'We're not trained to lose': Veteran MPs condemn 'shameful' Afghanistan withdrawal

18 August 2021, 15:26 | Updated: 18 August 2021, 17:37

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Military veteran MPs have hit out at the decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and allow the Taliban to take total control of the country.

Tory MPs Tom Tugendhat and Johnny Mercer, and Labour MP Dan Jarvis all served in the country during 20 years of military operations.

They made emotive speeches on Wednesday as Parliament was recalled for a Commons debate on the crisis.

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

READ MORE: 'It's all over for us': Pregnant woman blinded by Taliban fears for Afghan women

Mr Tugendhat was applauded after his speech in which he recalled his experiences in the country.

He spoke of his time as an adviser to the governor of Helmand and the "joy" given to families by the opening of schools for girls, adding: "I didn't understand it until I took my own daughter to school about a year ago.

"There was a lot of crying when she first went in, but I got over it and it went OK.

"I'd love to see that continue."

He left MPs with a second, "harder" image, which he explained: "It's one that the forever war that has just reignited could lead to.

"It is the image of a man whose name I never knew, carrying a child who had died hours earlier, carrying this child into our fire base and begging for help.

"There was nothing we could do. It was over.

"This is what defeat looks like when you no longer have the choice of how to help.

"This doesn't need to be defeat but at the moment it damn well feels like it."

He earlier said it was with "great sadness" that he was to criticise the US, noting: "To see their commander in chief (Joe Biden) call into the question the courage of men I fought with, to claim that they ran is shameful.

"Those who have not fought for the colours they fly should be careful about criticising those who have."

Mr Tugendhat suggested the West and the UK had not shown patience, adding: "This is a harsh lesson for all of us and if we're not careful it could be a very, very difficult lesson for our allies. It doesn't need to be.

"We can set out a vision, clearly articulate it, for reinvigorating our European Nato partners, to make sure that we are not dependent on a single ally, on the decision of a single leader, that that we can work together with Japan and Australia, France and Germany, with partners large and small and make sure we hold the line together."

Mr Mercer accused Boris Johnson of "consistently failing" to support former soldiers properly, and warned there will be a "bow wave" of mental health issues among veterans following the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He told the Commons veterans were dealing with "new feelings" they were "not trained to deal with", adding: "We are not trained to lose and we are not trained for ministers to, in a way, choose to be defeated by the Taliban.

"Was it all for nothing? Of course it wasn't for nothing and we have to get away from this narrative. Whether we like it or not for a period of time Afghans - the average age in Afghanistan is 18 years old - they will have experienced a freedom and privileges that we enjoy here and no one will ever take that away from them."

Mr Jarvis said: "These past 20 years have been a struggle for peace. We tried to break the cycle of war, to give hope to women and girls, we tried to give the Afghans a different life, one of hope and one of opportunity. But the catastrophic failure of international political leadership, and the brutality of the Taliban has snatched all of that away from them."

Speaking about the Afghan armed forces, he said: "I had the honour of serving alongside them in Helmand. We trained together, fought together, and in some cases we died together. They were our brothers in arms.

"But I shudder to think where those men are now, many will be dead, others I know now consider themselves to be dead men walking.

"Where were we in their hour of need? We were nowhere, and that is shameful."