The devastating fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban has led to fresh questions over the role of international troops in the 20-year-long war.
The militants took over the capital Kabul on Sunday after rapidly gaining ground across the country following the swift withdrawal of US and UK forces this summer.
The British government has been accused of abandoning the Afghan people as it scrambles to evacuate UK nationals and local allies who worked for the army.
There were desperate scenes at Kabul airport today as thousands tried to clamber on planes in a bid to flee the Taliban, with at least five people reported to have been killed in the chaos.
There are fears rights gained in the last two decades will be swiftly rolled-back under the Taliban, which previously ruled Afghanistan with a harsh form of Islamic law that saw women largely confined to their homes and suspected criminals faced with amputation or public execution.
Defence Minister Ben Wallace held back tears today as he admitted ‘some people won’t get back’.
But he ruled out a return to Afghanistan, saying the government had little choice but to follow in the footsteps of the US, which led the initial invasion.
When did British troops go into Afghanistan and when did they leave?
Britain joined its international allies in invading Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks on the US.
Officials identified Islamist militant group al-Qaeda, and its leader Osama Bin Laden, as responsible.
At the time Bin Laden was in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban, who had been in power since 1996.
When they refused to hand him over, the allied troops invaded, with airstrikes beginning in October 2001 and British troops entering a month later.
The aim of the US-led military campaign was to dismantle al-Qaeda and the Taliban, support democracy and eliminate the terrorist threat.
Although the Taliban was removed in 2001, the militants later regrouped and continued with deadly attacks as a new Afghan government was formed in 2004.
At the peak of the war, there were 9,500 British troops in Helmand Province alone, and Camp Bastion grew to the size of Reading.
In 2011, when US Special Forces killed Bin Laden, then Prime Minister David Cameron announced the withdrawal of hundreds of British troops.
He also signalled his intention to end all British combat missions in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The vast majority of British combat troops left Afghanistan in October that year, with Camp Bastion handed over to Afghan forces.
However, around 750 people remained in a training and advisory role based in Kabul and Helmand.
In July 2021, Boris Johnson announced all remaining British troops would be brought home.
Will UK and US troops go back to Afghanistan?
Ben Wallace said today that British forces going back to Afghanistan is ‘not on the cards’.
The British Embassy in Kabul has now been evacuated, and Mr Wallace confirmed: ‘It’s not the embassy anymore, we have left that location, we’ve drawn down within the airport.’
The defence minister suggested the UK had little choice but to leave after the Americans pulled out.
Britain’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan came after the US announced its own troops would be leaving.
Former President Donald Trump signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020, and his successor Joe Biden confirmed in April this year that the US would still leave, despite violence escalating across the country.
When asked if Nato forces could regroup to take over control of Kabul, Mr Wallace told Sky News: ‘That’s not on the cards that we’re going to go back.
‘If you remember at its height over 100,000 troops were deployed into Afghanistan to hold the line.
‘That wasn’t just the initial 2001/2002 intervention, that was almost a decade later heavy, heavy fighting, and I think the United States has made itself clear that they’re not intending to stay. And as the framework nation, that leaves us with difficult choices.’
He said soldiers currently on the ground are there for one job only, ‘which is the processing of British citizens and Afghans to bring them back’.
US forces are currently working to secure Kabul airport, and the head of the US Central Command has met face-to-face with senior Talbian leaders to ask them not to interfere with the evacuations.
President Joe Biden will be holding a press conference this afternoon at 3.45 ET.
How many British soldiers died in Afghanistan ?
A total of 457 British forces personnel or Ministry of Defence civilians have died since the start of operations in October 2001.
Families of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan have described their anger and sense of betrayal at the crisis unfolding.
Some relatives have written to Boris Johnson demanding a public inquiry into the failure of the Afghanistan campaign.
Hazel Hunt, whose son Private Richard Hunt died 12 years ago on Sunday, told The Times: ‘It is all such a waste. Twenty years of sacrifice in blood and treasure has come to nothing. All that has been achieved has been so quickly dissipated. Their sacrifice has been for nothing.’
Tony Lewis, whose son Conrad also died in the Afghanistan conflict, told LBC: ‘It’s an appalling state of affairs we’ve exited in such a haste and allowed the Taliban to re-take the country with such speed.
‘I think it’s appalling what we’ve done to the Afghan people.
‘For 20 years and certainly for the last 10 yrs since Conrad died, we have given them hope. We went there to turn around what the Taliban had done and in many ways we achieved that. Young girls were going to school again, older girls were going university… in matter of weeks we’ve taken that hope from them, it’s shattering.’
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