On August 16, the head of the British TV channel LBC, Ben Wallace, the UK’s Defence Secretary, could not hold back tears in his commentary on the situation in Afghanistan. During the interview, Wallace revealed that “all of the ministry’s efforts were devoted to helping compatriots stranded in the Islamic republic.” However, he cautioned that it would likely not be possible to return every British subject to their homeland. “Some people won’t be able to come back… Some people won’t come back, and we’ll have to do our best to help them,” Wallace said through his tears.
But it is not just Wallace who was brought to tears by Britain’s failed policy in Afghanistan, notably during its botched withdrawal at the end of August.
Recall that Britain was involved by Washington in the military conflict in Afghanistan against the Taliban (banned in Russia) and the terrorist organization Al Qaeda (also banned in Russia) as part of the Western Coalition from 2001 to 2014. The last combat units of the British army left the country in October 2014. As Brown University’s Costs of War study shows, British and Canadian soldiers had a significantly higher chance of dying in the Afghan conflict than their American counterparts. Britain itself, according to The Guardian, has lost an estimated 455 people there over the years, representing 4.7% of the coalition’s total, spending 0.16% of the kingdom’s GDP on economic and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. One of the authors of Brown University’s Costs of War report, Jason Davidson, professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington in Washington, D.C., believes that many still do not fully understand or acknowledge the sacrifices that were made in Afghanistan.
Recently, 900 British military personnel have been stationed in Afghanistan to help evacuate British citizens and dual nationals, as well as Afghan nationals working with British troops. And the activities of these brave soldiers came not without a fiasco. Approximately 20 special forces from the elite SAS Airborne Service deployed to secure evacuation operations were stranded hundreds of miles from their troops in Kandahar province when it was overrun by insurgents, the Daily Mail reports. And, instead of evacuating the British and eligible Afghans from Kabul airport, the Royal Air Force command had to bail out its hapless SAS fighters.
Nevertheless, according to Secretary Wallace, some 14,000 British citizens and Afghans who had cooperated with the United Kingdom had allegedly been removed as part of the evacuation since mid-August. On August 27, on Sky News Channel, Ben Wallace clarified that Britain plans to complete evacuation operations from Afghanistan “in a matter of hours.” “We’re processing the data of those individuals, about 1,000 people, who are at the airport in Kabul right now. We’re looking for ways to keep identifying them from the crowd wherever we can, but by and large the bulk of the processing is done and we’ve still got a few hours to go.”
According to the head of the military department, by August 27 Britain had already closed the Baron Hotel, adjacent to Kabul International Airport, where those wishing to move to the United Kingdom had previously gathered. Likewise, the processing center for asylum seekers and the Abbey Gate checkpoint, one of the access points to Kabul’s airport that was the target of a twin suicide bombing on August 26, was also closed.
At the same time, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was forced to admit that London would not be able to evacuate by air all Afghans eligible for removal to the United Kingdom by August 31. According to The Times, the military official urged Afghans to seek other means of escape from the Taliban, recommending that they try to escape from Afghanistan via neighboring Iran or Pakistan.
It seems that this advice of the “British brother” becomes especially “valuable” for those Afghans whose names appeared in the “contact information” “forgotten” by the diplomats at the British embassy when they fled Kabul. As confirmed by the media, this information contained the names, addresses and contact information of locals who had already cooperated with the embassy, as well as the resumes and addresses of candidates for interpreters and information on their families. Even The Times has already acknowledged that the actions of the British diplomats were a gross violation of evacuation protocol, since they were supposed to destroy all information that could compromise the local staff during the evacuation.
A question comes naturally: how does Boris Johnson plan to ensure the safety of the individuals on these “forgotten” lists at the embassy in these circumstances? Especially in view of the “new resettlement scheme for Afghan nationals” he touted in mid-August, which supposedly “will help those most in need to come to Britain safely and legally.” Previously, British Interior Minister Priti Patel said that the country, as part of the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), will provide long-term shelter for 20,000 Afghan refugees fleeing the radical Taliban movement. And women and girls, as well as minorities “oppressed” by the Taliban, will be given priority.
In light of the frankly miserable situation of the Afghans, facing difficulties in evacuating from Afghanistan under the current conditions, it is not without a grain of irony that another meme of British policy appears. According to a Defense Department tweet, the British government arranged for a charter to evacuate 200 dogs and cats from Kabul that the charity’s founder and former British Navy officer Pen Farthing was trying to take out.
Therefore, it is not surprising that one of the leading members of the British Parliament, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat, stated that Britain “may find itself in the worst hostage crisis yet.” In his opinion, essentially, all those who didn’t make it out of there would become hostages as a result of the termination of evacuation flights from Kabul. The British politician assured that he would continue his efforts to determine how many more of these people remain in Afghanistan after the last flight with the evacuees left Kabul. He stated that from the beginning there were more than 3,000 people in that country who had to be evacuated. How many of them are left there now he does not know, but he will surely find out.
Tom Tugendhat, who helped create Afghanistan’s national security council and government in Helmand province, said his committee would study what happened during the evacuation, the issues that led to it and how it would play out in the future.
Britain’s parliamentary defense committee plans to investigate the United Kingdom’s involvement in the 20-year war in Afghanistan and the way it conducted evacuations, reports Sky News. The investigation is expected to deconstruct Britain’s military mission in Afghanistan, explaining, among other things, why Britain was forced to withdraw on a schedule set by the United States.
Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.