On the Politics Show, Sunday 26 November 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed Lord Drayson, Defence Minister.
British troops in Iraq will not leave the country when they over control of security in the remaining provinces to Iraqi forces, the Defence Minister Lord Drayson told the BBC's Politics Show on Sunday.
But Lord Drayson also confirmed that troops would not be used to help out US forces - and asked whether if they had spare capacity they could support US troops in Baghdad, he said they "will only stay in Iraq when they have a real job to do."
He confirmed that all requests received through the chain of command had been fulfilled, and that General Lorimer, who will take over in Afghanistan in the spring, would also be given what he needs: "Yes, Brigadier Lorimer has been out, he's done his reconnaissance, he's now put in to the planning process, what it is he needs. He will be given what he needs."
INTERVIEW WITH: LORD DRAYSON, DEFENCE MINISTER
JON SOPEL: I'm joined now by Lord Drayson, the Minister for Defence procurement and welcome to the Politics Show, Lord Drayson.
LORD DRAYSON: Good morning.
JON SOPEL: Tony Blair's promise there, whatever package they want we will do, which seems absolutely unequivocal, then in the Commons this week he said, of course we will listen carefully to any requests that are made to us, that didn't sound quite as clear.
LORD DRAYSON: Well I think it is clear. He has said, and I have said that whatever the chain of command say that they need to do the tough job that we asked them to do, we will provide it.
JON SOPEL: No if's, buts does matter how much it costs.
LORD DRAYSON: No ifs buts. This is really important. We are undertaking two very difficult operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. We need to make sure that our troops, taking on this very difficult job have all the kit that they need to do the job properly. What's important is what the chain of command say that they need and everything that the chain of command have said that they needed so far, they have got.
JON SOPEL: So why do we still hear so many murmurs of discontent.
LORD DRAYSON: Well I think it's, it's important to recognise that people have different opinions about what is needed to do particular jobs and this is something which I take very seriously.
I as Afghanistan just last month, talking to the troops, the Parachute Regiment that have, were just coming back and the Royal Marines that were just going over and listening to the troops on the ground, to see what they think of the kit, important point is though is that we do have a military planning process that determines what is needed on an operation and we listened to that planning process and act upon it.
JON SOPEL: But what about, for example Sergeant Steven Brown, of the Royal Marines, in Iraq this week, countless times we have put in requests for what we need extra and it has not arrived.
LORD DRAYSON: It's not correct. Everything that the chain of command have asked for, they have got.
JON SOPEL: Everything come what may. It's just when you get soldiers, very unusually, making public their concerns, people tend, the public I think, probably tend to believe the soldiers maybe more than they do ministers or the top brass.
LORD DRAYSON: Well it's right that we listen to the soldiers and it's right that ministers like me, talk to and listen to the soldiers, but it's not right for Ministers to infer in how equipment is allocated. I'm sure that Brigadier Gerry Thomas, wouldn't appreciate me interfering in the way in which, and he operates the operation, micromanaging the way in which equipment is allocated.
JON SOPEL: And in terms of, I mean for example, let's take helicopters. We heard there in that report, Tobias Elwood saying that General Fraser has been asking for more of them. I mean do you simply have more of them to give.
LORD DRAYSON: Well remember General Fraser is a Canadian Brigadier, he's not a British officer.
JON SOPEL: But answering to the British chain of command.
LORD DRAYSON: This is a NATO operation and as we have heard, there have been many discussions within NATO as to which countries are providing which equipment and there will be a meeting next week to discuss this again.
But in terms of helicopters, earlier in the summer our commander, Brigadier Ed Butler said that he needed more helicopters, we provided more helicopters. We sent out two Chinooks, we increased the helicopter hours and where we stand now, having spoken to Gerry Thomas, who is the current commander, he says he has the helicopters he needs right now.
JON SOPEL: I mean what about Brigadier John Lorimer who's going to take over in Afghanistan in the Spring. He's been asking for lots of things. Will he get what he wants.
LORD DRAYSON: Yes, Brigadier Lorimer has been out, he's done his reconnaissance, he's now put in to the planning process, what it is he needs. He will be given what he needs.
JON SOPEL: So that's a hard promise because we spoke to the Ministry of Defence, they say his recommendations are being considered. They didn't, you could have easily come back to us when we made this specific enquiry, and said, he will get what he wants. You said no. His recommendations are being considered.
LORD DRAYSON: Well I'm being very direct with you Jon. It's a, there's a military planning process. The planning process determines what is needed to do the job, that goes through the Ministry of Defence processes, but in the end, there is a determination, by the military of what they need. It is my job, as the Minister of Defence procurement, to make sure they get it.
JON SOPEL: Okay, let's turn to Iraq now because we've got a detailed timetable or as near as we've got to a detailed timetable for handing over control to Iraqi forces. Does that mean that when we do that we go.
LORD DRAYSON: No. We need to, bear in mind that we're going through a process of handover. We've seen real progress in a number of provinces already being handed over and what that means is rather than British troops doing the patrolling, it's the Iraqi forces, the police and the army doing the patrolling with our troops as a backup in support.
