I have just returned from a visit to Helmand province in Afghanistan. There were about 15 members of both Lords and Commons and it was a very interesting and useful visit. The schedule was a demanding one. I was ready for a 4am departure on Monday morning but ice on the aircraft delayed us until 11am. After a flight lasting 11 hours in a military transport we arrived, had a 90 minute rest and then went straight into the programme.
My 90 minutes rest was organised by a young soldier in the tent with his colleagues. We then had breakfast together before continuing the programme. We flew from Kandahar to camp Bastion in a Hercules at night with the lights out and wearing body armour and helmet.
I don’t have the space here to describe the whole trip but I was very impressed by the courage and professionalism of our people there and their commitment to helping achieve stability in Afghanistan. I was particularly impressed by the efforts to train Afghan soldiers and watched them learning how to clear mines – a particularly important task as there are still thousands left from the Soviet era and they are collected and recycled by the Taliban to lay as traps for the international forces and Afghan police and soldiers.
The Royal Marine Commando’s have suffered casualties recently and spent some hours showing us their equipment and discussing the stress of service life in in an operational theatre. Three injured soldiers were being flown home as we arrived. The medical provision is excellent. There were virtually no complaints about equipment which was very gratifying as I remember hearing a lot of complaints when I visited Iraq seven years ago.
We received good and realistic briefings on the situation there. No one expects this to be easy or quick and with the new US administration there is hope for a review of strategy. Corruption is a major threat to the success of the present Afghan government.
There were quite a few complaints that media coverage focused too much on the negative and left out many of the achievements and they quoted examples such as the number of children getting an education now.
This is only a brief snapshot of my visit and I hope to be able to use the information I gained for debates and questions in the House.