Parliament was recalled from its summer recess to debate the situation in Afghanistan.
A striking statement was made by Dr Julian Lewis, Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, during the debate and it read:
“Having achieved our objectives of putting al-Qaeda to flight and punishing the Taliban, we should have announced that we were completely removing our forces but would promptly return by land and air to repeat the process if international terrorist groups were again detected in Afghanistan”
Dr Julian Lewis said in full:
“In his speech of self-justification after the collapse of Kabul, President Biden reduced a complex military issue to only two stark alternatives. It was a gross over-simplification for him to pose a devil’s dilemma between either a massive troop surge on a never-ending basis or a ruthless, chaotic and dishonourable departure.
It is ruthless because people who trusted NATO will pay a terrible price; chaotic because of a lack of foresight to plan an orderly and properly protected departure; and dishonourable because even if our open-ended, nation-building, micromanagement strategy was wrong, as I think it was, in 20 years we created expectations and obligations which those who relied on us had a right to expect us to fulfil, as the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) has just said. It has been pointed out correctly that for 20 years, NATO operations in Afghanistan succeeded in preventing further al-Qaeda attacks on the west from being launched under Taliban protection. That was indeed the key outcome, but unless we choose a better future strategy, the threat of its reversal is all too real. Not only may sanctuary on Afghan soil again be offered to lethal international terrorists, but other Islamist states may also decide to follow suit. How, then, should we have handled a country like Afghanistan when it served as a base and a launchpad for al-Qaeda, and how should we deal with such situations in the future?
These are my personal views on a defence issue unrelated to the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee. For the past 10 years, I have argued both inside and outside this Chamber, very often to the dismay of my parliamentary colleagues, that a form of containment rather than counter-insurgency is the only practical answer to international terrorist movements sheltered and sponsored by rogue regimes like the Taliban. Containment, as older colleagues will remember, was the policy that held the Soviet Union in check throughout the cold war until its empire imploded and its ideology was discredited. Islamist extremism has a subversive reach similar to that of revolutionary communism, and our task is to keep it at bay until it collapses completely or evolves into tolerant, or at least tolerable, alternative doctrines. In Afghanistan, the task of overthrowing the Taliban and driving al-Qaeda into exile was quickly accomplished in 2001, and at that point NATO arrived at a fork in the road. The option selected was, as we know, an open-ended commitment to impose a western version of democracy and protect it indefinitely in a country that had a strong sense of its own political and social culture and which was known to be politically allergic to foreign intervention.
Yet there was another option available to western strategists in response to the 9/11 attacks. Having achieved our immediate objectives of putting al-Qaeda to flight and punishing the Taliban, we should have announced that we were completely removing our forces but would promptly return by land and air to repeat the process if international terrorist groups were again detected in Afghanistan. When the Taliban regain full territorial control, they will lose their shield of invisibility. If they then choose to pose or facilitate a renewed threat—a terrorist threat—to western security, they should expect both their leadership and their military capability to be hit hard by our mobile land and air forces. That cycle would be repeated until the threat was removed, but we should not and would not allow our forces to be sucked in again.”
What’s going on right now?
Britain has evacuated over 300 British citizens and 2,000 Afghans.
In the long term, some 20,000 Afghans are to be welcomed into the UK over the coming years as part of a scheme to provide sanctuary for those most at risk of persecution by the Taliban and for those that helped British troops.
The government has promised that up to 5,000 Afghans can find refuge in the UK this year, with up to 20,000 in the longer term.
Yesterday we reported that a further 200 British troops will be sent to Afghanistan bringing the total to 900. 600 were initially deployed and 100 were already in the country.
The United Kingdom has so far evacuated more than 300 British nationals and over 2,000 Afghan citizens, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the Parliament on Wednesday. Johnson made the remarks during his address to the Parliament which has been recalled to discuss the crisis situation in Afghanistan.
“We have so far secured the safe return of 306 UK nationals and 2,052 Afghan nationals as part of our resettlement programme,” news agency AFP quoted the British PM as saying on Wednesday. He also said that the applications of 2,000 more Afghan nationals have been completed and “many more” were being processed.
Afghan civilians and entitled Afghan personnel have arrived in the UK from Afghanistan onboard a Voyager transport aircraft. The UK evacuation effort is now focussed on former British staff eligible for relocation under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy. pic.twitter.com/VatLYb9FYn
— George Allison (@geoallison) August 18, 2021
“I can announce today that we are committing to relocating another 5,000 Afghans this year, with a new and bespoke resettlement scheme focusing on the most vulnerable, particularly women and children, and we will keep this under review for future years, with the potential of accommodating up to 20,000 over the long-term”, Johnson added.
The night before last, the first flight of evacuated personnel landed at RAF Brize Norton in the UK from Kabul. The flight consisted of British Embassy staff and British citizens, say the Ministry of Defence.
As part of Operation PITTING, the UK Armed Forces are enabling the evacuation of British personnel from Afghanistan.
“On Sunday 16th August the first flight of evacuated personnel arrived at RAF Brize Norton in the UK. The flight constituted of British Embassy staff and British Nationals.
British forces from 16 Air Assault Brigade arrived in the Afghan capital over the weekend on Op PITTING to support the evacuation of British Nationals and former British staff eligible for relocation under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP).”