Published: Tuesday 24th August 2021
Having been lucky enough to visit Afghanistan shortly after I was first elected to Parliament, meeting with British forces at Camp Bastion, I am eternally grateful for their sacrifice over these past twenty years. I am deeply honoured to have had the opportunity to discuss their mission in the country, covering their experiences on the battlefield and wider efforts to help build a brighter future for the Afghan people. I believe the whole country should be proud of what they achieved.
In 2014 the nature of the UK's mission in Afghanistan changed, as the UK ceased all combat operations in Afghanistan and brought the majority of troops home, re-orientating the UK’s role and involvement in the country. About 750 personnel remained in Afghanistan under NATO’s mission to train and assist the country’s security forces. Last year, however, the US decided to withdraw its troops. Furthermore, following President Biden’s announcement in April that all US forces would leave by September at the latest, our NATO allies decided they were unable to continue this US-led mission without American logistics, air power and might. Whilst this was a disappointing decision, I do not believe that deploying tens of thousands of British troops to fight the Taliban would have been a viable option either.
For the last twenty years we have kept Al Qaeda off our streets, dispersed the organisation and drastically reduced the terrorist threat to the UK. Those were twenty years of keeping our streets safer but also building infrastructure for one of the poorest countries in the world and educating women and girls, with over 3.6 million girls in school this year alone who would have never had access to education.
For this, we must always remember the 457 brave British service personnel who laid down their lives in Afghanistan, ensuring our safety and preserving the UK's national security, alongside the 69,000 Afghan army troops who have also given their lives in this conflict.
Many scenes of the Taliban in Afghanistan are distressing, and I know that the international communities of the UN and NATO have agreed it would be a mistake for any country to recognise a new regime in Kabul prematurely and bilaterally. As the Prime Minister has said, we will judge this regime based on the choices it makes - and by its actions rather than its words.
I have been deeply distressed by the scenes witnessed at Kabul International Airport, and I commend the tremendous efforts of our Armed Forces in such challenging circumstances. Ensuring the safety of British nationals and those who have supported UK Armed Forces is the Government’s first priority, and I am grateful for the UK Government staff who continue to conduct critical work from Kabul Airport. I have been assured that the Government is working tirelessly to ensure the evacuation of the vulnerable and the safe operation of military flights.
Importantly, the Ministry of Defence has put provisions in place to support the safe evacuation of entitled personnel, British nationals, and former Afghan staff who risked their lives serving alongside UK Armed Forces. Thousands of Afghan locally employed staff who risked their lives supporting our military efforts have already been relocated to the UK with thousands more in the pipeline for evacuation before our drawdown is completed.
I am encouraged that the Prime Minister has also committed to continuing to support Afghanistan and the wider region after the drawdown is complete. He has doubled the amount of humanitarian and development assistance that we had previously committed to Afghanistan this year, with new funding, taking it up to £286 million. A new and bespoke resettlement scheme has also been announced with the potential of accommodating up to 20,000 of the most vulnerable over the long-term.
Please be assured that I will continue to monitor the situation very closely.