The number of UK Forces personnel in Afghanistan will rise from around 3,600 to 4,500 by the autumn, following changes to the package of forces announced by Defence Secretary Des Browne today, 10 July 2006.
The changes are in response to a request by UK commanders for additional forces, so that they can secure early advances in the North of Helmand, whilst also being able to make progress in the centre of the province. The additional forces, drawn from all three Armed Services, will contribute to the same mission as before: rebuilding Afghanistan, strengthening its Government, security forces and legal system, and tackling its desperate poverty.
In a statement to the House, Defence Secretary Des Browne emphasised that UK Forces were not waging a narcotics war, for example destroying poppy fields - they were helping to create the conditions of security and development in which the narcotics industry would be weakened, and eventually driven out by the Afghans themselves.
Excerpts from Mr Browne’s speech are below:
"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about UK deployments to Afghanistan.
"We began deploying to Helmand in February, building up to full operating capability on the first of July. It has been said that we have been over-optimistic about that deployment, that we told the House this would not be difficult and that we sent the wrong force. None of this is true. We said from the start that this was going to be a challenging mission. My predecessor’s statement to the House on 26 January included a sober assessment of the threat. The force package reflected this. It was designed by the military and endorsed by the Chiefs of Staff. It contained attack helicopters, artillery and armoured vehicles. We deployed tough, capable units, with robust rules of engagement – because we expected violent resistance.
"The mission is simple – but the delivery of it is complex. That complexity arises from the situation. Three decades of conflict has stripped the South of all signs of Governance. It has robbed many Afghans of hope. And in that uncontrolled space, violence, criminality, narcotics and extremism have flourished. We have confronted these threats and learnt much about them since we deployed. And, as with any deployment these experiences have allowed us to review our forces and our approach. That is what we have been doing in recent weeks.
"Madam Deputy Speaker let me now explain why we need to adjust and strengthen our force structure in Helmand.
"Our commanders have asked for additional forces to secure these early advances in the more remote communities in the North, whilst also being able to make progress in central Helmand. Last Monday I said I was aware of ongoing work on additional resources. I was also aware that as part of this process the Chiefs of Staff were going back to operational commanders and urging them to ensure they had asked for everything they needed. As I said in the House this iterative process produced a recommendation which I received that day. I and the Chiefs of Staff have considered this recommendation and I have now endorsed it. I am grateful for the support and assistance of other Departments, especially the Treasury, in working through the necessary detail of this process as quickly as possible.
"Let me then outline the key elements of this additional force.
"In order to accelerate the reconstruction effort in the current security environment, we will deploy 320 engineers, from 28 Regiment Royal Engineers, to start projects to improve local infrastructure. A company from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines will provide force protection for them, and these deployments will take place in September.
"We will deploy an additional infantry company, drawn from the Second Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, to provide more mobile forces, and two platoons, from The First Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment, to provide additional force protection.
"There will be small increases in Headquarters staff. We will also boost our medical and logistical support to reflect the increase in troop numbers.
"We will step up our efforts to build the capacity of the Afghan National Army. These brave soldiers have fought side by side with us in recent months and they are the key to our eventual exit strategy. We are therefore deploying additional staff in Helmand, and to the regional Army Headquarters for the South. Great strides have been made already in this essential task and, following the forthright discussions I had with the Afghan Defence Minister Wardak, additional Afghan troops have been sent to Helmand and more will follow. There are also around 2,300 Afghan police and military in Helmand, building to 4,800 or so in 2007.
"As with previous deployments, there will be a requirement to deploy reservists. There are some 150 reservists serving in the Joint Operational Area, including members of the Sponsored Reserves. Some 450 call-out notices will be served on individual reservists in order to fill approximately 400 posts in theatre. One of the main reasons for the increase in reservist numbers is the planned deployment of 100 reservist personnel from 212 Field Hospital.
"These enhancements – some 870 personnel – will place additional demands on our air transport. We have already increased the flying hours available for attack and support helicopters, as requested by commanders – and today I can say we will also be making more support helicopters and one additional C130 Hercules available. We also plan to deploy a radar installation, provided by Number One Air Control Centre, Royal Air Force.
"All these additional deployments will be made as soon as possible. But Madam Deputy Speaker, I also want to cover the planned changes to the force structure resulting from the roulement in October, when the units currently comprising the Helmand Taskforce, drawn predominantly but not solely from 16 Air Assault Brigade, will complete their tours. They will be replaced by units drawn principally from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, including 42 and 45 Commando, and other supporting elements including 12 Signal Regiment.
"This roulement will also involve a change to the force structure, reflecting the differences in the two brigades’ structures and equipment, including the requirement to support the Commandos’ Viking armoured vehicles. This represents around an additional 125 personnel.
"And the House will also be aware that last month I announced the deployment of 130 personnel from 34 Squadron of the Royal Air force to increase force protection at Kandahar Airfield.
"Madam Deputy Speaker, this is a complex picture – some troops will be going immediately, others in October; some will constitute an enduring addition, others are being deployed on a surge basis – but I can tell the House that as a result of today’s announcement the steady-state size of the Helmand Taskforce will increase between now and October from some 3600 to some 4500 personnel.
"I am aware that our armed forces are heavily committed. As I said in the personnel debate around 18% of the Army is currently deployed on operations. This is challenging, but sustainable. Taking into account deployments in Iraq and the planned increase in personnel to Afghanistan most of our deployable units will operate outside Harmony guidelines. I don’t accept this lightly. But I do believe it is necessary, and judging by comments made in this House in recent months, so do the majority of the Honourable members. We will do all we can to minimise the impact of this, and we will continue to seek further contributions from our NATO partners in order to relieve the pressure in some of these areas.
"Some commentators have suggested that there are insufficient infantry soldiers deployed in comparison to the force’s overall size. Let me be clear that the delivery of this mission is not borne by the infantry alone, and it does a disservice to a great many brave men and women to suggest otherwise. Indeed of the six deaths in Afghanistan since the deployment, half have been from other arms. The infantry do have a challenging task but so do all our forces in Afghanistan. Airpower, artillery, light armour and others are involved in combat. But the work done by the Provincial Reconstruction Team, the training teams, and those who enable the others to operate is every bit as essential to eventual success. Some more infantry are indeed deploying, but the fundamental balance of combat forces, to others carrying out vital roles, will not change, and this is because the mission has not changed.
"There have been questions raised about the capability of NATO, and of the intentions of the United States. NATO now has many more troops, to reflect the greater challenge in the South. Rules of Engagement have been made more robust. This morning I spoke to Commander ISAF, General David Richards. He told me that in the South effectively there were no caveats placed by nations on the use of their forces. Across Afghanistan he was seeing a ‘new NATO’ where such caveats were becoming a thing of the past. He also said he was confident he had the forces to do the job, and that he had been encouraged to see nations like Germany and Spain considering making additional forces available.
"I believe that NATO is thoroughly fit for this role. It has been suggested that because it does not have forces in every province, it cannot succeed. But this misses the fundamental point that we are in a stage when NATO is expanding in Afghanistan. Months ago there were no NATO troops in the South at all, and there were few United States troops. Soon there will be nearly nine thousand in the South, part of a total of around 18,500. NATO is building on a success that many seem determined to ignore.
"As for the US, last week I spoke to General John Abizaid, the US commander responsible for Afghanistan and Iraq. He was absolutely clear about the US commitment to Afghanistan. They are not leaving this to NATO. They are part of NATO, and likely to be the biggest force contributor in Afghanistan for some time to come. Accusations they are abandoning NATO are misplaced.
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