Joe Biden addresses fallout of Afghanistan troop withdrawal
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“We came up against this hard reality,” he told MPs at Westminster, adding: “The West could not continue this US-led mission.” But in a heated and often emotional seven-hour debate, a string of senior Tories including several military veterans savaged the Government for alleged foreign policy failures that allowed the Taliban takeover in Kabul. Tobias Ellwood, a former captain in the Royal Green Jackets and an ex-defence minister, said: “It is with utter disbelief that I see us make such an operational and strategic blunder by retreating at this time.
“The decision is already triggering a humanitarian disaster, a migrant crisis not seen since the Second World War and a cultural change in the rights of women. And it is once again turning Afghanistan into a breeding ground for terrorism.
“I am sorry that there will be no vote today because I believe the Government would not have the support of the House.”
Afghanistan veteran Tom Tugendhat spoke of his “anger, grief and rage” at the “feeling of abandonment of not just a country, but the sacrifice that my friends made”.
The Tory MP, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee who served in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, recalled his comrades lost in the operation.
He said: “I have been to funerals from Poole to Dunblane. I have watched good men go into the earth, taking with them a part of me and a part of all of us. This week has torn open some of those wounds, has left them raw and left us all hurting.”
Warning that the Western retreat from Afghanistan risked breeding future conflict, he added: “Let us recognise that forever peace is bought, not cheaply, but hard, through determination and the will to endure.
“The tragedy of Afghanistan is that we are swapping that patient achievement for a second fire and a second war.”
Breaking with parliamentary convention, MPs applauded Mr Tugendhat’s speech.
Mr Johnson also had to endure a withering condemnation of his Government’s record in Afghanistan from his predecessor, Theresa May. She pointed out that in July both the PM and US President Joe Biden doubted that the Taliban could take control of the country.
She said: “Was our intelligence really so poor? Was our understanding of the Afghan Government so weak? Was our knowledge of the position on the ground so inadequate?
“Did we really believe that, or did we just feel that we had to follow the United States and hope that, on a wing and a prayer, it would be all right on the night?”
Opening the debate earlier, Mr Johnson insisted his administration had to deal with the reality of the US withdrawal ordered by President Biden. He said: “The Government has been working around the clock to deal with the unfolding situation.
“We must deal with the world as it is, accepting what we have achieved and what we have not achieved.
“The sacrifice in Afghanistan is seared into our national consciousness, with 150,000 people serving there from across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.”
Mr Johnson also set out his plan for building a diplomatic alliance to pressure the Taliban into not allowing their country to provide a haven for terrorist groups.
He insisted the West could still exert influence to guide the new regime away from brutality.
The PM said: “No matter how grim the lessons of the past, that future is not yet written and at this bleak turning point we must help the people of Afghanistan to choose the best of all their possible futures.
“We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes – and by its actions rather than by its words.
“On its attitude to terrorism, to crime and narcotics, as well as humanitarian access and the rights of girls to receive an education.
“Defending human rights will remain of the highest priority. And we will use every available political and diplomatic means to ensure that those human rights remain at the top of the international agenda.” Mr Johnson faced a scathing attack from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over the way he had reacted to the rapid Taliban offensive.
Mr Starmer said: “The Prime Minister’s response to the Taliban arriving at the gates of Kabul was to go on holiday.
“The Foreign Secretary stayed on holiday while our mission in Afghanistan was disintegrating. He hadn’t even spoken to ambassadors in the region as Kabul fell to the Taliban.
“Let that sink in. You cannot coordinate an international response from the beach.”
Mr Starmer accused Mr Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab of a “dereliction of duty” and claimed they led “a Government totally unprepared for the scenario that it had 18 months to plan for”.
Winding up the debate last night, the Foreign Secretary hit back at Labour.
Mr Raab said: “The leader of the Labour Party agreed the decision to withdraw, but now, with his predictable proclivity for hindsight, criticises the consequences of a decision that he backed.
“He does so with no serious or credible alternative of his own, not even a hint. A reminder of Shakespeare’s adage, the empty vessel makes the greatest sound.”
The Foreign Secretary praised several contributions to the debate from both sides of the Commons. But he irritated some Tory backbenchers by refusing to mention Mr Tugendhat’s hard-hitting speech.
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