The Prime Minister reportedly wants the US President to push back his final withdrawal date in order for the UK and other nations to evacuate more Afghan citizens from Kabul.
There are fears that the 1,000 UK troops taking part in Britain’s rescue operation will have to pull out when America’s remaining group of 6,000 leave.
Despite scenes of chaos outside Kabul airport, the UK managed to airlift more than 1,700 people out in the past 24 hours. However there fears thousands could still be left behind if the US pulls out at the end of this month.
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, and Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, have both called on the US to extend the deadline, with Mr Wallace saying they would have the UK’s ‘complete support’ if they do.
President Biden has hinted troops may stay past this date to help with evacuations, though no announcement has yet been made.
Now Mr Johnson will use the G7 meeting later this week to attempt to convince the US President to push back his Afghanistan exit date, reports the Times.
The UK, which holds the leadership of the group at the moment, had called for the virtual meeting, which will take place on Tuesday.
It comes as Mr Johnson today wrote on Twitter: ‘I will convene G7 leaders on Tuesday for urgent talks on the situation in Afghanistan.
Boris Johnson (pictured left) will attempt to persuade US President Joe Biden (pictured right) to keep American troops in Afghanistan beyond his August 31 deadline when the two leaders take part in a G7 meeting this week
There are fears that the 1,000 UK troops taking part in Britain’s rescue operation will have to pull out when America’s remaining group of 6,000 leave, due to a lack of air support. Pictured: Evacuees from Afghanistan as they arrive in an Airbus A400 transport aircraft of the German Air Force Luftwaffe in Tashkent, Uzbekista
Afghan families enter into Pakistan through a border crossing point in Chaman, Pakistan
Military planes evacuating Afghans drop flares and make ‘diving combat landings’ amid fears of ISIS missile attacks as twenty die including girl, two, at Kabul airport
Military planes making evacuation runs into Kabul are dropping flares and carrying out nosedive combat landings amid fears that Islamic terrorists may try to shoot one down as Afghans trying to flee the Taliban have described at least 20 civilians being killed in the chaos.
US military planes are doing rapid diving combat landings to beat the threat of a missile attack, with video showing a French transport plane yesterday deploying flares designed to confuse heat-seeking technology which may have been stolen by Islamic State in Afghanistan.
Taliban forces controlling all access points to Hamid Karzai International Airport are not thought to be attempting to shoot down military aircraft during the Western evacuation effort, as such an action could trigger another American-led intervention in Afghanistan.
It is feared Islamic State in Afghanistan – also known as ISIS-K – could use stolen heat-seeking missiles to bring down a rescue plane carrying hundreds of refugees including women and children.
ISIS militants have been fighting the Taliban for the last six years as they attempt to annex their own piece of Afghanistan following the collapse of their caliphate in Syria and Iraq following Western airstrikes and raids targeting the terror group.
Afghans at Kabul airport have described seeing more than 15 people including a two-year-old girl shot and beaten to death by the Taliban or trampled to death in the melee as thousands of locals desperately try to escape the new regime. One family described night-time crowd surges outside the airport gates and people killed in the stampede as they pleaded: ‘We are trapped in a hell.’
A NATO official who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters at least 20 people have been killed in the past seven days in and around Kabul airport during the evacuation effort. The British Ministry of Defence said seven Afghans had died while trying to flee the Taliban.
British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey has said that more than 1,700 people have been airlifted out in the past 24 hours with the help of the Taliban, adding that the militants were marshalling people into separate UK and US evacuation queues.
However, Taliban militants surrounding Kabul airport fired in the air and used batons to beat back the crowds and make people line up in orderly queues on Sunday, witnesses said. The crude crowd-control methods, together with reports that Taliban gangs have marauded conquered territory to enslave female Afghans, fly in the face of the group’s stated claims to be going ‘moderate’.
‘It is vital that the international community works together to ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people to secure the gains of the last 20 years.’
Earlier today Mr Johnson held talks with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who could become a key go-between in any diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and the west.
No.10 today said the two leaders had agreed that the Taliban must ‘protect the rights of women and minorities’.
