HL Deb 07 February 2005 vol 669 cc544-6

2.56 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What arrangements are being made to ensure that there are sufficient coalition military forces in Iraq following the withdrawal of contingents from the Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)

My Lords, the coalition is committed to retaining a military presence in Iraq while the Iraqi Government request it and as Iraqi security forces develop both capacity and capability to assume the security of their country.

We announced on 27 January that the UK would replace the Dutch forces when they withdraw. Poland, the framework nation in Multinational Division (Centre South), has responsibility for planning for adjustments in Ukrainian and Polish force levels. We are consulting our partners and the Iraqi Government to determine how best to support the Iraqi security forces in providing security.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, 1,400 Dutch troops are leaving. Is the Minister really satisfied that the 600 British troops required to backfill are enough, and that the important commitment to the training of the Iraqi security forces continues unaffected?

Lord Bach

Yes, my Lords, we are sure that the 600 troops are adequate; a very careful military examination has gone on to ensure that that is so. Of those that we are sending to Iraq for that purpose, the 220 that we are sending to go with the British troops who will move to that part of South-East Division are key enablers to ensure that we can do the job properly. Of those 220, 70 will leave in pretty short order. We would not have agreed to do that unless those figures were right.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, considering the increase in British forces in Iraq, how many reservists are being called upon to act in Iraq? Future Use of the UK's Reserve Forces, which was published today, says that the role of the reserves will be: To augment the Regular Forces for enduring operations". It also says: Whenever possible, mobilisation will be on a voluntary basis but compulsion may be used if necessary". Is that a sustainable use of the Reserve Forces in the near future?

Lord Bach

My Lords, we believe that it is. Indeed, we have discussed on many occasions in this House the new role that the reserves now play. It is a crucial role in Iraq and other centres of operation. The announcement of the mobilisation of a further tranche of approximately 900 reservists to support continuing operations from May to June next year was made on 14 December, as the noble Lord will know. Around 9,000 reserves have served with great distinction in Iraq since conflict in 2003.

Lord Elton

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that the level of commitment in Iraq will not be maintained by means of reducing our commitment in Afghanistan?

Lord Bach

Yes, my Lords, I can assure the noble Lord of that very important point. We are absolutely committed to Afghanistan, as we are to Iraq, and to seeing through what has started. The noble Lord need not concern himself on that count.

Lord Garden

My Lords, will the Minister take us through the Statement of 27 January a little more? Various figures have been mentioned. There will be 1,400 Dutch forces going and a net change of 150 from the UK. Does that mean that the security situation has improved enormously or that one British serviceman can do the work of 10 Dutchmen?

Lord Bach

My Lords, it does not mean the latter. We are very grateful for what the Dutch have done in that part of the South-East Division. As we speak, the province from where the Dutch will withdraw in March is much quieter than other parts of the South-East Division. A very significant inquiry was undertaken to work out what numbers were needed to take their place. As I have outlined today and as was outlined in the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in January, those numbers remain the proper figures.

Lord Boyce

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is important to have a wide spread of coalition forces in Iraq to lend greater weight to the international effort? We have mentioned three countries. What other countries are making significant contributions to the operation in Iraq?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord for that question. There are still 27 states in the multinational force, which will be so when the Dutch and the Portuguese withdraw. As regards the other countries: MND South-East, our area, includes Italy, Japan, Romania and Denmark. Many other countries have contributed and continue to contribute to the coalition.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I remind the House of my peripheral interest. For how many years have we been operating outside the defence planning assumptions?

Lord Bach

My Lords, none.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, of the coalition troops that are not American, what proportion are British?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am not sure that I am up to the mathematical formula required for that answer. The overall coalition forces are currently around 160,000. The United States have approximately 135,000 forces. As of February 2005, we have just over 8,000. So one can assume that there are about 17,000, roughly speaking, who are neither US nor UK forces.

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