Briefing by the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Afghanistan and saville Inquiry.
Put that the Prime Minister had said that the threat level from the Afghan/Pakistan border region had diminished and were there any updated statistics, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that the Prime Minister had been advised that the relevant threat level had been reduced.
On whether this was significant, the PMS replied that it was significant in that the Prime Minister reported it to the House and was very keen to give the House regular updates on what was going on. The Prime Minister wanted to provide some granular information about what was going on, on the ground so people could see where we were making progress.
Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to Sir Jock Stirrup, the PMS said that the Prime Minister spoke to him regularly and saw him during his visit to Afghanistan. The point the Prime Minister was making in the House was that his tenure had been extended prior to the election to ensure that there was continuity.
When asked if the previous Government had overestimated the threat from the Afghan/Pakistan region, the PMS replied that he was not in a position to quantify the statement made by the Prime Minister; he was reporting on the latest information.
Asked whether the UK was facing the same amount of threats but from different places or less plots in total, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was focussing on this region as that was where we were seeking to deal with al Qaida and referred people back to the statement.
On whether there had been a formal change to the threat level, the PMS said that he would come back to people on the point of threat levels if there was any more information.
Asked if the Prime Minister saw the reduction of the threat level as a vindication of the previous administration’s strategy, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had been clear that the strategy that we were employing was the McChrystal strategy. The strategy had been in place for six months and we were committed to the full 18 months. Asked if the Government was committed to the extent that the UK would review force numbers in December like President Obama and perhaps reduce them next July, the PMS said that clearly there was a review point in December and the Prime Minister had made clear over the last few days that he wanted to be actively involved in that process.
Asked if a reduction in troop numbers would come from the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) or from the review in December, the PMS replied that comments on troop reduction were made by the Defence Secretary in the context of the SDR. Any announcement on that would come when the SDR process was concluded.
Asked whether the two things were related, the PMS said that the SDR was about the UK’s broader capability and what would be happening to Defence in this country in the longer term. There was some relationship between those two factors but they had different focuses.
Asked when the Prime Minister would be getting the report and whether he would be visiting any of the families involved, the PMS said he was not aware of any current plans to meet anyone; most of this was being dealt with by the Northern Ireland Office. As to when the Government received the report, it would receive it 24 hours in advance.
Put that the Saville Inquiry was 12 years in the making and was 10 volumes long and therefore was 24 hours sufficient for the Secretary of State to make a statement on it, the PMS said that the procedures for the release of the inquiry had been agreed for some time. The exact arrangements were based on plans of the previous Government and agreed with the Speaker. The PMS was unaware of anything this Government had done to change those arrangements.
Asked if the Prime Minister would give a credible response to the report, the PMS said that he would.
On whether the Prime Minister would reflect any apportioned blame in his statement tomorrow, the PMS advised people to wait for the statement.
Asked whether the Government’s position reflected the comments made by Ken Clarke, the PMS said that Ken Clarke was referring to the process, rather than the inquiry itself.
Asked whether Owen Patterson would be tasked with producing a response to the report, the PMS replied that he would not get into that level of detail on the process.