Jim Murphy MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, said in the House of Commons today in response to the statement on Army tours in Afghanistan:
“It is essential that the progress our Armed Forces are making in Afghanistan becomes permanent and that full transition to Afghan lead over security is successful. This remains a mission not just in our national interest but in the interests of international stability.
“On all sides of the House we will always remember the remarkable individual acts of heroism and collective acts of courage which define our Armed Forces. It is their sacrifice and bravery which is helping to make Afghanistan more stable and the UK safer.
“On these benches we consistently commit to bipartisanship over Afghanistan, and our support is complemented by scrutiny. Today is no different: we see the logic in the Government’s move, but many will be concerned about the impact on the individuals affected.
“The enormous operation mounted over the past twelve years will require extensive and expensive effort as it is brought to a close. Recouping and reintegrating equipment, training the Afghan National Army and Police, facilitating inward investment and seeking a political solution are all essential elements of the international community’s task.
“As part of this, we see the merit in ensuring that there is not a destabilising change-over during the Afghan Presidential election next year and that personnel are present to ensure equipment is repatriated efficiently.
“Could the Secretary of State say whether all those who will serve longer than 6 months are doing so compulsorily, how many does he anticipate being Reservists and can he say why the ‘Herrick Drawdown Allowance’ does not start from the beginning of the extended tour?
“Mr Speaker, many will be worried that a smaller force operating in Afghanistan post the withdrawal deadline may be subject to higher risk. Could he therefore say whether all those planned to be in the country in 2015 will be combat troops with NATO-provided force protection?
“Extended exposure to conflict also increases risk to physical and mental health problems. Research for Kings College has shown the importance of adherence to harmony guidelines. Could the Secretary of State say how harmony guidelines will be altered for those affected by today’s announcement?
“Research for Kings College has also shown that if tours are longer than anticipated servicemen and women are ‘much more likely’ to report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder afterwards. Could he therefore say how long in advance the individuals who will serve longer tours will be told and what work the MoD do to protect against potential mental health issues?
“This is a one off measure which has merit, but many will note that the 2010 SDSR stated categorically, “We need to challenge some of the fundamental assumptions which drive force generation, such as tour lengths and intervals” and that the Service Chiefs would review this work, completing in the spring of 2011. As of last year this was still ‘ongoing’.
“Could the Secretary of State say what work has been done internally on the wider application of longer tours of duty? If there is to be any shift towards longer tours on a more regular basis in any future conflict the military community will want a better understanding of the recommendations of the Service Chiefs.
“Today’s announcement raises the issue of the UK’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan. As part of an Alliance presence, training and support for Afghan Forces post-2014 will be essential, but we have no word yet on the size or scope of such a force, the UK role within it, who will be responsible for UK service personnel’s protection and whether any commitments made before 2015 will be open-ended or time-limited.
“Could the Secretary of State say when he expects more detail to be forthcoming?
“Today we are focusing on the temporary extension of two tours. I finally want to turn to how permanent mark the contribution of all those who have toured, and in particular those who did not return.
“We on these benches believe there should be a national memorial for all those who have served in Afghanistan. We have also proposed that streets be named after fallen personnel should families and communities request it, and for Veterans Champions in every Local Authority to help service leavers transition to civilian life. “