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British MPs Concerned by Afghan Deployment (Apr 7)

The House of Commons Defence Committee today published a report on the UK deployment to Afghanistan (Fifth Report of Session 2005-06, HC 558).

UK Armed Forces are preparing for two separate but related deployments to Afghanistan. From May 2006 until February 2007, the UK-led Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) will take over command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) while it expands its presence from Kabul and the Northern provinces of Afghanistan to the less stable Southern provinces. From June 2006, the 16 Air Assault Brigade will deploy to Helmand province, an area where the opium trade flourishes and the Taliban have significant support.

The Committee is concerned that “national caveats” from NATO rules of engagement risk impairing the effectiveness of the ISAF mission in the challenging Southern provinces and calls for them to be minimized before ISAF’s role is expanded.

The MPs welcome the creation of a single HQ to command ISAF and the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, but calls on MoD to ensure that the UK deployment receives the air support it needs.

The Committee supports the objectives of the UK deployment to Helmand province but states that it faces significant obstacles. MPs are particularly concerned that the planned provision of airlift and close air support may prove inadequate and that the deployment will place increasing strain on the UK’s already overstretched Armed Forces, particularly those in pinchpoint trades.

The Committee considers that the building of security and justice institutions are unlikely to be achieved within the three year commitment made so far and calls on MoD to make public how they intend to measure the success of the Helmand deployment.

The Committee says that UK Forces’ role in limiting the opium trade risks worsening the security situation in the short term and calls on MoD to clarify the exact nature of this counter-narcotics role. The Report also call for greater clarity on UK Forces’ responsibilities towards detainees.

The Chairman of the Defence Committee, Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP, said:

“The success of the NATO mission in Afghanistan is vital, not just to the people of Afghanistan but to the stability of the region. It is essential that our commanders on the ground have clear objectives and the necessary resources and capabilities they need to meet these objectives.

“While we welcome the commitment made by the US and Dutch air forces to supplement the UK airlift capability, we are concerned about the ability of the UK’s ten dedicated helicopters to perform the extensive range of roles that will be asked of them, particularly given the demanding environment in which they will operate.

“We are also concerned about the provision of close air support and recommend that if NATO does not provide equivalent air support assets, the Harrier GR7 squadron based at Kandahar should remain beyond its planned withdrawal date of June 2006 and for as long as necessary.

“There is need for greater clarity in the UK Forces’ counter-narcotics role which might bring them into conflict with elements involved with the opium trade”.

Click here for the report on the House of Commons website (94 pages in PDF format) (ends)

MPs Report on the UK Deployment to Afghanistan