Ministers were accused of presiding over the biggest foreign policy catastrophe in 65 years last night as the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.
After a 20-year occupation by Western forces that saw 457 British lives lost and £22billion spent, the insurgents took the capital Kabul after routing Afghan forces in just a week.
The astonishing collapse of the Afghan regime prompted the families of British soldiers who died fighting in the country to say they felt like their loved ones had laid down their lives for nothing.
Last night there was a desperate scramble by thousands of British nationals and diplomats to escape Kabul – helped by RAF planes, paratroopers and the SAS.
Amid dramatic scenes, most UK Embassy staff were understood to have been flown out of the city on a RAF transport aircraft.
But after Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport was closed to civilian flights there were fears that hundreds of Afghan translators had been left behind in the frantic dash to flee. Up to 1,000 translators and their family members are thought to still be in the country, potentially at the mercy of vengeful Taliban fighters.
The coffin of Acting Sergeant Michael Lockett is carried from Cathcart Old Parish Church during his funeral in Glasgow, October 15, 2009
A US Chinook helicopter flies over the city of Kabul as diplomatic vehicles leave the compound after the Taliban advanced on the Afghan capital
Boris Johnson led a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee and ordered the recall of Parliament on Wednesday
Late last night, the situation in the city appeared to be deteriorating rapidly, with reports of explosions and gunfire at the airport. There appeared to be chaotic scenes in the departure hall, with some people screaming and an apparent stampede.
The US Embassy in Kabul issued a warning instructing American citizens still in the city to ‘shelter in place’ citing the rapidly changing security situation.
Britain has already sent 600 paratroopers to help with the evacuation, but last night there were claims that the UK could deploy more, with the Royal Marines on standby.
Meanwhile, dramatic images showed Taliban fighters posing inside Kabul’s presidential palace after Afghan forces collapsed and president Ashraf Ghani fled the country, believed to be bound for Tajikistan. He later said he had left to ‘avoid bloodshed’.
Last night, Britain and America were accused of a ‘shameful’ failure and of abandoning the Afghan people. There are now fears of a humanitarian disaster as refugees try to escape the country, a brutal re-imposition of Taliban rule and the resurgence of Al Qaeda’s global terror network.
Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan
A Taliban fighter poses with a US-made Afghan air force Blackhawk helicopter at captured Kandahar airfield
The Taliban standing on a roadside in Kandahar after taking over more parts of Afghanistan. The scale and speed of the Taliban advance has shocked Afghans and the US-led alliance that poured billions into the country
Commons foreign affairs committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said it was ‘the biggest single foreign policy disaster’ since the Suez crisis, while defence committee chairman Tobias Ellwood said the ‘surrender’ to the Taliban was a humiliation. On an extraordinary day:
The rights of women already painted over
A workman daubs white paint over posters of glamorous brides outside a Kabul wedding shop – in a chilling reminder of the Taliban’s hatred of women’s rights.
The picture was shared online by a journalist with an Afghanistan news channel.
It came as activist Malala Yousafzai, 24, who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman as a schoolgirl, warned the country’s female MPs could face horrific reprisals.
The Nobel Prize winner tweeted: ‘We watch in complete shock as Taliban takes control of Afghanistan. I am deeply worried about women, minorities and human rights advocates. Global, regional and local powers must call for an immediate ceasefire, provide urgent humanitarian aid and protect refugees and civilians.’
Under the last Taliban regime, girls were not allowed an education past the age of 12, while women could not leave their homes without a burka to cover their face and body and a male relative as a chaperone.
Rangina Hamidi, a minister of education, told the BBC: ‘I might face consequences that I never even dreamed of.’ Another female MP, Farzana Kochai, said: ‘We are just scared of what will happen.’
