First and foremost, I do recognise what a vitally important issue this is, and I am diligently actioning all individual casework raised by my constituents in relation to British and non-British nationals in Afghanistan. Please be assured that I will continue to take forward these specific cases with the utmost urgency.
In 2014, the UK ceased all combat operations in Afghanistan and brought the majority of troops home, re-orientating the UK’s role and involvement in the country. About 750 personnel remained in Afghanistan under NATO’s mission to train and assist the country’s security forces. In 2020, however, the US decided to withdraw its troops. Furthermore, following President Biden’s announcement in April that all US forces would leave by September at the latest, our NATO allies decided they were unable to continue this US-led mission without American logistics, air power and might.
For the last 20 years we have kept Al Qaeda off our streets, dispersed the organisation and drastically reduced the terrorist threat to the UK. Those were 20 years of keeping our streets safer but also building infrastructure for one of the poorest countries in the world and educating women and girls, with over 3.6 million girls in school this year alone who would have never had access to education. For this, we must always remember the 457 brave British service personnel who laid down their lives in Afghanistan, ensuring our safety and preserving the UK's national security, alongside the 69,000 Afghan army troops who have also given their lives in this conflict.
The international communities of the UN and NATO have agreed it would be a mistake for any country to recognise a new regime prematurely and bilaterally. I therefore welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment that it will be based on its choices and actions rather than its words.
I was also pleased to hear the Prime Minister state that the number one condition for future engagement with the Taliban is the safe passage for those who want to leave Afghanistan beyond the 31 August. Having agreed a roadmap with G7 leaders (including the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan), I am confident that the very considerable economic, diplomatic and political leverage at these nations' joint disposal will ensure this very basic requirement is fulfilled.
However, I recognise the concerns raised about reports that the Taliban have acquired vehicles and weapons abandoned by NATO forces during their expansion through the country. I can assure you that, while the overriding priority of Operation Pitting was the safe evacuation of as many eligible people as possible, care was taken to deny the Taliban of all lethal UK equipment. I would also like to echo the sentiments of the Prime Minister that we should judge the new regime on the choices it makes and by its actions rather than by its words, including on its attitude to terrorism, crime, and narcotics, as well as humanitarian access and the right of girls to receive an education.
Finally, following the barbaric terror attack witnessed at Kabul airport during the final days of the evacuation, I would like to echo the words of the Prime Minister who quite rightly offered his condolences, both to the United States and to the people of Afghanistan, who lost their lives. I am encouraged that Operation Pitting continued following these attacks in line with the Government’s commitment to work flat out to evacuate as many eligible people as possible until the last possible moment.