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UK parliament report on Afghanistan

1. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has suffered many years of conflict. Prime Minister Tony Blair promised ‘The conflict will not be the end, we will not walk away as the outside world has done so many times before.’ Throughout this inquiry into securing the future of Afghanistan, we have received starkly opposing evidence and narratives of future scenarios following the withdrawal of combat forces from those which are overly optimistic to those which see only gloom and doom. The fact is that the UK will have limited influence and, indeed, it is for the Afghan people themselves to determine for their future. The best the UK can do is to withdraw in good order and engage with external partners to improve the chances of Afghanistan going forward. In so doing the UK and its international partners must show the Afghan people that they will abide by their obligations to continue to support them in their efforts including in the area of women’s rights which, at the start of the conflict, the then US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, described as ‘non-negotiable’. (Paragraph 151)

2. Securing the future of Afghanistan requires the concerted efforts of all the Afghan people; regional neighbours, in particular Pakistan; the USA; NATO and other coalition partners. Much detailed work needs to be done before the end of combat operations at the end of 2014. We recognise that achieving a peaceful Afghanistan is a process not an event but Afghanistan has to be given the best chance when it takes over full responsibility for its own security. (Paragraph 152)

3. In the process of establishing a peaceful and functioning Afghanistan, we will be looking for evidence of:

If not a concluded peace settlement, at least the start of the process, with the insurgency including Taliban—it should be Afghan led but supported by neighbours such as Pakistan, and the international community must do its utmost to ensure that all the people of Afghanistan, including women, are brought into the process;

Open and free elections;

An appropriately trained and equipped ANSF able to maintain security against a continuing and possibly increased threat of insurgency with financial support after 2014;

Continuing support for economic development including the provision of aid, the maintenance of this aid will be crucial both in strengthening the Afghan Government’s hand in negotiations and ensuring that the West continues to have a voice in Afghanistan;

A strong judicial system; and

A reduction in the level of corruption and some measure of control of drug production and the drug trade. (Paragraph 153)

4. The UK Government has a responsibility to use such influence as remains to it to make a post-2014 Afghanistan work. In response to our Report, the Government should set out what it intends to do in support of the above goals in the run up to the end of 2014. It should also set out how it intends to communicate these objectives and the end of the military mission to the Afghan and UK populations, in particular, what more needs to be done to ensure that the ANSF are able to deliver the security of Afghanistan after 2014. We recognise that the UK is only one player in ensuring a successful Afghanistan but we urge the Government to use its influence with the international community to achieve much more in Afghanistan before the end of 2014. (Paragraph 154)

5. If the UK is to continue to provide financial and training support to Afghanistan post 2014 there needs to be a clear articulation of the areas the UK will fund and support and the outcomes it expects to achieve. It must be clear to those engaged in the peace negotiations that, in providing support in the future, the UK will be paying close attention to the progress on the rights of women, children and minority groups, the tackling of corruption and the furtherance of the rule of law. (Paragraph 155)

6. We have received very little information from the MoD and the FCO as to how they plan to be involved in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Given there are less than two years before the end of 2014, the Government should inform us how it sees its future role in Afghanistan. (Paragraph 156)

7. The withdrawal of UK Armed Forces will involve a demanding and complex set of tasks. The UK Armed Forces and other allies face many challenges in the withdrawal of the military equipment in Afghanistan. As the plans for withdrawal mature, the MoD should provide us with the detailed plans, if necessary on a classified basis. The MoD should put the protection of the Armed Forces at the forefront of its preparation and planning. (Paragraph 157)

8. Finally, we recommend that, in 2015, the Government undertake a comprehensive and detailed lessons learned process which looks forward to how these lessons will influence the future decision making processes of the MoD, DFID and the FCO and other Government Departments, as well as a major review of what the UK has achieved and not achieved in Afghanistan in the period 2001 to 2014. (Paragraph 158)

9. Finally, we recommend that, in 2015, the Government undertake a comprehensive and detailed lessons learned process which looks forward to how these lessons will influence the future decision making processes of the MoD, DFID and the FCO and other Government Departments, as well as a major review of what the UK has achieved and not achieved in Afghanistan in the period 2001 to 2014. (Paragraph 158)

