Defence Briefing

Tue, Nov 17, 2009

foreign policy

Why we are in Afghanistan

 

Our approach to Afghanistan is part of a wider international effort to help the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to build the security, democracy and prosperity which is essential to stability in this crucial region and to our own national security – helping those countries to take increasing responsibility for tackling the problems of terrorism, violent extremism and drugs.

 

Labour is determined that we will see our international commitments through. We must not repeat the mistake that the international community made in previous decades when we walked away to leave these countries to face these problems on their own – and those problems ended up coming back to the streets of Britain.

 

Three quarters of terrorist plots against Britain have originated from the Afghan/Pakistan border area. Our strategy is aimed at helping prevent Al Qaeda and the Taleban from undermining legitimate government in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. Failure in either country would make Britain less safe.

 

Our objective in Afghanistan, as the Prime Minister said on 6 November:

 

“is clear and focused; to prevent Al Qaeda launching attacks on our streets and threatening legitimate government in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But if we limit ourselves simply to targeting Al Qaeda — without building the capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan to deal with terrorism and violent extremism – the security gains will not endure.”

 

This is also why last year we doubled the number of civilian stabilisation advisers, and why our joint civilian-military stabilisation teams – the first in Afghanistan – are now supporting not just Governor Mangal but district governors and village shuras on stabilisation and development in Helmand.

 

Despite the very difficult summer, progress is being made in a range of areas – including roads, basic justice, governance, and agriculture. To ensure this continued progress, we announced last month an extra £20 million for stabilisation in Helmand – money that is already being spent to help increase the number of Afghan national police in Helmand by 1000 a year for three years; to build a new police training academy; and to build new facilities for district governors. We are working with coalition partners to extend such support to the 34 provincial governors and 400 district governors right across Afghanistan.

 

In August the UN announced that poppy production in Helmand – responsible for around half of global supply – is down by 37% through a combination of security for farmers against Taleban intimidation, and support for alternative crops through the food zone programme led by Governor Mangal with British help, which has provided wheat seed for 30,000 farmers. An independent study from Cranfield University showed better results inside the zone than outside. We are in Afghanistan primarily to deal with terrorism not tackle the heroin trade – but in many areas of Afghanistan, including Helmand, the drug networks are among the most powerful forces opposing a stronger Afghan state that could deal with terrorism itself.

 

Gordon Brown also pledged that this Labour government will continue to support progress across Afghanistan on health and education – we must not forget that 6.6million children, including 2m girls, are now enrolled in school compared to 1m children, and no girls, under the Taleban; and that 80% of the population have access to basic healthcare, with 40 thousand more Afghan children reaching the age of 5 compared to 2002. All of this is due to the support of the international community including British support, eg helping to pay the salaries of doctors and teachers.

 

Equipment support to our armed forces in Afghanistan

 

We are committed to giving our Armed Forces in Afghanistan the best possible equipment – particularly focused on countering the threat from IEDs.

 

There is no single answer to IEDs, as the Prime Minister set out in his speech on 4 September at IISS. We have sent additional specialist counter-IED forces; extra surveillance and other equipment to find and defuse bombs; and have adopted new offensive tactics to target the networks that set the IEDs. 19 brigade, who are just finishing their tour, found and defused or destroyed over 1200 IEDs.

 

Military spending on Afghanistan – from the Reserve, over and above the defence budget – is now at £390,000 per soldier fighting, compared to £180,000 in 2006.

 

We have spent over £1bn from the Reserve on new vehicles for Afghanistan since 2006, including £20m on more Ridgback vehicles going into Afghanistan this autumn. We now have four times the number of mine-protected vehicles – Ridgback and Mastiff – in Afghanistan compared to six months ago.

 

“On the issue of troop carrying vehicles I think great progress has been made and I pay tribute to the government for that”

David Cameron, Sky News 18th August 2009

 

We have increased helicopter flying hours by 84% compared to 2006, and with the arrival over the coming weeks and months of Merlin helicopters and extra Chinooks, and upgraded Lynx helicopters; this will rise to 130% more flying hours by spring next year.

 

Pakistan

 

The Prime Minister welcomed the recent success of the Pakistan Government against the Pakistan Taleban in Swat, Dir and Buner, and said that “the support of the opposition now demonstrates that a wide cross section of Pakistan society accepts that terrorism poses a clomid threat as serious to Pakistan as to the rest of the world.”

 

He said that

 

it is vital that basic services and economic assistance be provided in the liberated areas as soon as security conditions allow – so the Development Secretary is today announcing a further British contribution of £10m, in addition to the £22m we have already provided for humanitarian assistance.”


DfID’s national programme for Pakistan is increasing to £665 million during 2009-2013. We are making progress in tackling poverty: 22.3% of the population were below the poverty line in 2006-07 compared to 34% in 2001-02. Our support to the health sector has helped to save 200,000 children’s lives; stop 800,000 children becoming malnourished and increase the percentage of children being immunised from 53% to 76%.

 

We plan a substantial new investment in education – up to £250m over 5 years. The focus is on getting more children into school, improving education quality and providing young people with the skills they need to get jobs. By 2013, our support will help put 5 million more children attend primary school and ensure 500,000 young people benefit from technical and vocational training. DfID is also working with the government of Pakistan to help establish a Pakistan education task force formed of the best Pakistani and international experts to focus on improving the implementation of education policy in Pakistan.

 

In the border areas, DfID is planning to expand our current programme in North West Frontier Province and work in Balochistan and the FATA. We have already helped provide clean drinking water and sanitation to one and a half million people in NWFP between 2003-07.The PM announced £50 million for the border areas at the Friends of Democratic Pakistan summit in New York in September.

 

Wider support for our Armed Forces

 

Labour is committed to supporting all our Armed Forces – especially those serving Afghanistan but also the whole armed forces – across the full range:

 

·        We were the first government to introduce, in 2006, a lump sum operational bonus for those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan – over £2380 tax free for a six-month tour, flat rate for officers and junior ranks alike.

 

·        In 2008 we doubled the lump sum compensation for the most seriously wounded – but we accept that the scheme as a whole is not yet right, so we have announced an urgent review, independently chaired by former chief Lord Boyce and welcomed by the Royal British Legion.

 

·        We have continually upgraded the welfare package for troops in Afghanistan – more free phone calls (20-30 mins per week) internet access, and free wi-fi.

 

·        We have continued to improve the medical care and welfare support for wounded service personnel out in Afghanistan, in Selly Oak which now combines a military-run ward with the best NHS treatment, and at Headley Court.  Recent additions include new 58-bed staff & patient accommodation block at Headley Court, and a new rehabilitation complex will be completed by spring 2010.

 

·        Out of last summer’s Command Paper on Support for our Armed Forces, service families can now retain their place on an NHS waiting list when they move to a new area. Veterans have free access to university education. Injured personnel can now access grants of up to £30,000 to adapt their homes, without their compensation payments being means-tested. All veterans have priority status in affordable housing schemes, and we have changed the law in England and Wales to ensure service personnel can claim local connection like anyone else.  

 

·        We have a £3bn programme for service accommodation over the next 10 years.

 

 

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