‘The leaders shared the view that any new government must be representative of Afghanistan’s diverse population and protect the rights of women and minorities, and that the Taliban would be judged by their actions not their words on this,’ a Downing Street spokesman said.
‘They agreed that countries must commit to burden-sharing on aid and refugees, noting that United Nations co-ordination would be central to that effort,’ the spokesman added.
Earlier, writing in the Mail on Sunday, defence secretary Ben Wallace had warned ‘no nation will be able to get everyone out’ of Afghanistan and said time is ‘ticking along, impossible to stop’ towards the imminent end of the UK’s mission to rescue thousands of Afghans entitled to come to the Britain.
And in plea to the US to extend its involvement in the rescue operation, he said: ‘If the US timetable remains, we have no time to lose to get the majority of the people waiting out. We have the planes – we just need the flow.
‘Perhaps the Americans will be permitted to stay longer, and they will have our complete support if they do.’
It comes as today Tony Blair blasted President Biden’s ‘imbecilic’ decision to withdraw US troops from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, calling the President’s scuttle ‘tragic, dangerous and unnecessary’ and claiming the move had ‘every Jihadist group round the world cheering’.
Mr Blair, who was in Downing Street when London sent UK troops to the Middle Eastern country 20 years ago following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington DC, said Britain has a ‘moral obligation’ to stay until ‘all those who need to be are evacuated’.
In a 2,700 article on the threat of ‘radical Islam’, the former British prime minister said the exit was not in the West or Afghanistan’s interest as he lamented the likely reversal of gains made during the occupation, with the Taliban reasserting itself across most of the country in recent days.
Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Mr Blair said he has ‘enormous respect’ for Mr Biden, but suggested the President – who campaigned on a slogan of ending ‘forever wars’ and is likely to be keeping an eye on next year’s midterms – had withdrawn US troops for domestic political reasons.
He repeated his assertion that the withdrawal was a ‘serious mistake’ and ‘not something we needed to do’ and said there had been ‘a lot of gains’ made in the past two decades, stressing that the deaths of British Armed Forces personnel were ‘not in vain’.
Mr Blair also issued a stark warning to Boris Johnson that the manner of the US’ handling of the exit indicated the UK could be relegated from the top division of international powers, with reports Britain was largely kept in the dark about when American armed forces would leave.
He added that countries including China and Russia are likely to applaud the withdrawal and occupy the ‘vacuum’ in Afghanistan left by the NATO powers. Both the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab have suggested Britain will now have to turn to Beijing and Moscow to assist with exercising a ‘moderating influence’ over the Taliban post-withdrawal.
Cabinet insiders have suggested the President was ‘gaga’ and ‘doolally’ for withdrawing so quickly, while the Prime Minister has allegedly privately referred to Mr Biden as ‘Sleepy Joe’, the nickname coined by Donald Trump. Mr Johnson also allegedly remarked Britain ‘would be better off with Trump’ – allegations branded ‘categorically untrue’ by Downing Street.
‘For Britain, out of Europe and suffering the end of the Afghanistan mission by our greatest ally with little or no consultation, we have serious reflection to do,’ said Mr Blair. ‘We don’t see it yet, but we are at risk of relegation to the second division of global powers.’
His comments come as the US President signalled he wanted evacuations from Kabul airport completed by the end of the month as he prepares to withdraw all American troops – a move that would likely force Britain to wrap up its operation at the same time.
Tony Blair has branded Joe Biden an ‘imbecile’ over his ‘tragic, dangerous, unnecessary’ decision to withdraw the US troops from Afghanistan, and claimed that the move had ‘every Jihadist group round the world cheering’
Mr Blair issued a stark warning to Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the manner of the US’ handling of the exit indicated the UK could be relegated from the top division of international powers, with reports Britain was largely kept in the dark about when American armed forces would leave
A U.S. Navy Corpsman with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command, hands out water to children during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport
A baby is handed over to the American army over the perimeter wall of the airport for it to be evacuated, in Kabul
Terror threat level should be raised to severe with threat of atrocity on UK soil ‘highly likely’ after Taliban takeover, former head of British forces in Afghanistan Colonel Richard Kemp warns
A jihadist atrocity on British soil is now ‘highly likely’ following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the UK’s terror threat level should be raised to ‘severe’, the former head of British forces in Afghanistan and Government counter-terrorism adviser has warned.
