LONDON: In a new regional development, Britain on Friday slammed the United States troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, warning the Taliban’s resurgence would create a breeding ground for extremists that threatened the world.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace on Thursday announced that some 600 troops would help evacuate British nationals from the country, as the Islamists seize more control.
But he told Sky News television the US decision to withdraw troops “leaves a very big problem on the ground”, handing momentum to the Taliban.
He predicted it would benefit Al-Qaeda, who were given safe haven by the Taliban before the September 11, 2001 attacks that prompted the West’s 20-year involvement in Afghanistan.
“I’m absolutely worried that failed states are breeding grounds for those type of people,” he added.
“Of course Al-Qaeda will probably come back,” he said, warning that would lead to “a security threat to us and our interests.”
“I felt that that was a mistake to have done it that way, that we’ll all as an international community probably pay the consequences of that,” Wallace said of the Doha agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban.
The agreement, signed under former US president Donald Trump last year, left Britain with no choice but to withdraw its troops, he said.
The 600 British troops being sent to Afghanistan to help with repatriation is close to the 750 Britain had in the country before the withdrawal.
They will help up to 3,000 British nationals leave, Wallace said.
The minister’s critical comments about the withdrawal were among several from senior politicians and military top brass.
The chairman of the influential Foreign Affairs Select Committee in parliament, Tom Tugendhat, told the BBC: “We’ve just pulled the rug from under them,” referring to the Afghan people.
The Conservative MP added that Britain’s need to send in more troops to facilitate its withdrawal was “a sure sign of failure”.
Former international development minister Rory Stewart called the troop withdrawal “a total betrayal by the US and by the UK” that risked triggering a civil war between rival warlords currently defending against the Taliban.
Johnny Mercer, a Conservative MP and former veterans minister who served in Afghanistan, called the withdrawal “a disgrace”.
“I think it’s humiliating for the UK military, for the families who lost individuals over there but above all it’s a huge tragedy for the people of Afghanistan, who’ve been through so much over so many years,” he told Times Radio.
“We’ve chosen this defeat and it’s shameful. “
Taliban detain ‘Lion of Herat’
Taliban insurgents detained veteran militia commander Mohammad Ismail Khan on Friday after they seized the western city of Herat, a provincial council member said. The insurgents also captured three more provincial capitals as they press a lightning offensive that is gradually encircling the capital, Kabul.
Khan, who has been leading fighters against the Taliban in recent weeks, was handed over to the insurgents along with the provincial governor and security officials under a pact, provincial council member Ghulam Habib Hashimi told Reuters.
“The Taliban agreed that they will not pose any threat or harm to the government officials who surrendered,” Hashimi said.
Khan is one of Afghanistan’s most prominent warlords. Known as the Lion of Herat, he battled Soviet occupiers in the 1980s and was a key member of the Northern Alliance whose US-backed forces toppled the Taliban in 2001.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed that Khan had been detained.
Meanwhile, the capture of Lashkar Gah — Helmand’s provincial capital — came after facing some of the heaviest fighting in the last two decades. Hundreds of foreign troops were killed there over the course of the nearly two-decade war.
The insurgents have taken more than a dozen provincial capitals in recent days and now control more than two-thirds of the country just weeks before the US plans to withdraw its last troops.
Attaullah Afghan, the head of the provincial council in Helmand, said that the Taliban captured the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah following heavy fighting and raised their white flag over governmental installations. He says that three national army bases outside of Lashkar Gah remain under the government’s control.
Atta Jan Haqbayan, the provincial council chief in Zabul province, said the local capital of Qalat fell to the Taliban and that officials were in a nearby army camp preparing to leave.