Afghanistan: 600 UK troops deployed to evacuate British nationals

Soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan
Soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan
Crown Copyright
Gareth Milner

By Gareth Milner

Published: 12/08/2021

- 20:20

Updated: 12/08/2021

- 21:25

The additional military personnel will arrive in Kabul over the coming days

Up to 600 UK troops are to be deployed in Afghanistan to help Britons leave the country, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has announced.

He said they are set to arrive in the the coming days to “support the diplomatic presence in Kabul” as General Sir Nick Carter, the head of the British armed forces, warned that a dangerous “security vacuum” risks opening up in Afghanistan – potentially enabling international terrorism to take a grip once again.

The number of staff at the British Embassy in Kabul has been cut to a core team focused on providing consular and visa services for those needing to rapidly leave the country.

Mr Wallace said: “The security of British nationals, British military personnel and former Afghan staff is our first priority.”

As the Taliban continue to make gains, all British nationals have been told to leave as soon as possible while there are still commercial travel options available under travel advice that was issued on Friday.

They have also been urged to contact the Embassy in Kabul as soon as possible for assistance.

Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey hoped the deployment would ensure that British personnel are “safely and orderly withdrawn” from Afghanistan, but also said the protection of Afghans must not be forgotten.

He said: “Ministers must also ensure all eligible Afghans and their families touch down safely on UK soil.

“The interpreters have been hugely important to British forces and the UK has a debt of honour to look after them. The Government must step up efforts to get them out of Afghanistan alongside British nationals.

“We share widespread dismay that the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating so much faster than forecast. While our forces are withdrawing, we cannot walk away from the people of Afghanistan, so the UK should not be slashing aid and Ministers must push harder diplomatically with countries in the region to try to support a political process.”

Earlier, Gen Carter said the country was already facing a “humanitarian tragedy” as the Taliban continued to make sweeping gains.

He suggested the best the government of President Ashraf Ghani could hope for was to achieve a “military stalemate” which would enable it to negotiate a political compromise with the militants.

His warning came as the Taliban seized the provincial capital of Ghazni – the 10th to fall to the militants in the past week following the withdrawal of international forces led by the US.

“If we end up with a scenario where the state fractures, and you end up essentially with a security vacuum, then there are absolutely ideal conditions for international terrorism and extremism to prosper yet again,” he said.

It was the launch by al Qaida of the 9/11 terror attacks on the US in 2001 which led to the original international military intervention in the country.

With the Taliban again on the advance, Gen Carter said they were seeing many of the atrocities on the battlefield which they had been associated with in the past.

“We are seeing atrocities being committed, we are seeing war crimes being committed, we are seeing women being brutalised, we are seeing forced marriages – all the sorts of things that the Taliban were notorious for in the past,” he said.

Despite the recent setbacks – with warnings the capital Kabul could fall within weeks – Gen Carter said he believed the government forces were still capable of holding on to “those bits of the country that really matter”.

At the same time he said there was a “big disparity” between the actions of some Taliban fighters and the rhetoric of the movement’s political leadership, based in Qatar, which, he suggested, could be open to political compromise.

“Do the Taliban really want to become a pariah state again? I’m not sure that they necessarily do. I think that they don’t want to become North Korea,” he said.

“Whatever may happen, there surely has to be a political compromise. Whether that means a Taliban government, whether it means a government in which power is shared – that remains to be seen.

“It very much depends in the next few weeks on that battlefield. But if a military stalemate is achieved by the current Afghan government and the people of Afghanistan are defiant and unified behind that effort, there is no reason to suppose that you can’t end up with a political compromise which works for the majority of Afghans.”

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