HC Deb 09 December 2002 vol 396 cc11-3
7. Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

If he will make a statement on military support for the Government of Afghanistan. [83962]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram)

The international security assistance force, mandated by the United Nations, provides support to the transitional Administration of President Karzai in Kabul and the immediate surroundings. The United Kingdom was the initial lead ISAF nation, and continues to be a major troop contributor. The Germans and Dutch have offered to assume the joint role of lead nation after Turkey's successful time in command. The United Kingdom anticipates remaining a significant contributor to ISAF, at about the current levels, through the current mandate.

Dr. Palmer

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. During the intervention in Afghanistan, which I strongly supported, the Prime Minister stressed that we would not let Afghanistan down later. I am concerned to read reports that the writ of the Government in Afghanistan still does not reach much further than the area around Kabul, and that Mr. Karzai is forced to negotiate with warlords on quite small matters. Does the Minister feel that we are doing enough to reinforce the Government of Afghanistan in asserting their rule over the country?

Mr. Ingram

The UK has pledged some £200 million over the next five years to help rebuild a country that has been divided by conflict for a generation. We are only one of the contributor nations to that process. Clearly, in terms of expanding our areas of activity outside Kabul, those matters must be considered with other coalition partners to see what can reasonably be done and to give best effect. We are not unmindful of the issues that have been raised. As with everything relating to the initial deployment in that country, however, we must build that coalition of the willing. A change to any posture must be carefully balanced, and we must make sure that anything that is done has proper and full effect.

Patrick Mercer (Newark)

I am grateful to the Minister for his earlier answer. There are 300 or so staff officers and specialists tied up in Afghanistan at the moment. May I congratulate the Minister on the deployment of 40 or so territorials? What further plans does he have to increase the territorial commitment to Afghanistan, thus easing our overstretched regulars, and, to paraphrase Sir Michael Boyce, helping not to get our hands stuck in the mangle any further?

Mr. Ingram

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is asking for more activity in Afghanistan or less. I am not clear where he is coming from. I think that I said earlier that we have a firm commitment to help rebuild that country. Every rebuilding exercise, as I also explained, must be done in partnership with other nations to be fully effective. Our approach to those issues must be built over time with the right depth and breadth.

On the question of the Territorial Army, I do not accept that its deployment is for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman gave. It is appropriate to use the TA in circumstances in which that can be done. That is a useful development, and I know that the TA will seize the opportunity and perform magnificently in that area and in that theatre, as it would anywhere else.

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the numerous appeals from the President of the transitional Administration and key Ministers in Afghanistan for an expansion of ISAF. Certainly, when I went to Afghanistan recently on an International Development Committee visit, numerous representations were made to members of the Committee on this issue, particularly in relation to an expansion to key cities outside Kabul. It was suggested to us that if defence remains purely in the Kabul area, there was a danger that the President would be seen merely as the mayor of Kabul, which was the description given. That would not be helpful in terms of support for the new Administration in Afghanistan. Will the Minister assure the House that that will be given careful consideration?

Mr. Ingram

I can give that assurance, and I think that my earlier answer indicated that we are considering a number of ways of doing that. Ultimately, it is for the Government of Afghanistan to begin to address their territorial issues. We can assist, but we cannot be the army of that nation for ever. That must come from the people of that country. We help in the training of the army there, too, so that it can take on an increasing role in relation to an ongoing problem that my hon. Friend was right to highlight.

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