Head of UK armed forces says too straight forward to paint Taliban as 'bad guys'

18 August 2021, 10:37 | Updated: 18 August 2021, 10:52

General Sir Nick Carter said the Taliban need to be given space to see how they govern
General Sir Nick Carter said the Taliban need to be given space to see how they govern. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Don't write the Taliban off as a capable government in Afghanistan, the head of the British military has told LBC.

In striking remarks, General Sir Nick Carter said the "jury is out" on the country's future after the group swept to power and seized Kabul, along with the vast majority of the country.

The Chief of the Defence Staff said seven flights out of Kabul, where a major evacuation of staff and Afghans trying to flee the Taliban is under way, are due in the next 24 hours. The first flight has already arrived at RAF Brize Norton.

He told Nick Ferrari: "It may well be that the outcome is a reasonable, inclusive government.

"The jury is out… I think we need to be able to give them the space to demonstrate their ability."

Read more: The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan: What we know and what's next

Read more: PM to call for increase in aid to Afghanistan to avert humanitarian crisis

The general admitted that within the disparate group, some of the Taliban will behave in a "thoroughly reprehensible fashion".

But he added: "We should see if the leadership can, as it were, talk the talk and walk the walk at the same time and if they can I think we shouldn't rule out being able to at least provide humanitarian aid through their good auspices."

Despite what Sir Nick described as his "hope" the Taliban will govern better than their previous regime, there are serious fears that women's rights will erode under them and terror groups could return to the country – the reason the US and allies deposed them in 2001.

The general said: "Over the last 20 years, people have always generalised about the Taliban, trying to paint them in a corner as the bad guys, we're the good guys, it's never as straight forward as that.

"I think we need to be patient and see what happens, we need to make it very clear to them in our engagement that we wont tolerate international terrorism being trained and exported from Afghan soil

With the seven aircraft due to fly from Afghanistan to the UK in the next 24 hours, Sir Nick said the biggest threats to the otherwise "secure" Hamid Karzai airport in Kabul were people jumping the fence and blocking the runway again, and the lesser risk of rogue elements in the Taliban carrying out an attack.

Sir Nick added that with young Afghans having seen a civil society develop in the last 20 years, the Taliban may not want to do away with some of the progress made in the country.

Risks under their rule could include parts of Afghanistan breaking away from their control, possibly breeding groups like Isis, which have rivalled the Taliban.

But he ultimately believed the group does not want to see the country become a pariah state.

Asked if the British military mission in Helmand Province, which saw more than 400 troops lose their lives, was in vain, the general said: "We have to hold our head up high that those who died and those who were wounded did so fighting for what they felt was a worthwhile and justifiable cause.

"They never let their mates down and they were never defeated tactically on the battlefield.

"My heart bleeds every time I think of those who died under my command."