10. We wish to pay tribute to the dedication of the Armed Forces and the sacrifices they and their families have made and continue to make. (Paragraph 8)

Transfer of responsibility for security in Afghanistan to Afghan Forces

11. The Afghan Government must ensure that it takes steps to address the security issues caused by the increasing number of displaced people across Afghanistan, who may find themselves targeted for recruitment by the Taliban. (Paragraph 17)

12. We note that civilian casualties have fallen for the first time in six years although they still remain high. We also recognise that enemy initiated attacks are now occurring in less populated areas. However, we remain concerned that, as withdrawal and the final handover to the ANSF draws near, violence levels have not fallen. The lack of progress in reducing violence does not auger well for improving security and economic development on a long-term sustainable basis. (Paragraph 20)

13. If the ANSF is to provide security in Afghanistan and ensure that the insurgency does not gain control of areas in Afghanistan from 2015, it will need to be able to support itself fully. Whilst we recognise that the ANSF will operate differently from ISAF, it will still need to be properly trained and equipped to carry out the full range of military tasks required of them. We identified significant gaps in necessary ANSF capabilities such as the provision of logistics, helicopters and close air support, and medical care from 2015. Clearly the needs of the ANSF post 2014 will depend on the local political situation: for example, if there is consent on the part of local people, there is unlikely to be much need for extensive counter measures for IEDs, because insurgents will not be able to plant them. We are concerned that the international community is not seriously engaged with the assessment of the need for force enablers. For at least some period after the withdrawal of ISAF from the combat role, there will need to be a smooth transition from the international way of achieving effect to the new Afghan way. The MoD should press NATO for an early review of the ANSF to ascertain what more needs to be done before the end of 2014. We recommend that the MoD liaise with allies to identify the likely shortfalls in ANSF capabilities and investigate ways of meeting them. We were told that issues of corruption within the ANP continue to require attention. A trusted and reliable police force seen to be on the side of and not exploiting the local population is a basic requirement for building trust in a national government which may be seen as remote from communities. (Paragraph 40)

14. The MoD and the FCO painted a very positive picture of the transition to the ANSF, particularly, progress on their ability to carry out operations but we would caution whether progress is sustainable once ISAF withdraws. However, the UK Armed Forces should be more robust in allowing the ANSF to test themselves in challenging circumstances. (Paragraph 45)

15. We are concerned that the ANSF will reduce its strength by over a third on current plans based on the expectation that the insurgency will have been diminished. The Government should urge the international community to develop a contingency plan in case the level of the insurgency does not diminish. (Paragraph 50)

16. It is, therefore, essential that the UK continues to maintain the momentum in ensuring that the ANSF has the capabilities and appropriate equipment to preserve and, indeed, improve security in the face of an insurgency at current levels. (Paragraph 51)

17. If the ANSF is to remain a cohesive and loyal force, frontline troops and police will need to have confidence that they have access to the necessary support when engaged in battle with insurgents. This must include close air support and emergency medical care. (Paragraph 52)

18. We welcome the Government’s commitment to the ANA Officer Academy, believing that it will give a powerful boost to the capability of the ANA and provide a very valuable long-term legacy. However many challenges remain, such as attracting the target number of women recruits and the provision of a suitable cadre of Afghan non-commissioned officers as trainers. The MoD should explain how it intends to tackle these and other challenges. It should also provide us with a description of how it will differ from other training institutes and training run by the USA, France and others. (Paragraph 61)

19. In its response to this Report, the Government should confirm that the funding of personnel who remain behind after 2014 will be from the Treasury Reserve. (Paragraph 62)

20. Protection of UK personnel working in the Academy now and post 2014 is vital. In response to this Report, the MoD should tell us how UK personnel at the Academy will be protected and how they will review protection in future. Such a review will require a risk assessment and the development of contingency plans to extract UK forces should the security situation deteriorate. (Paragraph 63)

21. In its response to this Report, the Government should set out what roles other than training it envisages for the UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan. (Paragraph 64)

