Afghanistan: Boris Johnson says change of regime 'clearly' taking place

15 August 2021, 21:53 | Updated: 15 August 2021, 22:17

Boris Johnson said most embassy staff and officials have left Afghanistan
Boris Johnson said most embassy staff and officials have left Afghanistan. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson has said he does not want to see Britain's efforts in Afghanistan be "thrown away" as the Taliban "clearly" looks set to take control of the country.

The militants have seized every key city outside of the capital Kabul, which they have also entered.

The country's president Ashraf Ghani has fled, saying on Facebook that he did not want bloodshed, and the UK, along with other nations, is scrambling to get people out via Kabul's airport.

Footage shows chaotic scenes at Hamid Karzai airport as huge crowds of people desperately try to get on board flights out of the country. Images of helicopters swirling at diplomatic compounds and the rush to leave has led to comparisons with the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War.

"There's clearly a change of regime now happening in Afghanistan that has implications for the UK presence, for the platform that we've had there for some years," Mr Johnson said on Sunday.

There are fears that the Taliban will carry out reprisals against those who helped the UK, US and allies in their 20-year campaign against the militants – though the group claimed that would not happen.

A Taliban spokesman said it is holding talks to form an "open, inclusive Islamic government". It followed another official from the group saying a new government would be announced from the presidential palace - a plan that now seems to be on hold.

Speaking after he chaired a Cobra meeting, Mr Johnson said he did not want the country to become a "breeding ground for terror" again.

Read more: Afghan minister confirms 'peaceful transfer of power' to 'transitional government'

Read more: 'I won't leave my wife to die alone': British father refuses to flee Afghanistan

The US withdrawal "accelerated things", Mr Johnson admitted, and "we're dealing with now... the very likely advent of a new regime in Kabul".

"We don't know exactly what kind of a regime that will be," he said.

"What we want to do is make sure that we as the UK pull together our international partners, our like-minded partners, so that we deal with that regime in a concerted way."

Parliament has been recalled to discuss the crisis.

The rapid advance of the Taliban, which followed the withdrawal of US and British forces, has seen them conquer most of Afghanistan far more rapidly than publicly reported estimates predicted.

It appears the militants have effectively seized control of the country, having been toppled in the US-led invasion in 2001.

Mr Ghani said on Facebook: “The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honour, property and self-preservation of their countrymen."

President Ghani has apparently fled to central Asia
President Ghani has apparently fled to central Asia. Picture: Alamy

The conquest has led to questions about whether the Afghan state and its security forces were greatly overestimated, and what the legacy of the coalition's long-lasting campaign will be now their foe appears on the brink of victory.

There are also fears that the return of Taliban rule will see women's rights completely eroded, amid reports that some were told to give their jobs to men in areas taken by the group.

Mr Johnson said: "Think of everything that the UK has helped to achieve over the last 20 years, the sacrifice of that mission, a lot of women and girls were educated thanks to the efforts of the UK.

"Rights, human rights and equalities were promoted and protected in a way that Afghanistan hadn't seen before.

"Of course we don't want to see that thrown away and what we're trying to do now is to concert the rest of the like-minded around the world, of whom there are a great many, to make sure that we don't prematurely bilaterally recognise a new government in Kabul without forming a common view and setting the same conditions about how that government should... and yes of course it's not just about terrorism, it's about human rights and many other things."

The Prime Minister, who has been implored to "step up" by Labour and show leadership in the crisis, said a large number of Afghans had been brought out, and he appealed for others to make themselves known at Kabul airport.

"Our priority is to make sure that we deliver on our obligations to British nationals in Afghanistan, all those who helped the British effort in Afghanistan over 20 years," he said.

"The ambassador has been there at the airport to process the applications."

He insisted the UK has the ability to get them out "over the next few days".

The bulk of embassy staff and officials had already got out, he added.