Afghan crisis ‘entirely predictable’, ex-national security adviser says

Military veteran MP condemns “shameful” response as Raab draws fire for failing to cut short Mediterranean holiday
Lord Kim Darroch Credit: BBC Newsnight

By Jim Dunton

19 Aug 2021

Former national security adviser Lord Kim Darroch has said the fall of Afghanistan back into the hands of the Taliban following the withdrawal of western forces was an “entirely predictable” consequence of a lack of perseverance shown by Nato allies.

Darroch’s comments followed yesterday’s recall of parliament, at which MPs – including many veterans of the military campaign in Afghanistan – criticised the US-led departure that has seen the Taliban recapture Kabul and return to power.

Foreign Affairs Select Committee chair Tom Tugendhat described US president Joe Biden’s blaming of the Afghan army for failing to stand up to the Islamic insurgents as “shameful” behaviour on the part of the commander in-chief of the departing western forces.

Prime minister Boris Johnson acknowledged in parliament that while 467 British armed forces personnel had lost their lives in the 20-year operation in Afghanistan,  69,000 Afghan army troops had given their lives.

Johnson said it was wrong to say the UK government had been unprepared for the Taliban’s return to power – or had failed to foresee it – but he admitted that events had unfolded “faster than even the Taliban themselves had predicted”.

He said it the west could not have continued the mission in Afghanistan, launched in the days following the terrorist strikes against the United States on 11 September 2001, without the input of the US military.

“I really think it is an illusion to believe that there is appetite amongst any of our partners for a continued military presence or for a military solution imposed by Nato in Afghanistan,” he said.

Darroch – who was national security adviser from 2012 to 2015, prior to his appointment as British ambassador to the United States – said the west’s failure to persevere with its intervention in Afghanistan was the principal problem.

“What’s happened in Afghanistan is a body blow for the whole of the west, not just for the US, or even not just for us as the second-biggest contributors,” he said in an interview broadcast on BBC Two’s Newsnight programme.

“I think we need to take a long, cold, hard look at ourselves about what has happened there and about why we didn’t – in the end – have the perseverance and the stamina to stay on in Afghanistan.

“The Taliban were always trying to wait us out and they challenged us and in the end we blinked first. What’s happened since was, I think, entirely predictable.”

Foreign secretary faces calls to quit

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab faced calls to resign after a report suggested he had delegated responsibility for talking to Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar last week, as the Taliban was advancing on Kabul.

Although Raab was on holiday in Crete  at the time, the Daily Mail said officials at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office had particularly sought his intervention and the Afghan foreign ministry refused to set up an immediate call with a junior UK minister.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said Raab “should be ashamed” and the prime minister had “serious questions to answer” about why Raab had not been sacked.

“What could possibly have been more important than safeguarding the legacy of two decades of sacrifice and hard-won victories in Afghanistan?” Nandy asked.

“While the foreign secretary lay on a sun lounger, the Taliban advanced on Kabul and 20 years of progress was allowed to unravel in a matter of hours.”

Praise for British ambassador Laurie Bristow

The prime minister used his opening statement to  parliament yesterday to praise British ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow for his bravery and commitment in leading efforts to evacuate British citizens from the nation.

In an update shared on Twitter yesterday, Bristow said around 700 British nationals and Afghans who have worked with the UK had been helped out of the country on Tuesday alone.

“We’re trying to scale up the speed, the pace over the next couple of days,” he said. “We’ll put everything we can on this for the next few days, trying to get to everyone who we need to get to safety.” 

Johnson told MPs that as of yesterday the safe return of 306 UK nationals and 2,052 Afghan nationals had been “secured” through the efforts of Bristow, Brigadier Dan Blanchford and the British team in Kabul.

Sedwill acknowledges increased terror threat

Former cabinet secretary and national security adviser Lord Mark Sedwill said earlier this week that the return to power of the Taliban was a “humiliating” turn of events for the west that could also increase the likelihood of domestic terror attacks.

Sedwill, who became national security adviser in 2017 and kept the role throughout his tenure as cab sec from 2018 to 2020, said extremists everywhere  would be “emboldened” by the resurgence of the Taliban.

“We saw terrorist attacks in this country not directed from the Islamic State but by people who were inspired by the existence of the Islamic State. And that risk will doubtless be higher today,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.

“But of course there is a direct threat as well and we have to see whether the Taliban will honour their commitments not to allow Afghanistan to become a haven for terrorists and, indeed, drug traffickers as well.”

Sedwill said it would be crucial for the UK to work with China, Russia, and Afghanistan’s neighbours to ensure the state did not become “another source of terrorism”.

He added that the UN Security Council was “probably” best-placed to lead on putting together the “right mixture of incentives and potential sanctions” to make sure Afghanistan did not revert to being the haven for terrorists it previously was.

Sedwill was British ambassador to Afghanistan from 2009-10 and Nato’s senior civilian representative in the country from 2010-11.

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