Political and economic prospects

22. There are many Afghans who have benefited from the changes in Afghanistan over the last ten years, including Afghan women. Mistakes have been made, principally by promoting a western style analysis on efforts to improve the position of women in Afghanistan. Efforts should be made going forward to ensure women’s programmes realistically reflect the differing needs of women from rural and urban areas. However, these groups, including women, will need to be brought into the peace settlement, which must not disadvantage them. If Afghanistan is to become stable and functioning, it is important that those currently excluded are brought into the process and are given a stake; this particularly applies to women. If as a consequence of negotiating with the Taliban they are excluded, the progress made could easily unravel. UN Resolution 1325 requires that in all peace negotiations in regions affected by conflict, women’s voices must be heard to ensure the long-term stability of any negotiated settlement. Afghanistan is no different. The United States has passed the Afghan Women and Girls Security Promotion Act 2012 which requires the development of a three part strategy to ensure and strengthen women’s security and lays a foundation for Afghan women’s participation in Afghan society in the long term. In its response to this Report, the Government should inform us how it is contributing to ensuring women are able to participate in discussions on security and transition in Afghanistan. (Paragraph 90)

23. It is in the nature of a negotiation that both sides have to give ground. If a reasonably free and fair election takes place, it would seem unpalatable for those who have expended great resources including the lives of Armed Forces personnel, Afghan as well as Western, to compromise on issues like democracy, the rule of law and women’s rights. The extent of the need to compromise will be a function of relative strength. The Government should make every effort to support its international partners to support a peace settlement, but should make it clear that some principles of rule of law and human rights cannot be compromised in the process. (Paragraph 91)

24. While we recognise that the UK has a limited role in facilitating a peace settlement, the Government should continue to use its influence with the Afghan Government to promote a satisfactory agreement for all Afghans. Many countries in the region are important in realising a secure Afghanistan, including Pakistan, China, India and Iran. The Government should build on the trilateral meetings it has hosted and urge international partners vigorously to support a peace settlement. (Paragraph 92)

25. For Afghanistan to grow economically and to reduce its dependence on international aid, it will need the continuing support of the international community for some time. During our recent visit to Afghanistan, we saw welcome signs of economic activity not seen on earlier visits. However, corruption and the narcotics trade remain a problem and are likely to continue to be so after 2014. To ensure that Afghanistan does not lose the gains it has made, the UK Government should continue its support after 2014 for economic development, and for reducing corruption and the size of the narcotics trade. But it should also make it clear that if corruption increases and human rights and the rule of law are not protected, that the UK government may consider withdrawing that support. (Paragraph 110)

26. We were encouraged by evidence of indigenous Afghan initiative and recommend that the UK investigate ways of further encouraging UK companies and institutions to develop links with Afghanistan, since only through the development of its industrial and commercial base can the country have a sound future. (Paragraph 111)

27. The rule of law is an important component of a stable Government, the FCO should continue its efforts to promote a strong judicial and penal system in Afghanistan. The building of new prisons in Afghanistan is a welcome development but the crucial improvement needed is in the provision of prisoners’ human rights. In response to this Report, the Government should inform us of the latest position on the transfer of detainees from Camp Bastion to the Afghan penal system. (Paragraph 112)

28. The Government must, as a matter of the highest priority, develop, in conjunction with international partners, a policy which will assist the Afghan Government to establish judicial and penal systems which satisfy international standards. In regard to future deployments, the UK Government must urgently develop a policy which protects the position of UK personnel in dealing with detainees in jurisdictions that may not meet the requirements of UK courts. (Paragraph 113)

29. Six new women’s prisons have been built in Afghanistan and we were concerned to hear that many of the prisoners are women who have fled domestic violence. We were informed that the women could leave prison if they returned home to their families. It is unacceptable for women to be imprisoned for leaving a violent home life and to be forced to return to violence as a condition of release. (Paragraph 114)

30. In response to this Report, the Government should set out its current thinking on its future role in Afghanistan. It should spell out the practical measures it envisages to promote economic development, establish a strong judicial and penal system and reduce corruption and tackle narcotics, and what criteria it will use to quantify progress. (Paragraph 115)

31. We hope that Afghanistan can become a secure, prosperous and flourishing country but we are concerned that Afghanistan could descend into civil war within a few years. Engaging with the Taliban in the peace process will clearly be necessary. In response to this Report, the Government should spell out what steps it intends to take to at least hold on to the progress made so far. (Paragraph 120)

