Friday, February 02, 2007

Military matters

Today I have posted in full from Hansard a speech on military matters by Tobias Ellwood, who is my local MP. He seems to know a thing or two about military matters

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) for her commitment to Devonport. Unfortunately, such is the state of the Navy that there is competition between the three main service bases as to which will remain intact. That is a debate for another day, but the hon. Lady spoke about her constituency with commitment and intellect.

We have had a frank, open and educational debate, which has rightly focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, as those are the areas in which we are heavily involved. The backdrop to the debate is the Prime Minister's comment on board HMS Albion on Friday 12 January:

"Britain has to choose whether to be on the front line of the global fight against terrorism or to retreat to a peacekeeping role."

Perhaps we should mention that choice to our NATO allies. We have committed more than 7,000 troops to Iraq and 5,700 to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, however, the Prime Minister's words stand in stark contrast to our military capability because, since 1997, there has been a dramatic fall in the size of our Army, Navy and Air Force and the procurement process has changed drastically: the number of aircraft carriers has been cut from three to two; the number of T-45 destroyers from 12 to six; the number of infantry regiments from 40 to 36; and the number of Eurofighters has been reduced, too. Will the Minister make a commitment to maintain the Red Arrows, as there is a shadow hanging over the pride and joy of the British skies? Will he assure the nation that there is a future for that important asset in his winding-up speech? There has been a great deal of discussion about the procurement process and its effect on equipment, notably the Snatch Land Rovers, which are inadequate in both Afghanistan and Iraq, so perhaps the Minister would be gracious enough to comment on that, too.

We are approaching the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and I am afraid that I do not agree with the glossy picture that has been painted in an effort to suggest that things are going well. I am pleased that General Dannatt was able to expose the reality of the situation, because only three of the 18 provinces in Iraq have been handed over to Iraqi control. Depending on which figures one uses, about 600,000 people have been killed since the 2003 invasion, and an average of 3,500 individuals are killed every month, according to a recent UN report. In fact, Baghdad has built a second morgue that can accept 250 bodies a day. That is the state of affairs in Iraq: we face civil war, so we must address the problem.

I have said many times that I never supported the war itself, which was a distraction from the real concern—Afghanistan. However, we are where we are. We have heard important voices such as Carne Ross, the former first secretary of the British delegation to the UN, who testified to the Butler inquiry that there were no weapons of mass destruction. We heard, too, from 52 diplomats, including former ambassadors to Baghdad and Tel Aviv, who questioned the Government's middle east policy, which has caused us to endure many problems. A fundamental flaw in our ability to deal with Iraq stemmed from the fact that the previous Secretary of State for International Development, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), refused to participate in post-conflict work. We therefore missed the opportunity to win over hearts and minds and begin work on the reconstruction projects that were very much needed in the first few months after the main conflict.

The second fundamental error was the disbandment of the Ba'ath party. I intervened on the Defence Secretary and I was pleased that he finally acknowledged that that was a schoolboy error. It should not have been done. We immediately got rid of the army and the police force, but 80 per cent. of the current army and police force are former members of the Ba'ath party. Not only that—we also got rid of all the doctors, nurses and teachers. They all went home because they were not allowed to work, yet the majority of them wanted nothing to do with Saddam Hussein. They were simply working as best they could in the environment that existed then.

The biggest problem is the friction between the Shi'ites and the Sunnis. The bombing on 22 February last year of the al-Askari shrine, the Shi'ites' most holy site, was the tipping point. Since then, Sunnis and Shi'a have found it harder and harder to work together. There is a growing insurgency. Many of the political groupings are linked to militias, and that is taking the country further into civil war.

Will the Minister comment on the growth of the militias, particularly the Mahdi army, which is one of the largest? I cannot see the leaders in Iraq disbanding these groups. First, they do not have the power, and secondly, the militias are helping them to remain in power. On 6 October last year, an entire Iraqi police brigade was taken out of service because it had links with death squads and looting, turning a blind eye to such activities.

On training, we were supposed to have reached a target now, four years after the invasion, of 400,000 trained Iraqi security personnel. We are not even close to 275,000. The Pentagon has stopped releasing assessments of the number of trained Iraqi soldiers, because they are not accurate and the numbers are in decline.

The blueprint that we have for Iraq is wrong. The US is in a quagmire, and erroneous assumptions have been made about the readiness of the Iraq Government to take over. We are in denial if we believe that. There is corruption and looting, and al-Maliki has little interest in disarming the warring factions. We are not winning hearts and minds, as we should do, and there is a growing opinion that ethnic tensions have gone too far.

We are obsessed with keeping the original borders. Tens of billions have been spent to try and avoid civil war, but that has failed. We could easily move a third of the population of 28 million, build houses, roads and all the infrastructure that is required for towns and villages, and divide the country in three on a model similar to the United Arab Emirates. We have a choice. We can change the blueprint and consider that option, or we can continue as we are doing and end up with a divided country anyway, but one divided by war.

I conclude with some comments about Afghanistan. Iraq played a huge role in what is going on there. Too few troops went in—30,000 to begin with. Only four years later, in 2005, did we get to the heart of the Taliban's operations in Helmand province. Even now, in neighbouring Nimruz province, there is not a single NATO soldier. I ask the Minister to shout to our allies, "Where are you? Why are you not with us fighting the battles out there? Please come and join us in Afghanistan, but leave your caveats behind." The British are doing most of the work, along with our colleagues, such as the Canadians and the Americans, but where are the French, the Germans and the Turks? We will not win in Afghanistan unless we have more troops there and a more co-ordinated effort.

My final point relates to the shortage of diamorphine in the United Kingdom. It seems ironic that when we have G8 responsibility for counter-narcotics in Afghanistan, a shortage in the UK of a commodity that is made from poppies, and responsibility for Helmand province, where a third of the world's narcotics come from, we cannot come up with a solution that involves licensing the poppy crops and preventing the terrorists from gaining from that income.


Anonymous said...

FRANCE once the fourth largest ISAF contingent. (At September 2006, there are 1,700 French soldiers in Afghanistan). The current French Army detachment is in Kabul, known as Pamir XIV.

GERMANY 3,000, which made Germany once the largest contributor to the ISAF (now the US and the UK are the largest contributors; 2006). The German soldiers are deployed in the north of the country.

TURKEY 825 (Once the third largest contingent) The only Muslim country in the ISAF. Turkey's responsibilities include providing security for Kabul and western regions of the country, as well as providing reconstruction teams.

In fact there are 37 countries in Afghanistan and note that Germany(3000) has more troops than Canada (2500).

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, typical politician.

What other erroneous "facts" are given umder parliamentary privilege?

Terry Hamblin said...

But the German troops are deployed in regions of relative safety of the north, and the French and Turkish troops in the relative safety of Kabul.

Exiled in mainstream said...

The division option is interesting - that's what Joe Biden is suggesting over here and intuitively it feels the most plausible option. I suspect the details are tricky though - particularly around oil revenues. An independent Kurdistan in the north would seem relatively easy - but that's not really where the problem is, is it?