HC Deb 18 March 2002 vol 382 cc7-8
4. Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

If he will make a statement on troop deployments in Afghanistan. [40900]

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

Around 1,600 United Kingdom service personnel are currently deployed with the international security assistance force in Kabul. I will make a statement to the House later today on our plans for future deployments.

Hugh Robertson

Given the difficult security situation, which is likely to continue for some time, and the desire of the Afghan Government and their people for troops to remain in Afghanistan for a protracted period, does the Secretary of State foresee an extension to the deployment beyond July? Will British troops be part of that? What will trigger a withdrawal?

Mr. Hoon

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the current United Nations mandate is scheduled to last only until June. However, I would be being less than honest with the House if I did not anticipate an extension. It is a matter for the UN, but any reasonable person looking at the situation in Afghanistan would have to say that there was a likelihood—I put it no stronger than that—of the UN wanting to extend the mandate. Obviously, any British participation will be contingent on the situation of our armed forces at the time, and on whether we feel that we can make a contribution to what will still, I am sure, as the hon. Gentleman has conceded, be a dangerous, difficult situation.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that it is reported that President Bush said last week that there is no place for politics in fighting the war. Does my right hon. Friend agree that politics is integral to fighting the war against terrorism because it ensures that military action is directed towards justice and not revenge? In that context, does he agree that there should be no extension of hostilities towards Iraq, and that an attack on Iraq should not be countenanced without further authorisation—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The subject is Afghanistan.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)

The Secretary of State will recall that when he made his statement to the House three months ago announcing the original deployment, he intimated fairly strongly that, with the exception of headquarters troops, three months would be the maximum period. We are now told that it will be six months, and he has just intimated that it could be even longer. When will the Ministry of Defence take effective action to make sure that other European partners bear a fair share of the burden, because our armed forces are overstretched enough as it is?

Mr. Hoon

I apologise to the House and to the hon. Gentleman if I gave him that impression. If he reads my comments more carefully, I am sure that he will see that I did not commit the United Kingdom's armed forces to anything at all. I indicated the importance of considering the situation at the time. If he had to deal with those situations, I am sure that, being fair-minded and reasonable, he would come to precisely the same conclusion.

Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North)

Would the Secretary of State consider visiting Royal Marine headquarters in Portsmouth in my constituency to pass on the nation's grateful thanks for what the Royal Marines are doing, with our special services, in Afghanistan? Their contribution is unheralded and unpublicised, but efficient and very effective.

Mr. Hoon

I will certainly be willing to do that. I am sure that if my hon. Friend has the time to stay for my statement to the House later, he will learn still more about the plans for the Royal Marines.

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