Withdrawal of ISAF combat troops

32. We agree with the Government’s decision that the UK needs to see through the process of transition to the end of 2014. It is essential that UK Armed Forces are able to protect themselves until they leave Afghanistan. We are convinced that the withdrawal of troops will not be as straightforward or risk-free as the MoD tells us. The MoD should share with the Committee its detailed withdrawal plans. The plan should encompass the following:

An orderly handover of responsibility for security to the ANSF;

An orderly withdrawal of men with appropriate levels of protection;

An orderly withdrawal of equipment or its safe disposal;

Collaboration and consistency with NATO, other allies and Afghanistan;

An associated strategic contingency plan to cater for an unexpected breakdown in security within Afghanistan and armed resistance to the UK’s withdrawal including a significant reserve force to secure a timely and effective recovery of personnel and key materiel; and

A list of reference points by which the MoD will assess the timeliness and success of the withdrawal. (Paragraph 127)

33. We agree that decisions as to what equipment to bring back to the UK must be based on what the Armed Forces need and must represent good value for money. Regenerating equipment returned from Afghanistan will be expensive and we believe that the MoD is being unduly optimistic about these costs. Both equipment purchased as Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs) and equipment purchased normally have been used extensively. The MoD should not make hurried and flawed decisions on what equipment to return from Afghanistan because of pressures of short-term affordability. The Treasury should pay for the regeneration of core equipment under the normal convention that additional costs of operations are funded from the General Reserve. (Paragraph 135)

34. The MoD should only give equipment to the ANSF that it can use and maintain. We note plans to co-ordinate with NATO on gifting equipment to the ANSF. In response to this Report, the MoD should provide detailed criteria for determining what should be gifted to the Afghan forces and update us on the progress made by NATO in co-ordinating the gifting of equipment to the ANSF. (Paragraph 136)

35. Planning for the withdrawal of equipment is underway but many key decisions have yet to be made. As the UK will be withdrawing its equipment at the same time as other allies, the MoD should ensure that it secures the necessary transport in a timely fashion and should provide us with metrics that we can assess. (Paragraph 137)

36. We note that the MoD has already started to withdraw some equipment and matériel it no longer needs in Afghanistan. The MoD should not withdraw equipment early that would put the lives of UK Armed Forces at risk or that would leave them living in very uncomfortable circumstances. (Paragraph 138)

37. As it is less than two years away from the end of 2014, at which time all combat troops should have been withdrawn, we would expect plans for withdrawal to be firmed up soon. In response to our Report, the MoD should provide us with its detailed plans as they mature, including the quantities, routes including possible pinch points to progress, security and co-ordination with NATO. The MoD should also provide us with estimates of the likely range of costs of the withdrawal of equipment. We were glad to hear that there will be continuity of responsibility for the withdrawal in that General Capewell will be staying in post throughout. (Paragraph 139)

38. Any loss of life is to be deeply regretted but it is particularly poignant when the death is caused by one of the people that UK Armed Forces are mentoring and supporting. In addition to the Armed Forces, there are many UK civilian personnel and contractors working in Afghanistan. The protection and medical care of Armed Forces and civilian personnel will continue to be a challenge up to and beyond the withdrawal of combat troops. In response to this Report, the MoD should tell us of the arrangements it has made with the US and the Afghan Forces on force protection and the provision of medical care, and associated aeromed evacuation. (Paragraph 144)

39. Strategic communications are important in ensuring the support of both the UK and Afghan populations for what the UK is doing and has done and will be doing in Afghanistan. It is vital that the process is seen as transition and not as a ‘withdrawal through fatigue’. We have seen little evidence that the Government’s communications strategy is fulfilling its objectives. We recommend that the MoD and the FCO reinvigorate their communications strategy for the populations in the UK and Afghanistan and provide us with the detail on how the strategy will be enacted. The strategy should contain as a bare minimum the following:

what we set out to do;

what we achieved;

what remains to be done including managing the continuing risk, albeit reduced, of UK casualties ; and

the manner of the leaving of UK Armed Forces.

It is essential that the MoD should publish a report setting out what it has learnt from being in Afghanistan.

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