Total of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan = 414
Optimism still rules in Westminster. Our brave troops are dying because of a self-serving delusion.
The main justification given yesterday by Ministers for our continuing presence in Afghanistan was that it protected the United Kingdom against Taliban terrorist attacks. May we have a debate in which the Government can present to the House and the nation their evidence of Taliban plans for terrorist attacks on the United Kingdom, so that we can ensure that the country knows that there is some good reason for our continuing presence in Afghanistan rather than its being for the convenience of politicians? Our brave troops should not remain in Afghanistan for a day longer than necessary.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): May I offer my heartfelt condolences and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) to the family of Sapper Connor Ray? Sapper Ray came from the city that we both represent and was the 409th fatality from Britain. He was among the bravest of the brave.
The Secretary of State’s statement contained, as always, excessive optimism about the situation in Afghanistan. Will he admit, and tell us about, the growing strength of the Taliban outside Helmand and the growing area that they control? Is there not a real possibility that after going into Afghanistan to get rid of a Taliban Government, when we leave we might find a new Taliban Government in control?
Mr Hammond: No. I am sorry, but I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman on the last part of his question. Of course, I wholeheartedly agree with his condolences to the family and friends of Sapper Connor Ray. I am sure the whole House join him in that.
It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman has a fixed agenda and just keeps reiterating it. The reality is that the Taliban are significantly weakened and do not have the ground-holding capability that they did before. Yes, there are areas in the east of the country, along the border with Pakistan, where there is still significant Taliban activity. However, an Afghanistan in which Helmand province, the main highway and the big cities are under the Afghan Government’s control will be a viable Afghanistan that can contain an insurgency in the mountains along the Pakistani border. The key to the battle is in the big cities of the south and south-west and on highway 1, and it is about ensuring freedom of movement and control of the big population areas.
I wish the hon. Gentleman could find it in his heart to share our aspiration for Afghanistan and take it from me that the military gains on the ground and the growth in the capability of the Afghan national security forces are real. This is a good news story, but I agree with him that it is not irreversible.
Mr Hammond: The number of civilian casualties is of course a matter of extreme regret, but more than 76% of civilian casualties are caused by Taliban activity, not by ISAF or ANSF activity. Health care, literacy and poverty have all taken great strides forward since 2006. The Taliban banned girls from schools. There were no girls in school—
Paul Flynn: Yes, there were.
Mr Hammond: Virtually no girls were in school in Afghanistan in 2006, but now large numbers of girls are being educated. Schools, clinics and hospitals are springing up all over the place: 90% of the population of Helmand is within one hour’s walk of a health facility. That state of affairs could not even have been imagined in 2006. I therefore tell the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) not to talk the place down. It is making significant socio-economic progress.More