‘Where is Global Britain on streets of Kabul?’: Theresa May condemns UK failure to form alternative alliance after US withdrawal

‘I do find it incomprehensible and worrying that the United Kingdom was not able to bring together not a military solution but an alternative alliance’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 18 August 2021 18:19 BST
Theresa May blasts UK failure to form alliance after US withdrawal in Afghanistan

Theresa May has criticised the government’s “incomprehensible” failure to bring together an alternative alliance to prevent the collapse of the Afghanistan administration after the US withdrawal.

In scathing comments, Boris Johnson’s predecessor at No 10 said the events unfolding in the region had been a “major setback” for British foreign policy, adding: “We boast about Global Britain, but where is Global Britain on the streets of Kabul?”

“What does it say about NATO if we are entirely dependent on a unilateral decision taken by the United States?” she asked MPs on Wednesday.

“I do find it incomprehensible and worrying that the United Kingdom was not able to bring together not a military solution but an alternative alliance with countries to continue to provide the support necessary to sustain a government in Afghanistan.”

Citing previous remarks from the prime minister and US president Joe Biden on the possibility of the Taliban seizing power, Ms May told the Commons: “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 this, or did we just feel we had to follow the United States and hope that on a wing and a prayer it would be alright on the night?”

The former Conservative prime minister added: “The reality is that as long as this time limit was given and dates given for withdrawal, all the Taliban had to do was to ensure there were sufficient problems for the Afghan government not to be able to have full control of the country and then just sit and wait.”

“All of our military personnel, all who served in Afghanistan should hold their heads high and be proud of what they achieved in that country over 20 years, of the change of lives they brought to the people of Afghanistan and the safety they brought here to the UK.

“The politicians sent them there, the politicians decided to withdraw, the politicians must be responsible for the consequences.”

During her speech, Ms May also criticised the former US president Donald Trump for opting to “do a deal” in Doha, Qatar, with the Taliban, telling MPs: “”What President Biden has done is upheld a decision that was made by President Trump.

“It was a unilateral decision of president Trump to do a deal with the Taliban that has led to this withdrawal.

“What we’ve seen from the scenes in Afghanistan is that it hasn’t been alright on the night, so I say that there are many in Afghanistan who fear not just that their lives will be irrevocably changed for the worse, but who fear for their lives.”

In an emotional speech which drew rare applause from some MPs, the Conservative Tom Tugendhat - who served as an Army officer in Afghanistan and now chairs of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee - said the UK and its Western allies had received a “very harsh lesson”.

“This doesn’t need to be defeat but at the moment it damn well feels like it,” he said. “Like many veterans, this last week which been one which has seen me struggle through anger and grief and rage”.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith also criticised Mr Biden for blaming the collapse of Afghanistan on the army’s unwillingness to fight.

The MP said: “I do say to the American president … you have no right to use excuses and base them on people who have lost their lives, and done so bravely.”

Ex-foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt echoed his sentiments, telling MPs that president Biden said during a widely-criticised speech this week that his “only vital national interest in Afghanistan was to prevent a terrorist attack”.

“Even if that is the case, both he and President Trump should be deeply ashamed, and I say this with great sadness, because their actions have returned Afghanistan to the very government that harboured the 9/11 bombers,” Mr Hunt added.

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