Afghanistan

Peers Call For International Forces To Remain In Afghanistan

The UK ended combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014 but still has 850 troops with a NATO military training mission in the country.

International troops should remain in Afghanistan until a peace deal with the Taliban is secured, a committee of peers has said.

The Lords International Relations and Defence Committee is urging the Government to press the incoming US administration of President-elect Joe Biden to maintain an international military presence in the country until an agreement is reached.

The appeal comes as peace talks have resumed in Qatar between the Afghan government and the Taliban amid continuing violence by both the Taliban and the local affiliate of so-called Islamic State (IS).

It follows an agreement between the US administration of Donald Trump and the Taliban which committed to the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country by May 2021.

Committee member Lord Hannay said: "I just do hope that we will reach common ground along with our other European allies in NATO and the US on making the Afghan peace process of Doha conditions-related.

"At the moment, that's not happening. The Taliban has, despite major releases of prisoners, continued to assail the Afghan government's forces wherever they can," he added.

The committee expressed "regret" that the agreement was not conditional upon the outcome of the talks in Qatar.

It said the Afghan government's position had been further weakened by Mr Trump's plans for 2,500 US troops to pull out this week – although that has been called into doubt by legislation passed by Congress.

The UK ended combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014 but still has 850 troops deployed on a NATO military training mission in the country.

US President Elect Joe Biden speaks about US national security agencies 281220 CREDIT POOL FOOTAGE no credit required.jpg
The committee is calling on the Government to press the incoming US administration of President-elect Joe Biden over the withdrawal.

"We urge the UK to emphasise to the US and to NATO allies the importance of their ongoing presence in Afghanistan until a peace deal is reached," the committee said.

"The Government must engage with the incoming Biden administration on Afghanistan as a matter of urgency."

Despite the UK's heavy engagement in the country since the 9/11 attacks of 2001, the committee said that in recent years there had been "few traces of a coherent overall policy approach".

It expressed concern that the Government's decision to suspend its commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on international aid would have a "disproportionately negative impact" on Afghanistan.

"The UK has had limited opportunities, and shown little inclination, to exert an independent voice on policy on Afghanistan," it said.

"Instead, the UK has followed the lead of the US, and has been too reticent in raising its distinctive voice."

Some believe this is not surprising.

Professor Michael Clarke, Distinguished Fellow at RUSI, said: "The United Kingdom has always been the second-biggest contributor to the US in Afghanistan and the UK played a very important role in 2005-2006 in articulating the current strategy."

However, Prof Clarke added: "Once it was operating with the United States, in a sense, it had very little strategic pull.

"Britain was never in a position where it was at the centre of events, because you've got to be at the centre of things in order to have a strategic effect."

Cover image: US service personnel in Afghanistan in 2018.