HC Deb 26 November 2001 vol 375 cc667-70
12. Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham)

If he will make a statement on his plans for the future involvement of British forces in combating international terrorism. [15086]

13. Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

If he will make a statement on his plans for the future involvement of British forces in combating international terrorism. [15087]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

Given the rapid pace of events, I have concluded that it is no longer necessary for all the units placed 10 days ago on 48 hours' notice to move to remain at that state of readiness. With the exception of elements of 2 Para and 16 Air Assault Brigade and their key enablers, the bulk of those forces will revert to their previous state of readiness and be able to move within a week. Before any decisions are taken to deploy any of those forces to Afghanistan, we shall take account of the situation on the ground, including reports from the detachment at Bagram, the progress of the political process being set in train in Bonn this week, and consultations in the coalition.

Mr. Jones

Following the media reports, particularly in The Daily Telegraph this morning, that the United States is to extend the war on terrorism to include possible action in Somalia and Sudan, are there are any current plans for British forces to be involved in such action with the United States?

Mr. Hoon

As I told the House earlier, our military action is focused on Afghanistan, but we recognise that terrorism is a wider problem, which has been addressed since 11 September. That is why we shall continue to take action on the financing of terrorism and the ability of terrorists to develop weapons, as well as on the movement of terrorists from one country to another. That action will continue. Indeed, the military action in Afghanistan will send the clearest message to any state that is tempted to support terrorism.

Paul Farrelly

My right hon. Friend has said that the mission at Bagram is well defined, but there seems to be confusion as to how welcome British forces in and around Kabul are to the Northern Alliance. He will agree that the situation there is far different from that in Kosovo, where there was one well defined enemy rather than many barely distinguishable recent allies who history shows are likely to turn on each other—let alone outsiders—at the drop of a hat. Will he therefore assure the House that British troops will not be committed to Kabul on peacekeeping duties without the agreement of the major Afghan factions, and explain what actions the Government have taken to encourage the United Nations to put together such a force in case it is needed?

Mr. Hoon

That is obviously one contingency of which we shall take account before making any decision to deploy further forces in Afghanistan. It is important that we work closely with our international partners in the coalition and, equally, with the United Nations. The work undertaken to ensure that the representative elements of the Northern Alliance reach Bonn is a visible sign of that. It is important that the United Kingdom give military support where necessary to the efforts to rebuild Afghanistan.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)

Will the Secretary of State ensure that in no circumstances are British forces left as a permanent garrison in Afghanistan? Does he agree that, when we reach the phase of reconstruction and peacekeeping, it will be far more appropriate for the forces employed for those purposes to come from currently non-combatant countries of appropriate Islamic background and to be under the auspices of the UN?

Mr. Hoon

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The point about a rapid reaction force is that it should be able to get into a potential conflict quickly. Logically, it should also be able to get out equally quickly. That is the lesson of the deployment to Macedonia, where we successfully showed that we could achieve success by limiting our presence to a brief operation, allowing those forces to be used again should the eventuality arise.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)

Can the Secretary of State confirm whether any units or individuals from the Royal Marine Reserve have been mobilised for service in Afghanistan? If so, are any such personnel serving there?

Mr. Hoon

That is not the position for the moment, but obviously we continue to pay regard to the important role that reserves can play. As the hon. Gentleman will understand from an earlier exchange involving one of my ministerial colleagues, efforts have been made to utilise the skills immediately available from the reserves, and that process will continue as and when we require them.

17. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

What progress the British military contribution is making in the campaign against international terrorism. [15091]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

The United Kingdom has been involved from the outset in the campaign against international terrorism. The Royal Navy has fired Tomahawk land attack missiles at a range of terrorist and military targets, and the RAF has flown more than 200 sorties in support of United States strike aircraft. The Royal Navy has an amphibious task group in the region, and we have deployed a detachment of Royal Marines to Bagram airfield. As I have also made plain, British forces have been engaged in operations on the ground, working closely with US forces.

Mr. Hoyle

I thank my right hon. Friend for those comments. Does he recognise that we must have the right equipment for the fight against international terrorism, and that rapid deployment capability is one of the main strengths of that? Does he also recognise the need for a heavy-lift aircraft, such as the A400M? Can that programme be brought forward?

Mr. Hoon

No Defence Question Time would be complete without my hon. Friend making his customary contribution on A400M. I am delighted to be able to agree with him yet again.