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Lord Bach: My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his comments; his support is very welcome indeed. On command and control, the passage in the letter from the Foreign Secretary to which he referred continues:
The noble and gallant Lord's comments on the rules of engagement were very welcome. He has also not even asked what the rules of engagement will be, as he knows that such matters are not discussed in public. He can, however, be assured that the rules of engagement affecting British troops will also affect troops from other countries.
Lord Judd: My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister accept that many of us on these Benches welcome the clarity and purpose of his Statement? Does he also accept that we send our best wishes to everyone involved in this difficult task and that, while we think of service men separated from their families, like others, we also think very much of wives and families separated from their husbands and fathers at such a time?
I ask my noble friend to comment on a few matters. First, I think that we all take heart from the emphasis that he placed on the very specific way in which the Government and the Prime Minister are ensuring that the action is being taken with UN authorisation.
Secondly, does my noble friend accept that many of us take great pride in the fact that British armed services are acquiring such an outstanding international reputation for such work? It is something of which we can all be proud.
Thirdly, does my noble friend accept that, as the stated objective of our activities has been a humanitarian victory as well as a military victory, it is extremely important that there should be close co-ordination between the work of this force and the work of the humanitarian agencies, whose leaders have welcomed the proposal for such a force? Will he assure us that arrangements will be put in place to ensure that that co-operation and co-ordination are all that they might be?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his support. He speaks as a distinguished Peer in two spheres: as a former Defence Minister, and in the role that he has played in humanitarian organisations. I am therefore particularly grateful for his comments.
The United Nations' role is very important in this whole enterprise. Indeed, my noble friend will not be surprised to hear that the letter from the Foreign Secretary effectively tells the Secretary-General that we are prepared to take such a leading role if we are asked to do so. It states:
The coalition has always regarded the humanitarian aid effort as vital and as equally important to the military and diplomatic efforts. As has been said from this Dispatch Box on many occasions already, our war is not with the Afghan people but with those who harbour terrorism.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister saying as a definite undertaking that the Security Council will meet in the next 48 hours? If so, how does that square with his earlier comment that the military agreement will not be signed until the day on which the Interim Authority takes over? Will the Interim Authority then pass a resolution of its own giving authorisation to the troops to be present in Afghanistan pending any resolution of the Security Council if it has not been passed by then?
Perhaps I may ask also about the time scale for this interim force. The acting Defence Minister said that it would be there for only six months but as I understand the Bonn agreement, the requirement is for the Loya Jirgah to meet within six months and not necessarily for the new authority to have taken over by then. May we have an assurance that there is an agreement with the Interim Authority in Afghanistan that the force will remain there until the Loya Jirgah has completed its work and the new authority takes over?
Lord Bach: My Lords, as regards when the UN Security Council will meet to discuss any proposal, my understanding is that it will meet within the next 48 hours. I cannot confirm that but that is my understanding. That is the chronology that is intended at least, leading up to Saturday 22nd, when the new authority takes over.
I cannot give the undertaking about the ISAF and six months. It is not in my power to do that. But I say from this Dispatch Box that I should be very surprised indeed if the ISAF were not there until the time at least that the Loya Jirgah met.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, I am sure that the House is grateful to the Minister for coming here today, clearly before he is really ready to do so. I have three questions which occur to me which he may or may not be able to answer.
First, I echo the surprise of my noble friend Lord Vivian that the British force will be in effective control for a period of only three months. Is that really practical? Secondly, which unitsnot which individual unitsof what arms are likely to be sent to Afghanistan for that purpose? Thirdly, what will happen to the tasks which are at present being undertaken by 3 Div?
I want to make a point about the three months in answer to the noble Lord's question. It is three months from when the force is operational. I have pointed out already to the House that it will not begin to be formed until 28th December and will take some weeks after that. So we are not, for example, saying three months from this Saturday.
On the second question, the noble Lord knows which divisions and which troops are going to Afghanistan but as to the detail of his question, I shall have to write to him. On the role of 3 Div, that role will be filled by others while elements from that division are serving in Afghanistan.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, perhaps I may say how very much I welcome the Statement repeated by the Minister. As I said on Monday, it is absolutely vital that we give every necessary assistance to the Interim Authority to bring about a better life for the people of Afghanistan and better governance. If it is appropriate that that assistance is in the form of our Armed Forces, then it is a very good thing that we are sending our Armed Forces. I am extremely pleased to hear that they are taking a leading role because of their professionalism and expertise in that field.
I accept entirely that this is not the time to ask detailed questions of my noble friend. I ask only one question. Will he confirm that, in addition to the troop movements which he has announced in the Statement, British forces who are already in theatre, on land and at sea, and doing such a magnificent job, will stay in position?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her support and her question. We are discussing today those troops which are to go into Afghanistan. We know that there are some there already. We know also that in theatre, there are many British service people at sea. They will remain there because, of course, the fight against terrorism is far from over. As the Statement says, the war is being won but it is not won yet. The ships that we have there are no doubt a source of great comfort to those troops who will be going in to Afghanistan to lead the force.
Before leaving the point, it should be said from this House too that not only do we wish well those who are giving up their Christmas, as it were, to be out there, but we also appreciate those who have been out there now for some time who will also be there over Christmas and the New Year. We send them our best wishes too.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will take comfort, as we all intend, from the extent to which this mission is so widely supported as a necessary step in response to the disintegration of the former state of Afghanistan and the need to put it together again.
But will the Minister also derive some wisdom from the experience of not dissimilar exercises? There have been many variations over the past 20 or 30 years. I have in mind, for example, at least one in the Middle East. One draws two conclusions from that. It is extremely important for every contingency to be foreseen as far as possible. Nothing can shake such a mission more seriously than the impact of the unexpected. Will he accept that? Will he accept also that that is all the more reason for the different nations coming together in creating this multi-national force to have the closest possible political co-operation throughout at the most intimate level in order to be sure that they react nationally as well as internationally in the same kind of way to those hazards which may yet develop?
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