Conservative MP predicts ‘major hit on West like 9/11’ after fall of Afghanistan to Taliban

Chair of defence select committee says country will again become ‘haven’ for terrorists

Adam Forrest
Monday 16 August 2021 15:24
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Tory MP predicts ‘major hit on West like 9-11’ after fall of Afghanistan to Taliban

A leading Conservative MP has predicted a “major” terrorist attack on the West following the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.

It comes as America’s top general told senators in Washington that the US could now face a rise in terrorist threats from a Taliban-run Afghanistan.

Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the defence select committee, said the UK and its allies would come to “regret” the consequences of pulling troops out of the country.

The influential MP claimed Afghanistan would become a “haven” for terrorists once again – warning that radical Islamist groups would be keen to demonstrate the futility of two decades of Western intervention.

“We’re not just gifting this country to the very adversary [there] when we entered Afghanistan to defeat in the first place, but we’re actually seeing terrorist organisations now regroup and return back to their havens,” Mr Ellwood told Sky News on Monday.

The MP added: “Really sadly, I predict another major hit on the West, the likes of 9/11. Because the terrorist groups will want to bookend our time in Afghanistan to show how futile the last two decades have been.”

The Taliban had harboured Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in the years before they carried out the 9/11 attacks. That sparked a US-led invasion that rapidly scattered al-Qaeda and drove the Taliban from power for two decades.

General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators on a briefing call that US officials are set to alter their earlier assessments about the pace of terrorist groups reconstituting in Afghanistan, a person familiar with the matter told the Associated Press.

John Bolton, former national security adviser to Donald Trump, also said the withdrawal of Western troops was a “big mistake” that increased the risk of future terrorist attacks.

“From the perspective of the US and its allies, this puts us back in the pre-September 11 2001 environment,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“It seems almost inevitable that when Taliban does take final control it will allow Isis, al Qaida and other terrorist groups we haven’t even heard of yet to again find sanctuary in Afghanistan.”

Mr Bolton added: “We run the further risk of those terrorist groups plotting attacks on the US and our partners, and it’s just intolerable that we’ve allowed this to happen.”

And Robert Hannigan, former director of UK intelligence agency GCHQ, said “groups that want to attack the United States or the West will feel emboldened by this”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “We’re now going to be working with, essentially, a hostile power and that will make knowing what’s going on there more difficult than ever.”

Mr Hannigan added: “I think generally across the world, groups that want to attack the United States or the west will feel emboldened by this.”

It comes as a fellow Conservative backbencher called for Boris Johnson to apologise to the families of people who died in Afghanistan.

John Baron criticised the government as British troops try to help remaining UK nationals and their local allies flee the country.

“On behalf of previous governments, the prime minister should apologise to the bereaved families of service personnel, and to those personnel who are still paying the price for this folly.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the aim of preventing Afghanistan from becoming a “terrorist state” was the right course of action, but was “setting the bar very, very low”.

Families of soldiers who died on previous tours of Afghanistan have criticised both the British and US governments’ handling of the withdrawal from the nation.

Graham Knight, father of 25-year-old RAF Sergeant Ben Knight who was killed when his Nimrod aircraft exploded in Afghanistan in 2006, said the British government should have moved more quickly in recent days.

Mr Knight said: “I think it was all started too late again. It [the evacuation] should have started about a week ago … I feel very sorry for them, they’re obviously fighting for their lives. Anybody who feels like that is in a desperate situation. It’s like Saigon all over again.”

Responding to calls for Mr Johnson to say sorry to those who served in Afghanistan or those who lost loved ones, a No 10 spokesman stopped short of an apology and said the PM recognised it would be an “extremely difficult time” for them.

Asked if Mr Johnson would apologise, his spokesman said: “Look, I fully understand that this must be an extremely difficult time for service personnel who served in Afghanistan and indeed the families of those who lost loved ones.”

“As the PM has said, the UK can be proud of what has been done in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. It is thanks to their sacrifices that we’ve seen now no al-Qaeda attacks against the west for a very long time, there are millions of girls and young women who have been educated in Afghanistan, and that cannot be taken away.”

Defence secretary Ben Wallace became overwhelmed with emotion over the crisis on Monday morning – admitting on LBC radio that “some people won’t get back” from Afghanistan as a desperate struggle to get UK nationals and local allies out of the country continues.

MPs will be called back from their summer break to parliament to discuss the worsening crisis and the government’s response for one day this Wednesday.

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