PM defends UK's role in Afghanistan as first British troops are deployed to aid evacuation

13 August 2021, 18:31 | Updated: 14 August 2021, 12:14

By Sophie Barnett

Boris Johnson says it is not "realistic" to expect foreign powers to impose a "combat solution" in Afghanistan after he held an emergency Cobra meeting.

Following a meeting of the government's Cobra contingencies committee, the Prime Minister said "there isn't a military solution".

"Thanks to the efforts of the UK armed services and all the sacrifices they made we have seen no al Qaida attacks against the West for a very long time," he said.

"I think we have got to be realistic about the power of the UK or any power to impose a military solution - a combat solution - in Afghanistan.

"What we certainly can do is work with all our partners in the region around the world who share an interest with us in preventing Afghanistan once again becoming a breeding ground for terror."

Read more: Boris Johnson holds Cobra meeting over deteriorating situation in Afghanistan

UK troops are being deployed to assist with the drawdown of British nationals in Afghanistan.
UK troops are being deployed to assist with the drawdown of British nationals in Afghanistan. Picture: Ministry of Defence
Afghan troops are in conflict with the Taliban.
Afghan troops are in conflict with the Taliban. Picture: Alamy

Mr Johnson said the "vast bulk" of the remaining British embassy staff in Kabul will be returning to the UK.

He said Britain can be "extremely proud" of its role in Afghanistan but insisted there was "no military solution" following the gains made by the Taliban.

On Friday, the first British troops began deploying to the country to assist in the evacuation of the remaining UK nationals.

Around 600 troops are expected to take part in the operation, which will also help with the relocation of Afghans who helped British forces when they were in the country and now face reprisals if they fall into the hands of the Taliban.

A small team of Home Office officials is flying out with the military to assist the remaining embassy staff in processing visas and other documentation needed for travel.

The Taliban was overthrown in 2001 after the US sought to remove Al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The UK, the US and allied countries have since fought a bitter counterinsurgency campaign against the Taliban. More than 450 British troops lost their lives in the conflict.

However, the militant group has gained ground since the US announced it would withdraw troops before the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attack later this year.

A series of provincial capitals, including Kandahar and Herat, have fallen to the Taliban.

Meanwhile, the US has also announced that it is deploying some 3,000 additional troops to help the departure of its embassy staff.

On the team of Home Office officials being sent to the nation to step up efforts to relocate Afghans who worked for the British forces in the country, Mr Johnson said: "It is very difficult obviously, but I think the UK can be extremely proud of what has been done in Afghanistan over the last 20 years."

As a result of recent events within Afghanistan, Boris Johnson has agreed the use of military support to facilitate the next phase of drawing down British Nationals from the country, including the use of RAF aircraft should it be needed.

The Ministry of Defence said it has already begun to deploy some of the 600 members of the Armed Forces, with members of 16 Air Assault Brigade leaving this weekend.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: "Protecting British nationals and ensuring their safety as they leave Afghanistan is our top priority.

"Over the next few weeks, we shall all do our very best to support the Afghan government and those that have worked with us over 20 years."