Nobody watching the scenes at Kabul airport could fail to be moved and wonder what the future holds for those now facing rule by Islamic extremists - especially women and religious minorities. I have been emailed by many people wanting to know how this could have happened and what comes next. America invaded Afghanistan after the Taliban government refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders who were responsible for the appalling September 11 attacks in 2001. The US had absolutely no choice but to respond to this outrage and the UK had every reason to support getting rid of Al-Qaeda; an extremist network which also posed a threat to us. In any case, as fellow members of NATO we had a moral obligation to offer the mutual assistance that was asked for. Had we been unwilling, the NATO alliance might well have fractured.
With Al-Qaeda gone, it would have been possible to leave within a few years whilst making it clear to the Taliban that any terrorist attacks organised from Afghanistan would result in further military action. Instead, the US - with help from the UK and others - spent 20 years and trillions of dollars trying to rebuild Afghanistan as a democratic country. This was an honourable thing to have done. It seems not to have succeeded, although we may yet find that the current Taliban are less extreme than those of 20 years ago and the Afghan people, who have had 20 years of education, are less willing to tolerate restrictions on their freedom. Only time will tell, but the US and NATO could not have stayed in Afghanistan forever.
The rapid collapse of the Afghan government and army was not foreseen by any of the intelligence of military experts and could not have been predicted by the ministers they advise. The UK government has always advised strongly against travel to Afghanistan and urged British residents to get out immediately on August 6. Many brave people chose to stay but would have been well aware of the risks - and of the fact the UK government cannot take responsibility for the safety of people who choose to live in conflict zones.
Many have emailed to say we should fight on alone. I must disagree. Ridding Afghanistan of Al-Qaeda was a justifiable military goal which has been achieved. Trying to create an enlightened secular democracy in Afghanistan would cost lives and money and, in the end, does not seem likely to succeed. We could have continued to support the US, but we are not a superpower and cannot do this alone. There has been a longstanding suspicion about American military interventions around the world. Like it or not, we face a world in which the US are much less likely to intervene militarily in other countries. The Afghans crowding the airport in Kabul trying to get on planes to America are not celebrating US isolationism. I am not sure we should be either.
*Published in the Monmouthshire Beacon on 25 August 2021 and the Abergavenny Chronicle on 26 August 2021*