peter Watkins,
Director of Operational Policy, MoD; and Karen Pierce, Policy
Director for South Asia and Afghanistan, and Special Representative
for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
- 17 November 2010 General Sir Nick Parker, Commander-in-Chief,
Land Forces and formerly Deputy Commander of ISAF and the UK National
Contingent Commander; and Brigadier Simon Levey, Director of the
Royal Armoured Corps and formerly Combined Training Advisory Group
Commander dealing with Army training in Afghanistan.
- 17 November 2010 General (retired) Sir Graeme
- 15 December 2010 Dr Liam Fox Secretary of State
for Defence; Air Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Chief of Joint Operations;
and Peter Watkins, Director of Operational Policy, MoD.
- 8 February 2011 Lord Reid, former Secretary of
State for Defence; and General (retired) Sir Robert Fry, former
Deputy CDS (Commitments).
- 15 March 2011 Brigadier (retired) Ed Butler,
Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, the first brigade to deploy
into Helmand; and General (retired) Sir Mike Jackson, former Chief
of the General Staff.
- 29 March 2011 Lord Browne, former Secretary of
State for Defence.
- 4 May 2011 Air Chief Marshal (retired) Lord Stirrup,
former Chief of Defence Staff.
- 11 May 2011 General Sir David Richards, CDS (in
2006 he commanded the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) in Afghanistan);
General Sir Nicholas Houghton VCDS (in 2006 he was Chief of Operations);
and General Sir Peter Wall, CGShead of the Army (in 2006
he was deputy Chief of Operations).
7. Additionally, prior to the start of this inquiry,
we questioned the Rt Hon Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for
Defence, on operations in Afghanistan at his first appearance
before the Committee in July 2010. We visited Afghanistan in January
2011. We also discussed operations in Afghanistan with US military
commanders at CENTCOM, USA and with senior politicians and officials
in Washington on a Committee visit to the United States of America
in April 2011.
8. The previous Defence Committee last reported on
operations in Afghanistan in July 2007: UK operations in Afghanistan.
Many of the issues raised in the Report remain of concern today.
One of the Committee's primary concerns was that the international
community should focus on establishing security:
Afghanistan has experienced thirty years of conflict.
ISAF and the international community must focus on establishing
security and denying the Taliban and al- Qaeda the environment
in which to operate.
Another concern was the need for effective strategic
communications in Afghanistan and within the UK:
The Government is not communicating key messages
to the British or Afghan public about the purpose of its operations
in Afghanistan effectively enough.
9. The previous Committee considered operations in
Afghanistan as part of its inquiry on the Comprehensive Approach
in 2009-10. In particular, the Committee recognised the importance
of having a clear strategic intent for missions with sound planning
underpinned by an understanding of the context and nature of the
challenge faced and the desired end state. To achieve any measure
of success, the strategy should be owned by all relevant Government
Departments and the Armed Forces. The Committee also recommended
that training and education on the culture, history and politics
of the area be given to both civilian and military staff working
Armed Forces casualties in Afghanistan
10. The worst aspect of operations has been the loss
of lives and the number of people receiving very severe injuries.
From the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001 to 15 June
2012, 371 British military personnel were killed with a further
586 very seriously or seriously wounded. Over 5,000 troops were
admitted to the field hospital of whom 1,712 were wounded in action
and the remainder had a non battle injury or disease. Some 4,700
personnel were evacuated back to the UK by air.
We wish to pay tribute to the dedication of the Armed Forces
and the sacrifices they and their families have made.
Priorities for operations in Afghanistan
11. Following the terrorist attacks on the World
Trade Centre, New York, on 11 September 2001, Afghanistan became
the centre of world attention. The USA concluded (and the UK agreed)
that Afghanistan was harbouring al-Qaeda terrorists, including
its leader Osama Bin Laden. In alliance with the Afghan Northern
Alliance, the USA, supported by the UK, launched a military campaign
to drive out the ruling Taliban regime from power. The Taliban
were defeated through a combination of US air power and ground
operations by the Northern Alliance.
12. The Taliban regime fell in late 2001. Since then,
the international community, through organisations such as the
United Nations, the G8, the World Bank, NATO and the EU, has sought
to stabilise and reconstruct Afghanistan. It was the then Government's
view that the UK had a strategic interest in bringing security
and stability to Afghanistan, and it is in pursuit of this strategic
interest that UK Forces operate in Afghanistan.
13. The MoD told us that the ISAF Mission is:
ISAF, in support of the Government of the Islamic
Republic of Afghanistan and acting under UN Security Council Resolution
1890, conducts operations in Afghanistan to reduce the capability
and will of the insurgency; support growth in capacity and capability
of the Afghan national Security Forces (ANSF); and facilitate
improvements in governance and socio-economic development, in
order to provide a secure environment for sustainable stability
that is observable by the population.
Other commentators told us that NATO was buying time
to allow the Afghan economy to grow
and to support the development of a coherent non-corrupt political
regime and a reduction in criminal networks to an acceptable level.
There are major obstacles to progress in all of the above areas.
Communication of the Mission in
14. Communications with the UK population are crucial,
not only to secure their consent to operations in Afghanistan
but also to avoid radicalising young people. Professor King suggested
that the argument should be that we are on a stabilisation mission
with regional political importance rather than one of counter
commissioned by the MoD in 2010 and earlier showed increased support
by the UK public for operations in Afghanistanfrom 43 per
cent in September 2006 to 52 per cent in March 2010 albeit with
an increase in those opposed to operations from 37 per cent to
41 per cent in the same timeframe. The number of people who felt
they knew why the Armed Forces were in Afghanistan went from 29
per cent in September 2006 to 50 per cent in March 2010.
Support for the Armed Forces is, however, greater than that for
operations in Afghanistan.
Communicating with the UK population about the purpose of any
mission involving UK Armed Forces is crucial. We have found that
the Government's descriptions of the nature of the mission and
its importance to UK interests have varied throughout the campaign,
lacking a consistent narrative. Whist MoD polling data has shown
some limited improvement in the public's understanding of operations
in Afghanistan, we have observed some confusion in the communications
on Libya which reminded us forcefully of earlier stages in Afghanistan.
Defence Committee scrutiny of
15. We asked the MoD to give us sight of the Chiefs
of Staff Committee minutes in order to understand the decisions
taken about operations in Helmand in 2006. The Secretary of State
refused this request. Some MoD witnesses referred to these minutes
in their testimony. The minutes clearly would have helped us to
understand the situation in Afghanistan in 2006 and the military
perspective on events and to clarify the timing of deployments
and the move to the north of Helmand. We disagree with the
MoD decision not to give us sight of documents which are now over
five years old. Refusal hinders our Parliamentary scrutiny of
16. As discussed in paragraph 5 above, we were not
satisfied with the quality of the evidence given by some MoD witnesses,
in particular, on the deployment to Helmand in 2006. To understand
the decision-making processes and the background to the deployment
in 2006, we had to take evidence from former Secretaries of State
and retired senior military personnel. In future, we expect
MoD to come to give evidence to the Committee briefed and prepared
to be frank and open about matters where the provision of information
would not put the Armed Forces at risk.
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