RORY STEWART: Allies' retreat from Afghanistan is an act of self-harm

RORY STEWART: The Allies’ retreat from Afghanistan is a monstrous act of self-harm

The Allies’ reckless withdrawal has plunged Afghanistan back into darkness and allowed the Taliban – that horrifying group which brutalised the Afghan population and provided safe haven to Osama bin Laden – to take most of the country in just a few days.

It’s a terrible irony that by the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in a few weeks, the whole country may be ruled by the Taliban again.

The abandonment, first conceived by President Trump and carried out by President Biden, is a monstrous betrayal. 

Like other nations involved in this tragedy, Britain has suddenly jettisoned all the moral obligations we have formed over 20 years.

It’s as though we had chosen to take a vulnerable family into our care, and then, in defiance of all promises of support, abandoned them. We should be profoundly ashamed of ourselves.

The Allies’ reckless withdrawal has plunged Afghanistan back into darkness and allowed the Taliban – that horrifying group which brutalised the Afghan population and provided safe haven to Osama bin Laden – to take most of the country in just a few days

It’s a terrible irony that by the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in a few weeks, the whole country may be ruled by the Taliban again

I will never forget visiting Afghanistan late in 2001 following the Nato invasion. Under the Taliban, women had been forbidden to go to school, let alone work, while their rulers revelled in public executions and the destruction of the nation’s heritage.

The capital city had been reduced to a grim, grey ghost town – emptied of 90 per cent of its population – and the country was almost entirely devoid of healthcare or education, let alone electricity. And that is the nightmare, which – thanks to Western folly – is now returning.

It is true that the West’s intervention never fulfilled the vision of unrealistic optimists. But its achievements should not be downplayed either.

As I saw for myself, not least through my involvement with Turquoise Mountain – the charity I founded in 2006 – millions of individual lives were transformed. Millions of women and many men went to school for the first time, found jobs, earned incomes for their family.

A country where the life expectancy had been less than 40 began to develop a healthcare system. Millions of refugees returned. And Nato support for the Afghan forces enabled them to keep the Taliban at bay.

Now these gains have been thrown away without any rational justification. Since 2016, the Allied military has been maintaining a fragile peace rather than fighting a bloody war. 

The abandonment, first conceived by President Trump and carried out by President Biden, is a monstrous betrayal

Just 2,500 Nato troops were successfully supporting the Afghan forces and this – although small in scale – was crucial to Afghanistan’s survival Above: An abandoned Bagram US air base

Just 2,500 Nato troops were successfully supporting the Afghan forces and this – although small in scale – was crucial to Afghanistan’s survival.

The Allies’ withdrawal was completely unnecessary and like a keystone in an arch, its removal has led to a collapse in the entire structure. 

This outcome is not only a humiliation for Western governments, but is also an indictment of our intelligence agencies who complacently failed to warn of the resurgence in the Taliban.

Only last month, President Biden claimed the chances of the fanatics ‘overrunning everything and owning the whole country’ were ‘highly unlikely’.

This outcome is not only a humiliation for Western governments, but is also an indictment of our intelligence agencies who complacently failed to warn of the resurgence in the Taliban

The results of this blinkered approach are already becoming obvious. Just as the retreat by the French military and the UN from Rwanda sparked a savage civil war in 1994, so the West’s policy is a recipe for certain, terrible conflict

Yet, that is precisely what is happening. With all its might and hi-tech sophistication, the US has allowed itself to be beaten by medieval dogmatists on horseback.

Britain has failed just as miserably. With energetic diplomacy, we could have built a new coalition with other countries, living up both to our international responsibilities and to the Government’s own post-Brexit rhetoric about Britain taking its place on ‘the global stage’.

Instead, the Government has compounded the folly of the military withdrawal by cutting aid to Afghanistan by 76 per cent as part of its penny-pinching reduction in the international development budget.

The results of this blinkered approach are already becoming obvious.

Just as the retreat by the French military and the UN from Rwanda sparked a savage civil war in 1994, so the West’s policy is a recipe for certain, terrible conflict. 

This in turn will create a humanitarian disaster, with millions fleeing Afghanistan and seeking shelter across the world.

At the same time, the triumph of the Taliban will generate dramatic instability in the region as major powers seek to take advantage of the vacuum left by the West. And renewed impetus will be given to jihadism by the Taliban’s ascendancy.

It is as if our government has learnt nothing from the recent past. Their decision is a monstrous act of self-harm which is counter to our national interests and our ethical duties. We are going to pay a very high price for this failure to stand by an ally and by millions who so badly needed us.

Rory Stewart is the author of The Places In Between which documents his walk across Afghanistan in 2001-2002.

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