Page last updated at 01:07 GMT, Sunday, 2 August 2009 02:07 UK

Findings of MPs' Afghanistan report

A committee of MPs has said the UK should focus on the single priority of security in Afghanistan instead of engaging in tasks such as counter-narcotics, human rights and state-building.

Here are the main findings of their report:


The report by the cross-party House of Commons foreign affairs committee said the UK had suffered "significant mission creep" since deploying to Afghanistan in 2001.

An ever-growing list of responsibilities had made it more difficult for the government to explain the purpose of the UK's mission, it said.

The report was critical of some of the UK's Nato allies for failing to pull their weight in Afghanistan.

It warned that the international community had delivered "much less than it promised" over the past eight years.

Nato's reputation as a military alliance risked being "seriously damaged" as a result.

British deployment of a military force to the lawless southern province of Helmand in 2006 was "undermined by unrealistic planning at senior levels, poor co-ordination between Whitehall departments and crucially a failure to provide the military with clear direction".

Efforts to take a "comprehensive approach" linking security with development and good governance in Helmand were "faltering" because the security situation was too unstable to permit the strengthening of Afghan capacity.


The report warned that the security situation, particularly in the south, could be expected to remain "precarious for some time to come".

It suggested the continued instability was due in part to the failures of the international community.

"We recognise that although Afghanistan's current situation is not solely the legacy of the West's failures since 2001, avoidable mistakes - including knee-jerk responses, policy fragmentation and overlap - now make the task of stabilising the country considerably more difficult than might otherwise have been the case."


The report said: "We welcome the government's recognition that its strategy must be grounded in realistic objectives.

"However, it is not easy to see how this can be reconciled with the open-ended and wide-ranging series of objectives which form the current basis for UK effort in Afghanistan.

"We recommend that in the immediate future the government should refocus its efforts to concentrate its limited resources on one priority, namely security."


The MPs said the "only realistic option" for ensuring the country does not fall back into the hands of those who would use it as a base for attacks on the West was a negotiated Afghan-led political settlement with broad popular support.

Committee chairman Mike Gapes said: "The international community needs to convey publicly that it intends to outlast the insurgency and remain in Afghanistan until the Afghan authorities are able take control of their own security. This must be the primary objective.

Success in [tackling narcotics] depends on a range of factors which lie far beyond the control and resource of the UK alone
Foreign affairs committee report

"Bearing in mind that this is the first ever Nato deployment outside of Nato's 'area', this has now become a most critical and seminal moment for the future of the alliance.

"The failure of some Nato allies to ensure that the burden of international effort in Afghanistan is shared equitably has placed an unacceptable strain on a handful of countries.

"There is a real possibility that without a more equitable distribution of responsibility and risk, Nato's effort will be further inhibited and its reputation as a military alliance, capable of undertaking out-of-area operations, seriously damaged."


The report described the UK's counter-narcotics role as a "poisoned chalice" and said it was "highly unlikely" that targets to wean Afghanistan off its reliance on drugs money would be achieved soon.

Despite the UK spending nearly £160m between 2004 and 2008, cultivation of opium poppies is thought to have tripled in Helmand, while the UN estimated insurgent militias took in $100m (£60m) in tax and protection money from drugs farmers last year alone.

"It is clear that despite the commendable efforts of the Foreign Office in adopting a broad-ranging, holistic approach to tackling narcotics in Afghanistan, success in that area depends on a range of factors which lie far beyond the control and resource of the UK alone," said Mr Gapes.

The report recommended the Afghan government should in future be partnered in its counter-narcotics efforts by the UN and Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which were more able to co-ordinate international efforts on the issue.


The MPs said the international community had fallen short on a number of other objectives set out after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

There had been "disappointingly slow" police reform, a failure to create an effective formal justice system, "virtually no tangible progress" on tackling corruption and little evidence of any shift in attitudes towards human rights among Afghans.

Economic and social development continued to lag behind what international donors promised and what Afghan civilians had a right to expect.


The report was also critical of the military tactics adopted by the US under former President George Bush - including air strikes against suspected insurgent bases - for alienating civilians and making the job of rebuilding Afghanistan harder.

"Some, though certainly not all, of the responsibility for problems in Afghanistan since 2001 must be attributed to the direction of US policy in the years immediately after the military intervention in 2001," it said.

"The unilateralist tendencies of the US under the Bush administration, and its focus on military goals to the exclusion of many other strategically important issues, set the tone for the international community's early presence in Afghanistan."

It added: "No matter how difficult the circumstances facing the military in Afghanistan, the use of air power and acts of considerable cultural insensitivity on the part of some coalition forces over an extended period have done much to shape negative perceptions among ordinary Afghans about the military and the international effort in Afghanistan.

"This problem has caused damage, both real and perceived, that will in many instances be difficult to undo."

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