So our troops are still in theatre, but they're largely in their barracks in that particular region, rather than doing the patrolling. Now we hope that Basra will be successful through operation Sinbad which is taking place now, where we've really learnt some important lessons about how to do this well. If Sinbad goes well, then we hope, it depends on conditions, but we hope in the Spring we will be able to hand over to the Iraq forces, but we will still need our troops to provide what we call operational over-arch.
JON SOPEL: It's very difficult though. I mean I remember at the start of the Iraq war being out there, and the problem was it's very difficult to keep thousands of people in the desert or in barracks, doing nothing. Is that what is being proposed.
LORD DRAYSON: No, they're not doing nothing, they're very busy doing training. We've trained hundreds of thousands of the Iraqi security forces, the army and the police and there's a very important job - and when I speak to our troops in Iraq, they tell me how they do and appreciate the job of mentoring and teaching the Iraqi forces.
There's then a final stage, what we call strategic overwatch, where we are able to leave Iraq, because the Iraqi forces have the competence to be able to take over responsibility. So, really, it's not a direct correlation between being able to do the hand over and troops being able to come home.
JON SOPEL: Might they be also I don't know, a reserve force for the Americans, if they need, I don't know, a hole plugged in Baghdad or something like that.
LORD DRAYSON: No, I don't think we're getting in to discussing things like that. We have a clear strategy. We have a responsibility for certain areas, certain provinces. We've handed over two already. We expect to be able to hand over a third round about Christmas. We hope that the conditions will be such in the Spring to hand over Basra. We'll have to see.
JON SOPEL: Could you rule that for example, that if you had, I don't know, all this spare capacity of people sitting in their barracks as you described, that if the Americans needed some help in Baghdad that we might send a couple of thousand troops┐
LORD DRAYSON: There would never be a question of having spare capacity. We are under pressure in terms of the operations which we have to cope with. Our troops will only stay in Iraq when they have a real job to do. Now that job could be patrolling in certain areas, as they are at the moment or...
JON SOPEL: I'm just trying to - sorry to interrupt you, I'm just trying to reconcile you - that with what you said earlier which is that they will largely be in barracks and they will there as a backup force. If they are there as a back-up force, couldn't they possibly be in some circumstances, a back up force to the Americans in some of the hotter places.
LORD DRAYSON: No, no, they couldn't be in two places at once. So no.
JON SOPEL: Right. So they stay there and then can you give, if everything went to plan in terms of the handover and what you think is the period needed to settle in the Iraqi forces, when it may be that the British troops are home.
LORD DRAYSON: Yes, is depends upon conditions on the ground. We want to bring our troops home as soon as we can, but we are there to help Iraq make the progress which its people, having elected a democratic government, want to see the country go in to that direction. Our troops will come home when the conditions on the ground allow the security to be stable, being run, operated by the Iraqi forces themselves.
JON SOPEL: A year, two years, five years.
LORD DRAYSON: It depends on the conditions.
JON SOPEL: Well I'm just saying, if everything went well.
LORD DRAYSON: Well I don't think it's wise for us, for someone like me to get in to predicting what we've said consistency. We have a clear strategy. It's about handing over to the Iraqi forces, so that's about building up their capability. We've seen already, in Al Mutana the way in which the forces were able to cope with...
JON SOPEL: Okay. Let's just talk about Trident which we know came before cabinet this week. Unanimously backing the idea of retaining our independent nuclear deterrent. What are the options.
LORD DRAYSON: Jon, the cabinet have not made a decision about Trident. There was a presentation to cabinet about the strategic context for defence in the future. There's been no decision. The situation we're in at the moment is there is a White Paper being prepared. That looks at all of the options for the replacement of the deterrent and it is expected that that will be published before the end of the year.
JON SOPEL: And the choices.
LORD DRAYSON: Well, the, the choices range from maintaining the deterrent on its existing basis, in other words, a submarine base. Or looking at other options such as extending the life of the current system, through to an air base system or a ground base system. Looking at all the different options for the deterrent including the way it could be deployed.
JON SOPEL: And there's going to be a consultation exercise. What is the point of that. Isn't it for you to decide. You're the experts on this. You should know what's best. I mean you're not going to listen Labour Party members saying, well actually, we would prefer a ground based system are you.
LORD DRAYSON: Well it is right for Ministers to review the issue. There will be a Cabinet discussion and the cabinet will come to a conclusion and it is right that that should take place. But this is going to be a much more open process than similar decisions have been in the past, so there will be the publication of the White Paper and then there will be a full debate.
JON SOPEL: But surely, you're not going to have a defence policy decided either by Labour party members or, I mean, surely you've got to come forward with a clear recommendation - and that will be your assessment.
LORD DRAYSON: Ministers will come forward, after the cabinet have discussed it and come to a conclusion and that conclusion will be made clear. You're right.
JON SOPEL: Okay, Lord Drayson, thank you very much for being with us here on the The Politics Show.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH LORD DRAYSON
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The Politics Show Sunday 26 November 2006 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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