Tony Blair says sacrifices were not in vain

Tony Blair says US and UK troops should have stayed put ‘to see it through’ as withdrawal could lead to UK ‘security threat’

Tony Blair says US and UK troops should have stayed put ‘to see it through’ as withdrawal could lead to UK ‘security threat’

British involvement in Afghanistan was not a “hopeless endeavour” despite the Taliban takeover, Tony Blair has said.

The former prime minister said the sacrifice made by UK troops – including those who died – “was not in vain”.

Mr Blair said achievements in the country over the past 20 years – including a generation growing up without Taliban rule – was a “good cause” that “matters today”.

He has criticised the US decision to withdraw its military from the country.

Speaking to broadcasters, the former Labour leader shared concerns, not only for the Afghan people who he said stood to lose out, but also for the security of Western countries.

He said the Taliban “will give protection and succour to Al Qaeda – you’ve got Isis trying to operate in the country at the same time”.

“You look round the world and the only people really cheering this decision are the people hostile to Western interests.”

Mr Blair said the Afghan economy was now three times larger than when the UK invaded the country alongside the US in 2001 and some 200,000 Afghans went to university this year – including 50,000 women.

US and UK troops should have stayed in Afghanistan “to see it through”, Tony Blair has said, as he warned the decision to withdraw personnel could lead to a “security threat” at home.

The former Labour prime minister said while he has “enormous respect” for US President Joe Biden, the number of individuals deployed in the country “had been reduced to a much smaller level” by 2019 and UK troops “were in a position to hold firm for some considerable time”.

Mr Blair, who sent UK troops into Afghanistan 20 years ago when he was prime minister, also urged the UK and its allies to develop a “strategy” to deal with the Taliban to ensure “we don’t end up with a security threat”.

He earlier said the US withdrawal was “tragic, dangerous, and unnecessary” in an online article, his first statement since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban last week.

Mr Blair said Britain had a “moral obligation” to stay in Afghanistan until “all those who need to be are evacuated”.

He wrote on his website: “We must evacuate and give sanctuary to those to whom we have responsibility – those Afghans who helped us and stood by us and have a right to demand we stand by them.”

This should not be done “grudgingly but out of a deep sense of humanity and responsibility”, he added.

On Sunday the Ministry of Defence said seven Afghan civilians had died in the chaotic crowds outside the city’s international airport.

The US has a planned deadline of 31 August for withdrawal – but President Biden has said troops may stay past this date to help with evacuations.

Mr Blair admitted mistakes had been made over Afghanistan, but “the reaction to our mistakes has been, unfortunately, further mistakes”. He said while “imperfect”, the “real gains over the past 20 years” were now likely to be lost.

The withdrawal would have “every jihadist group around the world cheering”, he said.

Russia, China and Iran will take advantage, he said, adding: “Anyone given commitments by Western leaders will understandably regard them as unstable currency.”

Local partner ‘corrupt’

Peter Galbraith, former UN deputy special representative for Afghanistan, said all the coalition partners bore responsibility for the chaos unfolding.

“In terms of what was imbecilic, frankly it was the strategy that was followed for 20 years, which was to try to build a highly centralised state in a country that was as diverse – geographically and ethnically – as Afghanistan, and to engage in a counterinsurgency strategy without a local partner and the local partner was corrupt, ineffective, illegitimate,” he said.

He added that coalition partners “never seriously tried to address the corruption that was prevalent from the top”, acquiescing in “fraudulent” Afghan elections, and trying to fit facts into a predetermined strategy, “rather than having a strategy that was based on the facts”.

President Biden has vowed that “any American who wants to come home, we will get you home”, but has described the evacuation as one of the “most difficult airlifts in history”.

Mr Blair’s intervention comes as shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy has urged her government counterpart Dominic Raab to step up efforts to get British and eligible Afghans to the UK.

She said she had heard of people being beaten, shot at or raped while trying to get documentation in Kabul.

The Foreign Office said it was trying to get people out as fast as possible, with more than 3,000 people having been evacuated from the country since Sunday.

In an article in the Mail on Sunday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the West’s exit from Afghanistan was “unedifying” and would have “consequences for us all for years to come”.

He praised the British soldiers working at Kabul’s airport for dealing with “unimaginable challenges – public order, overcrowding, searing heat and desperate people”.

“Soldiers trained for war are instead holding babies and co-ordinating crowds,” he wrote.

Mr Wallace said there was “no time to lose” to get people out of the country but added the US would have his complete support if it chose to push back the deadline for leaving.

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