» Monday, July 13, 2009


Asked who the best judge of operational requirements in Helmand was, the Prime Minister s Spokesman told the assembled press that Nick Richardson, the spokesman for the British military in Helmand was best placed to deal with those questions and he had made the views of his Commanders on the ground pretty clear in the interviews he had given earlier.

Put that the Prime Minister seemed to be leaving the door open for the extra troops currently in Helmand for the elections to remain there, the PMS replied that what the Prime Minister had said was that our current plan was that there should be a reduction in troop numbers back down to 8300 once the election period was over, but of course these things were kept under review.

Asked if the Prime Minister was suggesting that any more troops must come from the Afghan army and not from the UK, the PMS said he would be wary at this point at over-analysing what the Prime Minister had said. The position was to reduce troop numbers back down to 8300 after the election period, but of course we kept these things under review.

Put that the Prime Minister had spoken to President Karzai over the weekend and had he asked specifically for more Afghan troops in Helmand, the PMS said that he would not get into the specifics of the conversation with President Karzai, but there was a significant Afghan presence in Helmand. They were working alongside British troops and NATO troops more generally. They were making a very useful contribution and of course over time, we would expect the Afghan army to take on more responsibility for security in Afghanistan.

Put that the Prime Minister seemed to suggest that he wanted a lot more Afghan troops pretty quickly, the PMS said that our military were working closely with the Afghan army to train up Afghan troops, so that they over time could take more responsibility for their security, but we had been doing this for some time. If there were any announcements on Afghan army troops, it would be best if they came from the Afghan government.

Put that the Prime Minister had said that he had spoken to President Obama about the situation and did that conversation come before his discussions with President Karzai, the PMS said that he had spoken to President Karzai on Sunday. The Prime Minister had had a number of conversations with President Obama during the course of the G8 Summit as they were sitting next to each other on several occasions.

Asked for the details on how many more helicopters were being deployed, the PMS replied that we had increased the number of helicopters by 60%. As we had also increased resources available for crews, equipment and maintenance, it had resulted in an increase in available helicopter hours over the last two years of 84%. In early 2008, Sea King helicopters were introduced to Afghanistan, alongside Chinook and Apache helicopters and the Merlin helicopters would arrive in Afghanistan later this year.

We were also re-engineering the Lynx helicopter for the extreme heat and altitude of Afghanistan. The PMS said it was worth emphasising the point that it was not immediately possible to pinpoint a spare helicopter and then ship it out to Afghanistan. The particular requirements of flying helicopters in Afghanistan meant that a significant amount of work did need to be undertaken in order to re-equip helicopters for use in the country.

The Prime Minister saw this for himself this morning, when he visited RAF Benson, which is where many of the Merlin helicopters were being re-equipped. Asked how many Merlin helicopters were being deployed the PMS said that he did not have the exact number and advised people to speak to the MOD.

Asked about the helicopter pooling scheme and how soon British troops could potentially use a helicopter supplied by one of Britain s allies, the PMS said that that would depend on how long it took to re-equip helicopters.

Asked if it was the case that helicopters from other nations would be drafted in, the PMS said that that was correct, but these could not be re-deployed to NATO immediately. The Prime Minister had referred to 11 extra helicopters that had been re-equipped.

Asked if it was the Government s view that these extra helicopters were designed to reduce the casualty rate in Afghanistan, the PMS said that it was the Government s view that these helicopters were designed to support the military operation in Afghanistan. As the Prime Minister and others had been making clear today, you could not conduct the war from a helicopter alone; you needed to have troops on the ground and that, tragically in some cases as we were seeing, meant that there would be casualties.

In overall terms, it was the Prime Minister s view that we were pursuing the right strategy in Afghanistan. Due to the courage, the professionalism and dedication of our soldiers, we were able to tackle terrorism at its root cause and therefore make the streets of Britain safer.

Asked if the Prime Minister thought that Britain was shouldering an unfair burden in Afghanistan, the PMS said that the Prime Minister believed that it was right that there should be burden-sharing in Afghanistan. We welcomed the increase in troops that was announced at the time of the NATO Summit that took place in April, but of course we needed to continue to discuss this with our NATO partners to see what more could be done.

Put that the Prime Minister had not answered David Cameron s question on a request for 2000 troops, the PMS said that he thought the Prime Minister had answered the question and he had nothing further to add to the answer he gave. Asked why the Government was not prepared to spell out the number of helicopters and did this not contribute to a lack of trust in the Government s strategy, the PMS said he would reject that completely. These were decisions for the MOD to opine on, but he was sure there were very good security reasons not to give too much precise detail of the nature of our capability in Afghanistan.

original source.

Briefing took place at 16:45 | Search for related news

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