» Monday, July 13, 2009


Asked about the Prime Minister s visit to RAF Benson this morning, the Prime Minister s Spokesman (PMS) said that the Prime Minister went on a private visit to RAF Benson with Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth to meet the Chief of Staff, families and military personnel. They were briefed on aircraft engineering and timelines to deploy Merlin helicopters to theatre at the end of this year. This morning s visit followed on from the Prime Minister s visit last Friday to the Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood and came ahead of the Prime Minister s G8 statement.

Asked if there had been a discussion about when more helicopters could be moved into Afghanistan, the PMS said that he wouldn t characterise it in those terms; it was an opportunity for the Prime Minister to meet military personnel and their families.

Asked if the Government had any plans to change troop numbers, the PMS said that the position remained as set out in the Prime Minister s letter to the Liaison Committee that we released at the weekend.

Put that there was a discrepancy between the number of helicopters provided by the US and the UK, the PMS said that we had almost doubled the helicopter capability in Afghanistan. Since 2006 we had seen Sea King helicopters taking their place alongside Chinook and Apache helicopters. The Merlin helicopters would arrive in Afghanistan later this year and we were also re-engineering the Lynx helicopter for the extreme heat and altitude, which would give further flexible support. It was best to leave military operational matters to the military experts and the Spokesman for the British Forces in Helmand had spoken about the subject this morning.

Put that some well-known figures said that the political objectives for Afghanistan were too big, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had set out a number of times, most recently in his letter to the Liaison Committee, the overall purpose of the mission; the overriding reason for our continued involvement was to take on the terrorist threat at its source and prevent attacks. That involved looking at Afghanistan and Pakistan and working with the Pakistani authorities, which was the basis for the strategy document on Afghanistan and Pakistan that we published in April.

Put that there had been suggestions that the retirement of the current Chief of Defence Staff should be speeded up, the PMS said that the Prime Minister thought that the current Chief of Defence Staff was doing an excellent job.

Asked if our aim was to create a democracy in Afghanistan, the PMS said that our overriding objective was to deal with the terrorist threat in order to prevent attacks here and elsewhere. An important part of that was ensuring the legitimacy and capability of the Afghanistan Government to be able to take on terrorist threats.

Put that we were being over-ambitious in terms of what we wanted to achieve in the given timescale, the PMS said that by working in both Afghanistan and Pakistan the Prime Minister hoped to deal with the crucible of terror that exists in the countries border regions. The Head of the Security Services had said that three quarters of the major terrorist plots affecting the UK had their origins in that region, and so our primary purpose was to deal with that. In order to do that we needed to work with the Pakistani Government, where they did not have the same capability to deal militarily with the threats that we faced.

We needed to build up the capability of the Afghanistan institutions and the Afghanistan army and security forces, and we needed to ensure the continued legitimacy of the Afghanistan Government, which was why we supported the democratic process in Afghanistan.

Asked about the timescale concerning the doubling of helicopter numbers, the PMS said that over the last two years the available helicopter hours in theatre had almost doubled.

Put that military sources claimed there was a shortage of helicopters and that we were borrowing helicopters from the US, the PMS said that the British Military Spokesman in Helmand had just been interviewed on television and said that they had sufficient resources to complete their tasks. We were increasing helicopter capability and increasing resources in Afghanistan. There had been a huge increase in funding for Afghanistan over the past few years, which had gone up from 700 million in 2006/07 to around 3 billion in this financial year in the context of an overall defence budget that was increasing even before taking into account the additional cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Asked if the Prime Minister had asked for the timescale of the delivery of Merlin helicopters to be brought forward, the PMS said that that was a capability issue for the military.

Put that the former Foreign Secretary Lord Owen had called for the former Defence Secretary George Robertson to be recalled to the Cabinet and that the current Defence Secretary was way down in the Cabinet pecking order, the PMS said that the Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth had the seniority to be able to conduct his job effectively and he was proving in the Prime Minister s view to be a good Defence Secretary.

Asked if there was any truth in the claim that Bob Ainsworth was twenty-first in the Cabinet pecking order, the PMS said that this was something that was obsessing individuals in the media more than it had on the impact or the clout of Cabinet Ministers. The Defence Secretary was a senior member of Cabinet, he spoke regularly to the Prime Minister and he had clout with the Prime Minister.

Asked if the Government was discussing the issue of helicopters with NATO allies, the PMS said that we continued to discuss this issue with our NATO partners; it was the Prime Minister s initiative to establish a fund for helicopters in Afghanistan, which would enable those NATO countries who wished to make a contribution to the fund to do so. That in turn would fund the deployment and re-equipment of helicopters from other NATO countries.

Asked what the Prime Minister had been forecasting when he said that it had been a difficult summer and would continue to be a difficult summer, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had not been forecasting anything. There was a major operation underway at the moment in Afghanistan, which was taking the fight to the Taliban and as a consequence of that we were seeing casualties; every single casualty was a matter of great regret and a tragedy to the individual and their families, but in the Prime Minister s view we were pursuing the right strategy in Afghanistan, which we needed to pursue alongside the work we were doing with the Government of Pakistan in order to deal with the source of three quarters of the terrorist threats that effected the UK.

Asked about troop numbers in Afghanistan, the PMS said that Government s current position was that we had increased troops from around eight thousand one hundred, firstly to eight thousand three hundred and then to nine thousand for the election period. We would go back down to eight thousand three hundred once the election period was over. This was kept under constant review and it was worth noting that within that increase a significant proportion of that extra deployment was for staff who were specialists in dealing with improvised explosive devices, which had been the main cause behind the deaths of British soldiers in the past fortnight.

original source.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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