Colonel Richard Kemp claimed that the Taliban regime will allow al-Qaeda and so-called Islamic State terrorists to operate on Afghan territory they control – a key provision of the US withdrawal deal negotiated by Donald Trump last year – and launch attacks on the UK.
He warned there is an ‘immediately increased threat from British jihadists inspired and motivated by events in Afghanistan’ and urged the Government to ‘consider raising the UK threat level and increasing counter-terrorist assets available to the intelligence services and police’.
It is understood British and US Special Forces will establish secret bases in neighbouring countries which will be used to target any terrorist bases in Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead.
The current national threat level – which is set by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, which works with MI5 – is ‘substantial’ and the next level is ‘severe’. It was lowered from ‘severe’ in February following a spate of atrocities in Austria and France, including the murder of a teacher in Paris who showed a class a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.
Mr Blair told Sky News on Sunday: ‘I’ve enormous respect for Joe Biden, I’ve known him for many years – he is a good man and he’s a decent man. But on the other hand … I think it is important to realise this was not something we needed to do.
‘I understand the political pressure but our footprint had really been reduced to a much smaller level, and by the end of 2019 we were in a situation whereby we could have held firm for some considerable time and helped the Afghan people through the next stages of their progress.’
Mr Blair said there had been ‘a lot of gains’ made in the past two decades and stressed that the deaths of UK armed forces personnel were ‘not in vain’.
He added: ‘Our troops were fantastic in Afghanistan, and a lot of them made the ultimate sacrifice, a lot of them were injured. And it’s really important that they know that this wasn’t a hopeless endeavour, and it wasn’t a bad cause.
‘What I’d say to them is the sacrifice was not in vain, that those 20 years matter. What we achieved in Afghanistan matters today. I think it’s really important that people realise this, the story of Afghanistan, the story of the Taliban takeover, it’s not over. It’s tragic what’s happened, I think it’s unnecessary, I think we’ve made a serious mistake in doing this in this way, but it isn’t over yet.’
In his article, Mr Blair urged for there to be ‘no repetition of arbitrary deadlines’ – a reference to Washington’s Doha agreement with the Taliban, committing to vacate Afghanistan in time for the 9/11 anniversary – in the rescue mission.
‘We must evacuate and give sanctuary to those to whom we have responsibility – those Afghans who helped us and stood by us and have a right to demand we stand by them,’ said the former Labour Party leader.
‘There must be no repetition of arbitrary deadlines. We have a moral obligation to keep at it until all those who need to be are evacuated. And we should do so not grudgingly but out of a deep sense of humanity and responsibility.’
Mr Blair defended his own decision making in 2001 when he worked with former US president George Bush and NATO allies to avenge the New York World Trade Centre attack. After the Taliban refused to evict al Qaeda, the terror group that masterminded the hijacking of the planes in 2001, Mr Blair said Western allies, who feared worse attacks were to come, felt there was ‘no safer alternative’ than to strike.
He continued: ‘There is no doubt that in the years that followed we made mistakes, some serious. But the reaction to our mistakes have been unfortunately further mistakes.
‘Today we are in a mood which seems to regard the bringing of democracy as a utopian delusion and intervention virtually of any sort as a fool’s errand. The world is now uncertain of where the West stands because it is so obvious that the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in this way was driven not by grand strategy but by politics.
‘We didn’t need to do it. We chose to do it.
‘We did it in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘the forever wars’, as if our engagement in 2021 was remotely comparable to our commitment 20 or even 10 years ago, in circumstances in which troop numbers had declined to a minimum and no allied soldier had lost their life in combat for 18 months.’
The former Middle East envoy said that, although ‘imperfect’, the ‘real gains over the past 20 years’ were likely to be lost following the Taliban victory, including advances in living standards, education particularly of girls, and other freedoms.
