Up to 600 UK troops are to be deployed in Afghanistan to help Britons leave the country, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has announced, as the Taliban made further gains.
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.
At-a-glance: 5 key points
- 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.
- 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.
- The situation has been likened to Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War - as the Taliban last night captured Afghanistan’s second biggest city, Kandahar, as well as Lashkar Gah in the south.
- The Taliban also claimed they had captured the western city of Herat, the country’s third-largest, and Qala-e-Naw in the north-west.
- Gen Carter said the country was already facing a “humanitarian tragedy” as the Taliban continued to make sweeping gains following the withdrawal of international forces led by the US.
What’s been said?
Mr Wallace said: “The security of British nationals, British military personnel and former Afghan staff is our first priority.”
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shadow defence secretary John Healey hoped the deployment would ensure that British personnel are “safely and orderly withdrawn” from Afghanistan, but also said the protection of Afghans must not be forgotten.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.”
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.
He told the BBC: “I think we have already got a humanitarian tragedy. The question now is whether it gets worse or not.”
“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.
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.
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