Boris Johnson says all UK troops are ‘coming home’ from Afghanistan

Prime minister promises military withdrawal is ‘not the end’ of commitment to Afghan government

Adam Forrest
Thursday 08 July 2021 15:48
Johnson pays tribute to British armed forces who died in Afghanistan

Boris Johnson said all British troops would be “coming home” from Afghanistan, confirming the end of the UK’s official role in a two-decades long conflict.

Most of the 750 remaining British troops have already been pulled out, the prime minister confirmed, promising that the withdrawal would not be “the end of commitment” to the country.

“I hope no one will leap to the false conclusion that the withdrawal of our forces somehow means the end of Britain’s commitment to Afghanistan – we are not about to turn away,” Mr Johnson told parliament.

Mr Johnson pledged £100m in development assistance and £58m for the country’s security and defence forces this year, claiming it would help preserve the “gains” made over the past 20 years.

“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.”

It follows the announcement in April by US president Joe Biden that he was ending the American military presence in Afghanistan.

While the UK has said it respects the US decision, ministers and military commanders have made no secret of their disappointment.

There are fears the departure of foreign forces will leave the government of president Ashraf Ghani vulnerable in the face of a Taliban advance – rolling back the gains that have been made over the past two decades.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said gains such as the advances in the rights of women had not yet been “secured,” adding: “It’s hard to see a future without bloodier conflict and wider Taliban control.”

Ms Rayner challenged Mr Johnson to explain to British veterans how those advances would be protected and “their efforts will not be in vain”.

Mr Johnson said the UK would continue to exert “diplomatic and political” influence in Afghanistan. He also hinted at further military intervention in Afghanistan – should the Taliban allow terror groups to establish themselves in parts of the country.

Labour former minister Hilary Benn asked why the government is “so confident the Taliban will never again allow any part of Afghanistan ... to be used by terrorist forces” – including the so-called Islamic State – as a base to attack the UK and its allies.

Mr Johnson noted the Taliban has controlled a “very considerable part” of Afghanistan in recent years, adding: “It’s during that period we haven’t seen terrorist operations launched against the wider world.”

British troops leaving Helmand province in 2014

The prime minister said the UK was keeping our embassy in Kabul and will work with allies like Pakistan to try to bring about a lasting settlement with the Taliban.

“There must be negotiated settlement for Afghanistan. I think we have to be realistic about this – it will have to include the Taliban.”

The prime minister also rejected MPs call for inquiry in the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan and any lessons to be learned for future military interventions.

British forces were first deployed to Afghanistan in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks on the US and played a major role in combat operations until 2014. A total of 457 British soldiers were killed in the country.

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