British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday said the UK should be “proud of its legacy” in Afghanistan, despite the total takeover of the country by the Taliban and the violent, chaotic withdrawal of British troops, nationals, and allies just afterwards.
In a statement delivered to the houses of parliament, Johnson commended the UK armed forces for bringing stability and peace to the central Asian nation as well as undertaking the UK’s largest post-World War II military evacuation, yet with only 15,000 Afghans having been relocated.
“If anyone is still tempted to say that we have achieved nothing in that country in 20 years, tell them that our armed forces and those of our allies enabled 3.6 million girls to go to school; tell them that this country and the Western world were protected from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan throughout that period, and tell them we have just mounted the biggest humanitarian airlift in recent history,” Johnson said.
“We can be proud of our forces for everything they have achieved and for the legacy they leave behind. And what they did was in the best traditions of this country,” he added.
Johnson’s comments, however, were in stark contrast to the current unfolding developments in Afghanistan.
The Taliban swept to power last month following a lightning advance that saw provinces fall without a fight and a total capitulation of the Afghan government and its military. On Monday, according to various reports, Panjshir – the last province not under the group’s control – fell to the Taliban.
‘Missing in action’
Following his statement, Johnson was blasted by the opposition Labour party, which said the government was impotent as the Taliban took control of the country and the UK frantically attempted to evacuate its personnel, citizens, and allies.
“We have a prime minister incapable of international leadership, just when we need it most. History will tell the tale of Operation Pitting as one of immense bravery … (but) whilst they were saving lives our political leadership was missing in action,” said Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party.
Ian Blackford, Westminster’s leader for the Scottish National Party, asked the prime minister why he was defending Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab when he was away on holiday when the Taliban took over last month and why he was not sacked for his failure to address the crisis. Blackford also brought up many urgent emails left unanswered by the government regarding the abandonment of UK and Afghan nationals in Kabul.
“There is barely an MP in this House who hasn’t submitted urgent and sensitive information to the Foreign Office on UK and Afghan nationals desperate to find safe passage away from the Taliban. It is a disgrace that most of these urgent queries have been left unresolved and unanswered, a disgrace not for us but for all those left behind – UK and Afghan nationals who are now fearful and in hiding,” Blackford said.
Under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, a total of 20,000 Afghans will be relocated to the UK over a period of five years. This number pales in comparison to the UK’s allies, who have taken in well over 100,000. The government has been accused of abandoning those Afghans who supported UK forces in the two-decade war.