He called for the UK, in its role as president of the G7 this year, to help coordinate an international response to ‘hold the new regime to account’.
The UK Government has been working diplomatically to ensure there is no unilateral recognition of a Taliban government in Afghanistan, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab refusing to rule out applying sanctions if the militants renege on their promise to be more inclusive, especially in their attitudes towards women, than when last in control.
Mr Blair said: ‘We need to draw up a list of incentives, sanctions, actions we can take including to protect the civilian population so the Taliban understand their actions will have consequences. This is urgent. The disarray of the past weeks needs to be replaced by something resembling coherence and with a plan that is credible and realistic.’
The Prime Minister’s feelings about America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan have been variously described by sources as ‘furious’, ‘a betrayal’ and ‘let down’.
Downing Street dismisses the claims – it is in neither country’s interests to stoke tensions when the future of Afghanistan hangs in the balance – but there is little question that the UK has been left exposed by the speed of Washington’s pull-out.
No 10 also denies claims that the Prime Minister was disappointed by Mr Biden’s victory in the Presidential elections and had declared that it would have been ‘better’ if Mr Trump had won a second term, and say it is ‘categorically untrue’ that Mr Johnson employs the President’s derogatory nickname of Sleepy Joe during jocular conversations.
However, one minister denounced US isolationism and warned the Government would have to ‘revisit’ the recent review on defence and foreign policy because the US was no longer a reliable ally.
They told the Sunday Times: ‘America has just signalled to the world that they are not that keen on playing a global role. The implications of that are absolutely huge. We need to get the integrated review out and reread it. We are going to have to do a hard-nosed revisit on all our assumptions and policies.
Pakistan’s soldiers check the documents of Afghan and Pakistani nationals for crossing into Afghanistan at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman
People gather outside the Pakistani embassy, to obtain a visa. after Taliban took over in Kabul
A soldier carries someone amid the chaos at Kabul airport in Afghanistan yesterday, with thousands desperate to flee the country
Hundreds of Afghans desperately trying to flee the Taliban are pictured outside Kabul airport
UN warns Afghanistan faces ‘absolute catastrophe’ of famine, homelessness and economic ruin as Tory MP says organisation MUST be brought in to deal with Kabul airport chaos
The United Nations has warned that Afghanistan faces an ‘absolute catastrophe’ of famine, homelessness and economic ruin, as the Tory chairman of the Commons Defence Committee urged the organisation’s ‘immediate’ intervention before Kabul descends into ‘complete disorder’.
Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the UN’s World Food Programme’s country director for Afghanistan, told the Observer swift coordinated action was critical ‘otherwise, an already horrendous situation is just going to become an absolute catastrophe, a complete humanitarian disaster’.
She added: ‘We need to get supplies into the country, not only in terms of food, but the medical supplies, the shelter supplies. We need money and we need it now. Delay for the next six or seven weeks and it’s going to start becoming too late. People have nothing.
‘We have to get food in now and get it to the communities in the provinces, before roads are blocked by snow.’
Ex-Army officer Tobias Ellwood, who together with Tom Tugendhat and Johnny Mercer has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the scuttle, told Sky News: ‘If you do want to withdraw from a country you don’t pull out your military first and then choose to allow the civilians to depart.
‘This is the wrong order in which we’ve done things, and this situation is simply not sustainable, it’s getting worse every single day. The airport cannot manage this and with the terrorist threat growing the chances are the airport will implode.
‘What I will say is the United Nations and its agencies must be brought in immediately before complete disorder breaks down. The relationship between the US and the Taliban is very very fragile indeed, the US has frozen Afghanistan’s assets, the economy is in freefall.
‘Many of the civil servants that help run the country and indeed run the airport have already departed. We require some serious international leadership immediately.’
‘The US had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the First World War. They turned up late for the Second World War and now they are cutting and running in Afghanistan.’
Speaking to Sky News today, Mr Blair said ‘the only people really cheering this decision are the people hostile to Western interests’ – listing among them the Chinese and Russian regimes.
