Briefing by the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Afghanistan, public pay freeze and misc.
Asked if the Prime Minister’s phone call with President Karzai took place before the latest incident concerning an Afghan soldier killing three British soldiers, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that the incident happened overnight and the Prime Minister knew about it when he spoke to President Karzai this morning. The Prime Minister had just done a clip on this issue and words would be available soon. In short he said that this was an appalling incident and that his heart went out to the soldiers and their families and friends. There was an investigation underway into what happened and the Prime Minister discussed this with President Karzai this morning. The Prime Minister was clear that we should not let this incident change the strategy. We had a very clear strategy in Afghanistan, which was about protecting our national security and it would not be affected by this isolated incident.
Put that this was the second such incident in the last twelve months, the PMS said that there was an incident last year involving the police. This was the first incident involving the Afghan army. A great deal of trust had built up between the Afghan forces and the British/Allied forces; this relationship was working well, and this incident was not typical. Another important point to bear in mind was that there were 120,000 people in the Afghan army.
Asked if there was a suggestion that the Afghan soldier in question had taken drugs, the PMS said that he had not heard that; an investigation was underway and we should wait for the findings.
Asked if the incident should give pause for thought regarding the timetable, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had made clear that this incident should not change the strategy we had in place. The strategy relied on us training up the Afghan security forces so that they were in a position to take over the security of the country in time; this remained the right strategy.
Asked if the Prime Minister addressed the timing which was placed on the strategy, the PMS said that we did not want to see British troops in substantial numbers in a combat role in Afghanistan in five years time.
Put that that was slipping in an extra coda to the formula previously used, the PMS said that that was not the case. There was a process, which was that we wanted to see the Afghan security services take control of security. That would be a process that would take some time. The process of handing over particular districts and provinces would be done based on the assessment of the conditions in those areas. The five-year timetable was one that was long established; it was set out in President Karzai’s inauguration speech, in the McChrystal strategy and the recent G8 communique.
Asked what President Karzai said to the Prime Minister in response to this incident, the PMS said that the Prime Minister and President Karzai spoke about the incident and the investigation that was underway. Both countries would have to wait for the conclusion of that investigation.
Put that there was a suspicion that UK forces were training Afghan forces in order to prepare them for a civil war, the PMS said we were training up Afghanistan security forces so that they could take control of security and our troops could come home.
Asked why the Prime Minister and President Karzai spoke this morning, the PMS said that it was already in the diary.
Asked if there was a fear the incident would affect morale, the PMS reiterated the point that this was an isolated incident and there were 120,000 Afghan soldiers working with the Allied troops. We were completely committed to the strategy we had in place.
Public Pay Freeze
Asked if Sir Alan Budd’s words at the Treasury Select Committee this morning were a rebuke, the PMS said he was yet to read Sir Alan Budd’s words, but the Prime Minister made clear at PMQs that if you had a fixed budget and you paid people less, then you could employ more people.
Put that if you sacked more people you would save more money, the PMS said that it was important to remember that we were talking about projections. There was a spending review that would conclude in October, which would fix budgets for individual departments. As part of that process departments would make plans about how many people they needed to employ.
Asked how the process of structural reform plans related to the Comprehensive Spending Review, the PMS said that they were parallel processes; the structural reform plans would set out the objectives for the departments and there was a spending review underway which would decide the resources available to departments.
Asked why the Prime Minister thought that the Foreign Secretary needed two grace and favour homes, the PMS said that we were making maximum use of these buildings, most of which were held in trust for the nation.