Hammond summoned over Afghan policy
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has been summoned to address Parliament on Britain's strategy in Afghanistan, after an announcement that Nato forces are scaling back joint operations with Afghan soldiers and police.
Mr Hammond insisted that there was no change in Government policy on Afghanistan, and said the announcement by the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) was only a "draft order" which would have "minimal" impact on operations by UK forces.
But Speaker John Bercow granted a request from Conservative MP John Baron for the Defence Secretary to come to the Commons for the second day in succession this afternoon to answer an urgent question on Afghanistan.
Isaf announced in a statement overnight that most joint patrols and advisory work with Afghan troops will now only be conducted at battalion level and above, while co-operation with smaller units will have to be "evaluated on a case-by-case basis" and approved by regional commanders.
The announcement came after a wave of "green-on-blue" attacks involving Afghan soldiers and police - or militants wearing their uniforms - turning their weapons on international troops. Some 51 international troops, including nine UK personnel, have been killed this year by "insider attacks" of this kind. There have been 18 "green-on-blue" UK fatalities since 2008.
At the weekend two British soldiers were killed by an attacker dressed as an Afghan policeman and feigning injury. Married father-of-two Sergeant Gareth Thursby, 29, and Private Thomas Wroe, 18, from 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (Duke of Wellington's), were shot dead at a checkpoint on Saturday in the south of Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand province.
Isaf insisted in its statement that it remained committed to its partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), saying: "Make no mistake about it: we remain committed to our partnership with the ANSF, and we continue to move forward and will meet our campaign objectives."
Labour MP Denis MacShane said the move amounted to a reversal of the US and UK strategy of keeping combat troops in Afghanistan until the end of 2014 to train and mentor a home-grown security force. It was a "humiliation" for the Defence Secretary that he had not been informed early enough to make the announcement when he appeared before the Commons yesterday, said the Rotherham MP.
But Mr Hammond insisted the Government's strategy had not changed, telling reporters: "We have got a strategic plan. We are working towards an end to our combat operations in 2014." Mr Hammond was speaking to reporters as he left 10 Downing Street, apparently leaving the weekly Cabinet meeting early to return to the Ministry of Defence.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "As the Defence Secretary has said, this tactical measure will have a minimal effect on our operations. We have got a strategic plan which has not changed and we are working towards an end of our combat operations by the end of 2014 and are very confident about the way that plan is being executed."