‘We’ve got to realise we were in a situation where… we could’ve managed the situation,’ he said. ‘The problem with what’s happened now is that it’s not just about the Afghan people and our obligation to them… it’s about us and our security.
‘Because you’ve now got this group back in charge of Afghanistan. They will give protection and succour to al Qaeda, you’ve got ISIS (Islamic State) already in the country trying to operate at the same time. You look round the world and the only people really cheering this decision are the people hostile to Western interests.’
Mr Blair said the UK and its G7 allies will need to come up with a ‘strategy’ to deal with the Taliban regime to make sure ‘we don’t end up with a security threat’.
He added: ‘We should be putting together the leading countries who are part of this coalition in the first place and who have supported Afghanistan in the last 20 years and we need to work out what our strategy and tactics are going to be in respect of the Taliban government.
‘We need to be drawing up a list of incentives and sanctions and other things we can do in order to use the leverage we have, which is not insignificant. The Taliban will find that governing is a lot harder than they thought. The population of Afghanistan is different.
‘There’s going to be a lot that we can still do but it’s important that we mobilise now after the disarray frankly of the last few weeks, that we mobilise as the leading countries and make it clear that we still understand we have an obligation in our own interests to try and resolve this situation and to put as much pressure on the government in Afghanistan as possible to make sure that we don’t end up either with a security threat in play for us or with the Afghan people losing the gains they’ve made over the last 20 years.’
Across Whitehall and in British embassies around the world, officials and diplomats are adjusting to the fact that Mr Biden has adopted an America First policy every bit as isolationist as his predecessor’s.
There are also whispered concerns that the 78-year-old might be, in the words of one Government source, ‘a bit doolally’ – unable to exert full executive grip on the White House and with a world view forged decades ago and out of step with the demands of leadership in the 2020s.
The Times claimed yesterday that Mr Johnson finds Mr Biden ‘lightweight and inward-looking’.
Observers of the two men’s relationship believe that there is a degree of wariness, with Mr Biden regarding Mr Johnson as a ‘mini-Trump’ because of his personality-driven style of politics and the pair talking far less frequently than Mr Johnson and Mr Trump did.
There are also policy differences, with Washington reluctant to accede to the UK’s demand to ramp up spending on ‘green’ policies ahead of the COP26 climate change summit being hosted by the UK in November.
Of particular irritation in London during the Afghan endgame has been the fact that British military commanders have been cut out of discussions between the US and the Taliban.
But a No 10 source said yesterday that Mr Johnson had not expressed any anger over the US withdrawal, and said the two men had enjoyed a ‘warm and constructive’ phone conversation on Tuesday evening.
A Downing Street spokesman said: ‘These claims are categorically untrue. The Prime Minister has not criticised President Biden, and they have a very strong working relationship.
The President’s first call to a leader outside of North America after his election win was to the Prime Minister.
They have worked together on a range of issues, including at the recent G7, where they secured an additional one billion Covid vaccine doses for developing countries, and signed the Carbis Bay Declaration to improve global health co-operation and prevent future pandemics’.
President Biden cancelled plans to spend the weekend at his home in Delaware. Instead he is meeting his national security team ‘to hear intelligence, security and diplomatic updates on the evolving situation in Afghanistan,’ the White House said.
Lord Ricketts, who served as the Government’s first national security adviser from 2010 to 2012 under former prime minister David Cameron, said the UK will need to ‘rethink’ its foreign policy stance following the United States’ handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal.
Speaking to Times Radio, he said: ‘It has been a humiliating period for the UK. I’m afraid we’ve learnt that (US President) Joe Biden has put US politics ahead of NATO alliance solidarity and Britain hasn’t counted for much in that decision, if anything at all.
‘The hard fact is we are going to need to continue to work with the Americans in all sorts of areas and this has been a difficult experience, but we need to bring the Americans back to working with their allies, taking account of our views.
‘But we can’t somehow invent a foreign policy without the Americans so we’ve got to take a deep breath and do some frank talking to Joe Biden and then get back to work with him.’
The former chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee continued: ‘We need to rethink a lot of that rhetoric in the integrated review published by the Government a few months ago about Britain as an independent sovereign operator, turning the dial on international crises.