- Taliban fighters posed in Kabul’s presidential palace as they prepared to declare an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan;
- Helicopters air-lifted diplomats from the US embassy in scenes reminiscent of fall of Saigon in Vietnam;
- Boris Johnson led a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee and ordered the recall of Parliament on Wednesday;
- The Prime Minister insisted the West needs to work collectively to ensure Afghanistan doesn’t again become a ‘breeding ground for terror’;
- Britain called for urgent meetings of Nato’s North Atlantic Council and the UN Security Council, as the PM issued a warning to Russia and China not to unilaterally recognise a Taliban-led government;
- Mr Johnson vowed to get as many as possible of the Afghans who worked with the UK out of the country, but gloomily conceded the situation was ‘extremely difficult’;
- The UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow put on hold plans to leave the country and remained at Kabul airport to help process the applications of those seeking to leave;
- Videos showed chaotic scenes with hundreds of people attempting to cram on to military transport planes;
- Afghans fearing the Taliban rushed to leave the country, lining up at cash machines to withdraw their life savings;
- Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was forced to cut short his foreign holiday amid criticism of his absence.
As recently as Friday night, British officials believed they had days if not weeks to evacuate Kabul following Taliban advances across the country. But that proved to be a catastrophic miscalculation as fighters from the hardline Islamic group entered the capital yesterday morning. By the afternoon, the Afghan president had fled and the Taliban seized the presidential palace.
Helicopters shuttled diplomats from the US embassy to the airport, while smoke was seen coming from the rooftop as sensitive material was burned.
The Taliban’s takeover of the country came just five weeks after President Joe Biden confidently replied ‘none whatsoever, zero’ when asked if he saw any parallels between the US withdrawals from Vietnam and Afghanistan.
Last night, the families of British soldiers who died during the Afghan operation reacted with fury at how the country had been abandoned to fall back into Taliban hands. Sarah Adams, whose son James Prosser died aged 21 when his Warrior armoured vehicle was blown up while he was serving with 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh in 2009, last night said she was left ‘asking what his sacrifice was for’.
‘It’s devastating to see what’s being going on in Afghanistan over the past few days,’ said the 59-year-old, of Cwmbran. ‘Everything he worked towards will soon be torn apart. It’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening, not just for the families who lost sons and husbands, but for those who served and still carry the physical and mental injuries. Now it feels as if none of it was worth it.’
Wendy Rayner, who lost her husband Peter in 2010 aged just 34, said she was ‘absolutely disgusted,’ adding: ‘It just feels like a complete slap in the face after all the sacrifices people like my husband have made.’
Sergeant Rayner, from 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, was leading his men on a routine patrol in Helmand Province when he was killed by an improvised explosive device. His widow has now written to the Prime Minister demanding an inquiry into why the achievements from Britain’s sacrifice in Afghanistan have been squandered in a matter of days.
Jack Cummings, a veteran who lost both his legs in 2010 in Afghanistan, tweeted: ‘Was it worth it, probably not. Did I lose my legs for nothing, looks like it. Did my mates die in vain. Yep.’
Major General Charlie Herbert, who lost many troops in the conflict, said the ‘bravery and bloodshed’ of servicemen and women had been ‘turned to dust in just a few short days’.
He added: ‘How shameful. How unforgivable. I barely have the words to describe how enraged I am.’ Despite the scramble to evacuate, the ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow was said to be remaining in the city last night. Mr Johnson said he was at the airport helping to process the applications of those seeking to leave. The Prime Minister yesterday insisted Britain could ‘look back at 20 years of effort and achievement In Afghanistan’, as he argued he wanted to ‘make sure that we don’t throw those gains away’.
UK military personnel boarding an RAF Voyager aircraft at RAF Brize Norton on August 14, 2021 to travel to Afghanistan
He said: ‘Remember we went into Afghanistan 20 years ago because America was attacked and America decided to invoke Article 5 of the Nato treaty appealing to all America’s allies to mutual defence and to come to help solve a particular problem – the Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan. And to a very large extent we did help America solve that, and there’s been no Afghanistan-originated terror or very much less Afghanistan-originated terror on the streets of the West thanks to that effort.’
But former defence secretary Lord Robertson, who was Nato secretary general on 9/11, angrily accused the Government of a ‘lack of purpose’. ‘I am sickened by the prospect of the 20th anniversary being marked by the Taliban back in control of Afghanistan,’ he added.
The advance of the Taliban to power was hastened by President Biden’s announcement in April that all US troops would leave Afghanistan by the end of this month.
At the time he stated that the country would be left in an orderly state, but privately US Intelligence forecast the Taliban returning to power across Afghanistan within six to 12 months. Last week it emerged that this estimate had been revised to three months – but it proved to be more like three days.