Set up Afghanistan war inquiry, MPs urge government

UK troops in Afghanistan

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The UK government should set up an inquiry into "lessons learned" after troops withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of this year, MPs have recommended.

The Commons defence committee said ministers should plan for a "thorough" study covering the aims of the war and whether efforts had been "sufficient".

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond promised to "look strategically across the campaign" after the mission ends.

More than 450 UK personnel have died in the Afghan conflict since 2001.

An official inquiry into the Iraq war began almost five years ago and has still to publish its findings. This follows arguments between the panel, led by former civil servant Sir John Chilcot, and Whitehall officials over which documents can be disclosed.

'Uncertain'

In its report on Afghanistan, the Defence Select Committee said the Taliban insurgency in the country remained "a strong and persistent threat".

Analysis

The Iraq Inquiry, announced in July 2009 by the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, is a hulk of an investigation.

The 141-word terms of reference on its website makes that abundantly clear, as does its opening sentence, which acknowledges that its scope is "very broad".

Nearly five years later we're still waiting for it to be published.

Conservative peer Lord Dobbs sniffs a cover up, telling the Lords "that report has now taken longer to write than World War One took to fight" and suggesting Tony Blair's "intransigence" is to blame.

Rubbish, Mr Blair's office told me, he's not responsible for the hold-up.

The Defence Select Committee's suggestion of "an independent national lessons study" into the Afghanistan conflict is considerably more modest, but with the aim of helping future governments avoid some of the mistakes made.

It said the Afghan government would need the continued support of the international community after most UK and other international troops left.

The committee warned of an "uncertain" future and said it hoped Defence Secretary Philip Hammond's prediction that the country would not descend into civil war would prove correct.

It said that, while there had been gains in the rights of Afghan women and girls during the years international forces had been in the country, progress remained "fragile".

In contrast, the UK's counter-narcotics strategy had failed, with opium poppy cultivation in Helmand province soaring to record levels as the troops prepared to leave.

"We are concerned that this will continue to fund organised crime, and undermine the development of democratic government and governance," the report said.

The committee called on the government to begin work towards the eventual publication of an official history of the Afghan campaign, as well as commissioning a more immediate "lessons learned" inquiry.

It said: "The study should set out what the political ends were, how they changed during the course of the campaign, and judge whether the ways and means, diplomatic, economic and military, were sufficient during the course of the campaign."

The committee also said: "A relatively small investment could have a significantly beneficial impact on future planning."

A source told the BBC that the hearings for an Afghanistan inquiry would not necessarily take place in public and its findings could be shown only to ministers and Whitehall officials.

Such decisions would be have to be made by a future government, they added.

Philip Hammond in Afghanistan Philip Hammond said an effective process for learning lessons was in place

One of the committee members, Labour MP Dai Havard, told the BBC: "It's not meant to be 'let's find a head on a stick and someone to blame'.

"It should be that Parliament says to the executive that it needs to address these issues. We have to learn from these experiences."

In response to the committee, Mr Hammond said: "As combat operations in Afghanistan draw to a close we can be proud of the contribution British forces have made to ensuring that the country cannot be used as a base for international terrorists to attack us and our interests.

"We have a highly effective process for identifying lessons to be learned in near real time, but we will want to look strategically across the campaign as a whole to see what longer-term lessons need to be learned, once the mission is over."

For Labour, shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker said: "It is important the we learn the lessons from our involvement in the long and difficult combat operation in Afghanistan.

"The evolving role of the armed forces over the course of the mission presented great challenges to the military, and we should examine these fully to ensure we gain an insight in to all aspects of what happened over the last number of years."

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