Tory MP Tobias Ellwood admits he 'got it wrong' over Taliban praise but insists he will stand again as MP

25 September 2023, 19:03

Ellwood said he got it wrong over his praise for the Taliban
Ellwood said he got it wrong over his praise for the Taliban. Picture: LBC/Screengrab

By Will Taylor

Tobias Ellwood has admitted he "got it wrong" when he praised the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan in a controversial video that saw him lose his key role in Parliament.

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The Conservative MP had to apologise after he posted a video from his visit to the country - seized by the militant group which killed hundreds of British troops - when he called for the UK embassy to reopen and said the security situation there had improved.

There was outrage at his assessment of the country, which was captured by the Taliban despite a US-led coalition's efforts to suppress the group and implement a more progressive and democratic government.

That republic was quickly toppled when the US withdrew and largely left the old Afghan army to its own devices, which crumbled as the Taliban rapidly advanced - forcing a massive international evacuation at Kabul's airport.

But in his first broadcast interview since those remarks led to his resignation as chairman of the Commons defence committee, he said he will stand again in the next election.

And he stood by his belief that London needed to engage with the new regime in Kabul.

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He told LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr he "skipped over" issues such as the treatment of women and girls under the fundamentalist Islamic regime.

"The consequences of poor communication meant that my message to engage... was missed, and I put my hand up for that."

Read more: Tory MP Tobias Ellwood quits as chairman of defence committee after comments about Taliban

He added: "The Taliban cannot control the country. They cannot advance it in a way that anybody would want it to. They're incapable. The money simply isn't there.

"So there'll either be in an economic collapse, a humanitarian catastrophe, or more likely there's going to be the growth of Isis-K. So another reincarnation of extremist terrorism.

"On top of that, I noticed that when I was there, the difference in views between the Taliban based in Kandahar, the old guard - so the Supreme Leader and what he's pushing forward - and what are called the practitioners who run the ministries in Kabul, there's a difference of views as to where they want to take the country.

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"We have to ask ourselves as to whether, understandably, condemning their actions from afar is going to help matters, or do we continue to punish the Afghan people because the Taliban are in charge?"

In a video released in July following his trip to Afghanistan, Ellwood said security had "vastly improved" under the Taliban's rule.

His remarks upset others members of the defence committee, including fellow Tory MP Mark Francois, who labelled Mr Ellwood's comments "bizarre".

The fallout was made even worse when the Taliban praised his comments.

A spokesperson for the group said at the time: "The report of a British reporter who came to Kabul recently about the current situation in Afghanistan. It is a fact that many positive things have been done."

He later quit from the role - a bitter blow to an army veteran who has continued to serve as a reservist and has long campaigned on defence issues.

Ellwood told LBC: "Politics is about challenging the status quo. It's about advancing the argument. And occasionally, you're going to get it wrong as I did.

"What I would say about the British Parliament is that much as doors may close, in some sense, other doors open. I'm absolutely passionate."