‘We have shown actually that we are pretty impotent in a situation where the Americans take a decision – we have little choice but to follow.’
TONY BLAIR: America’s retreat is imbecilic – and tells our enemies we don’t have any interests or values worth defending
By TONY BLAIR FOR THE MAIL ON SUNDAY
The abandonment of Afghanistan and its people is tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, not in their interests and not in ours.
In the aftermath of the decision to return the country to the same group from which the carnage of 9/11 arose, and in a manner that seems almost designed to parade our humiliation, the question that allies and enemies alike pose is – has the West lost its strategic will?
By that I mean, is it able to learn from experience, think strategically, define our interests strategically and on that basis commit strategically? Is ‘long term’ a concept we are still capable of grasping? Is the nature of our politics now inconsistent with asserting our traditional global leadership role? And do we care?
As leader of our country when we decided to join America in removing the Taliban from power in 2001, and who saw the high hopes we had of what we could achieve for the people and the world subside under the weight of bitter reality, I know better than most how difficult are the decisions of leadership and how easy it is to be critical and how hard to be constructive.
Tony Blair pictured addressing British troops in Basra, southern Iraq, in May 2003. The abandonment of Afghanistan and its people is tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, not in their interests and not in ours, the former prime minister writes
Twenty years ago, following the slaughter of 3,000 people on US soil on September 11, 2001, the world was in turmoil. The attacks were organised out of Afghanistan by Al Qaeda, an Islamist terrorist group given protection and assistance by the Taliban.
We forget this now, but the world was spinning on its axis. We feared further attacks, possibly worse. The Taliban were given an ultimatum: yield up the Al Qaeda leadership or be removed from power.
They refused. We felt there was no safer alternative for our security than keeping our word. We held out the prospect, backed by substantial commitment, of turning Afghanistan from a failed terror state into a functioning democracy on the mend. It may have been a misplaced ambition, but it was not an ignoble one.
There is no doubt that in the years that followed we made mistakes, some serious. But the reaction to our mistakes has been, unfortunately, further mistakes.
Today we are in a mood that seems to regard the bringing of democracy as a utopian delusion and intervention virtually of any sort as a fool’s errand. The world is now uncertain of where the West stands because it is so obvious that the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was driven not by grand strategy but by politics.
We didn’t need to do it. We chose to do it. We did it in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘the forever wars’, as if our engagement in 2021 was remotely comparable to our commitment 20 or even ten years ago, in circumstances in which troop numbers had declined to a minimum and no allied soldier had lost their life in combat for 18 months.
We did it in the knowledge that though worse than imperfect, and though immensely fragile, there were real gains over the past 20 years. And for anyone who disputes that, read the heartbreaking laments from every section of Afghan society as to what they fear will now be lost. Gains in living standards, education, particularly of girls, gains in freedom. Not nearly what we hoped or wanted. But not nothing. Something worth defending. Worth protecting.
We withdrew because our politics seemed to demand it. And that’s the worry of our allies – and the source of rejoicing in those who wish us ill. They think Western politics is broken. Unsurprisingly, therefore, friends and foes ask: is this a moment when the West is in epoch-changing retreat?
Royal Marines of 40 Commando, Bravo Company, arrive at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan – part of the lead element of an International Peace Keeping Force – in December 2001
British citizens and dual nationals residing in Afghanistan board a military plane for evacuation from Kabul airport on August 16
I can’t believe we are in such retreat, but we are going to have to give tangible demonstration that we are not. This demands an immediate response in respect of Afghanistan. And then measured and clear articulation of where we stand for the future. We need to work out a means of dealing with the Taliban and exerting maximum pressure on them.
This is not as empty as it seems. We have given up much of our leverage, but we retain some. The UK as the current G7 chair should convene a Contact Group of the G7 and other key nations and commit to coordinating help to the Afghan people and holding the new regime to account. Nato – which has had 8,000 troops still in Afghanistan alongside the US – and Europe should be brought fully into co-operation under this grouping.
We need to draw up a list of incentives, sanctions and actions we can take, including to protect the civilian population so the Taliban understand their actions will have consequences.
