Afghanistan evacuation: Paras sent to rescue thousands of Britons
Afghanistan: Crowd appears to board plane in Kabul
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Boris Johnson recalled MPs to discuss the crisis, warning that Afghanistan must not become a “breeding ground” for terrorists once again. The Prime Minister vowed to get every UK national out “as fast as we can” as British airborne troops, special forces and RAF transport planes were scrambled to help. After leading a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee Mr Johnson declared the situation was “extremely difficult” and “getting more difficult”.
He added: “Our priority is to make sure we deliver on our obligations to UK nationals, to all those who have helped the British effort in Afghanistan over 20 years, and to get them out as fast as we can.”
Parliament is being recalled on Wednesday to discuss the crisis.
As many as 5,000 British diplomats, citizens and Afghan translators may need to be pulled out of the war-torn country. British ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow was among several diplomats stuck at chaotic Kabul airport as thousands of Afghans tried to flee.
Around 2,000 Afghan interpreters and families were in line to airlifted out of harm’s way. Some 3,000 “entitled personnel” – UK and dual passport holders – may also need saving.
They include aid workers and security staff stationed in Afghanistan. By last night 450 had applied to leave.
Other people with links to Britain could also be eligible.
The Taliban swept into the capital Kabul yesterday and President Ashraf Ghani fled his country.
The militants demanded a peaceful transfer of power and were expected to declare an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The fall of Kabul comes just months after US and British troops withdrew from Afghanistan, almost 20 years since the Taliban were removed from power by a Western military coalition following the 9/11 terror attacks.
Bagram air base, used to detain insurgent fighters, was surrendered by its guards yesterday despite the hundreds of billions of dollars spent by the United States and Nato over two decades building up Afghan security forces.
Mr Johnson said the West needed to react in a united front.
He continued: “It is very important that the West should work collectively to get over to that new government – be it by the Taliban or anybody else – that nobody wants Afghanistan once again to be a breeding ground for terror. We don’t think it is in the interests of the people of Afghanistan that it should lapse back into that pre-2001 status. What the UK will be doing is working with our partners in the UN Security [Council], in Nato, to get that message over.
“We don’t want anybody to bilaterally recognise the Taliban. We want a united position…so that we do whatever we can to prevent Afghanistan lapsing back.”
The PM said that US President Joe Biden withdrawing his forces from Afghanistan helped the Taliban’s takeover.
“It’s fair to say that the US decision to pull out has accelerated things, but this has been in many ways something that has been a chronicle of an event foretold” .
Up to 10,000 US citizens are being evacuated, by at least 3,000 US troops.
In a scene mirroring frantic helicopter evacuations during the fall of South Vietnamese capital Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war in 1975, a US Air Force chopper was seen taking off from the American embassy in Kabul yesterday.
Mr Johnson’s remarks came as it emerged that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had flown back to Britain from holiday as the Taliban seized control.
Tory MPs have blasted the pair over the crisis and called for troops to be redeployed. Tom Tugendhat, Tobias Ellwood and Johnny Mercer – all ex-soldiers, want the UK to push back the Taliban.
Mr Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said it was “the biggest single foreign policy disaster” since Suez.
The MP, who served in Afghanistan, said the UK must save people immediately: “This isn’t just about interpreters or guards. This is about those people who we trained in special forces to serve alongside us, those who helped us to understand the territory.
“The people who, on our encouragement, set up schools for girls. These people are all at risk now. The real danger is that we are going to see every female MP murdered, we are going to see ministers strung up on street lamps.”
Defence committee chairman Mr Ellwood called the crisis a humiliation for the West while Mr Mercer described the situation as “humiliating to watch.
“We have politically chosen to be defeated by the Taliban and we have to accept that. It’s shameful. It’s out of keeping with our values and our principles.
“I never thought I’d see the day either as a serviceman or as a member of the Conservative Party where we would essentially surrender to the Taliban and leave these people to their fate.”
He also questioned why the UK followed the US in pulling out.
Former Tory MP Rory Stewart warned up to three million refugees may need asylum.
Comment by Richard Kemp
Military hardware has been blown up and embassy cars, filing cabinets full of secret documents and even national flags burned as the Taliban closed in on Kabul.
Choppers have been flying diplomats to the airport just like in the fall of Saigon in 1975.
This is the greatest humiliation for America and the West in many decades, with our governments caught off-guard as the Taliban scythed across Afghanistan.
These scenes were inevitable when Joe Biden announced his unconditional withdrawal. Only a month ago he proclaimed the Taliban would not march into Kabul and the Afghan security forces were more than capable of defeating them.
Perhaps he did not know about the brittle relationship between President Ashraf Ghani and his governors in the provinces whose loyalties are to their tribes rather than Kabul.
We are now in transition from an elected – if deeply flawed – administration to the murderous thugs who have just marched in and demanded control.
Despite the lying platitudes of Taliban spokesmen the benighted Afghan people will see an immediate return to the savagery of pre-2001 days.
Afghans have already begun fleeing and more will follow.
We are in direct danger too. This victory for the Taliban will embolden jihadists everywhere. Those that think the Taliban has broken with Al-Qaeda can think again. The relationship between the two has strengthened in the last 20 years. The Islamic State too now has a significant and growing presence.
We will soon see jihadists from around the world pour into the country as they did before 9/11.
They will train and plan strikes against the West. One of the greatest concerns has been further instability in Pakistan, with jihadists gaining control of their nuclear weapons. The prospects of that nightmare scenario just increased.
Biden’s decision means America’s word will count for nothing by governments we need to win over against the despots in Beijing and Moscow.
Those same despots will conclude America is weaker than they thought and will exploit it.
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