Over the last two decades, 150,000 members of our Armed Forces have served in Afghanistan, mainly in Helmand province which was, from 2006 onwards, a focus of the UK operation.
Working with Afghan security forces – our Servicemen and women sought to bring development and stability. My heartfelt regret is that 457 British service personnel laid down their lives in Afghanistan working to help bring stability to that region. It was not just our forces who made a difference; British diplomats and development experts worked alongside our allies to rebuild the country, opening schools and clinics where there had been none, and bringing safe water and electricity to millions of people for the first time.
However, the international military presence in Afghanistan was never intended to be permanent. We and our NATO allies were always going to withdraw our forces: the only question was when – and there could never be a perfect moment. As long ago as 2014, the UK ceased all combat operations and brought the great majority of our troops home, re-orientating our role and our involvement.
About 750 service personnel stayed in Afghanistan under NATO’s mission to train and assist the country’s security forces. But last year, the US decided to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, when the Taliban undertook to prevent “any group or individual, including al-Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies”.
President Biden announced in April that all American forces would leave by September at the latest, and the NATO summit declared last month that the alliance’s military operations in Afghanistan were “coming to an end”.
We must be realistic about our ability alone to influence the course of events. As a result, all British troops assigned to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan are now returning home. UK troops will be providing force protection and logistical support for the relocation of British nationals where required and assist with the acceleration of the ARAP.
To accelerate this process the Home Office will be deploying a small team of officials to assist the FCDO in Kabul. They will be tasked with streamlining the processing of new visas and other documents needed for British nationals, former UK staff and other eligible people to leave Afghanistan and travel to the UK.
We have a moral obligation to support the fearless Afghan staff and their family members, who served alongside our brave troops in Afghanistan.
No one should have their lives put at risk for working with the UK Government, which is why we have significantly expanded and accelerated our dedicated resettlement scheme, deployed Home Office officials to help process British nationals for evacuation, and waived visas for their dependants.
The Prime Minister has spoken to Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, and the UN secretary general, António Guterres, about the Taliban takeover, calling for meetings as soon as possible of the North Atlantic council and UN security council.