But then we must answer that overarching question. What are our strategic interests and are we prepared any longer to commit to upholding them? Afghanistan was hard to govern all through the 20 years of our time there. And of course there were mistakes and miscalculations. But we shouldn’t dupe ourselves into thinking it was ever going to be anything other than tough when there was an internal insurgency combining with external support – in this case Pakistan – to destabilise the country and thwart its progress.
Wing Commander Matt Radnall carries a carefully folded Union Flag under his arm and back home to the UK as he leaves the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in 2014
Blair pictured with ex-Afghan President Hamid Karzai at 10 Downing Street in January 2006
We have not had another attack on the scale of 9/11, though no one knows whether that is because of what we did post 9/11 or despite it.
The World Trade Center attack exploded into our consciousness because of its severity and horror. But the motivation for such an atrocity arose from an ideology many years in development.
For want of a better term, I will call it Radical Islam – an ideology in different forms and with varying degrees of extremism that has been almost 100 years in gestation.
Its essence is the belief that Muslim people are disrespected and disadvantaged because they are oppressed by outside powers and their own corrupt leadership, and that the answer lies in Islam returning to its roots, creating a State based not on nations but on religion, with society and politics governed by a strict and fundamentalist view of Islam.
In the West, we have sections of our own Muslim communities radicalised. Islamism is a long-term structural challenge because it is an ideology utterly inconsistent with modern societies based on tolerance and secular government. Yet Western policymakers prefer to identify Radical Islam as a set of disconnected challenges each to be dealt with separately.
We are in the wrong rhythm of thinking in relation to Radical Islam. With Revolutionary Communism, we recognised it as a threat of a strategic nature that required us to confront it both ideologically and with security measures. It lasted more than 70 years. Throughout that time we would never have dreamt of saying, ‘Well, we have been at this for a long time, we should just give up.’
Ex-Prime Minister Blair meets British troops at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, during a surprise visit in November 2006
We knew we had to have the will, the capacity and the staying power to see it through. This is what we need to decide now with Radical Islam. Is it a strategic threat? If so, how do those opposed to it, including within Islam, combine to defeat it?
We have learnt the perils of intervention in the way we intervened in Afghanistan, Iraq and indeed Libya. But non-intervention is also a policy with consequence.
What is absurd is to believe the choice is between what we did in the first decade after 9/11 and the retreat we are witnessing now; to treat the full-scale 2001 military intervention as of the same nature as the secure-and-support mission in Afghanistan of recent times.
Intervention can take many forms. We need to do it learning the proper lessons of the past 20 years, according not to our short-term politics but to our long-term strategic interests.
But intervention requires commitment. And not time-limited by political timetables but by obedience to goals. For Britain and the US, these questions are acute. The absence of consensus and collaboration, and the deep politicisation of foreign policy and security issues, is visibly atrophying American power.
And for Britain, out of the EU and suffering the end of the Afghanistan mission by our greatest ally with little or no consultation, we have serious reflection to do. We don’t see it yet. But we are at risk of relegation to the second division of global powers. Maybe we don’t mind. But we should at least take the decision deliberatively.
There are, of course, many other important issues in geo-politics: Covid 19, Climate, the rise of China, poverty, disease and development. But sometimes an issue comes to mean something not only in its own right but as a metaphor, as a clue to the state of things and the state of peoples. If the West wants to shape the 21st Century, it will take commitment. Through thick and thin.
It will require parts of the Right in politics to understand that isolation in an interconnected world is self-defeating; and parts of the Left to accept that intervention can sometimes be necessary to uphold our values.
It requires us to learn lessons from those 20 years from 9/11, in a spirit of humility, and the respectful exchange of different points of view. It also requires a sense of rediscovery that we in the West represent values and interests worth being proud of and defending. And that commitment to those values and interests needs to define our politics – and not our politics define our commitment.
This is the large strategic question posed by these last days of chaos in Afghanistan. And on the answer will depend the world’s view of us and our view of ourselves.
This is an edited version of an article originally published on the Tony Blair Institute website.