Sun set in Helmand

UK Military Chief: US Afghanistan Withdrawal 'Not Decision We Hoped For'

Sun set in Helmand

The head of Britain's Armed Forces has expressed disappointment at President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.

General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said it was "not a decision we hoped for", although said the UK respected the view taken by the new administration.

Mr Biden announced earlier this week that the remaining 2,500 US troops would leave by 11 September – the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the US – extending the 1 May deadline set by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

In a February 2020 agreement with the administration of then-president Donald Trump, the Taliban agreed to halt attacks and hold peace talks with the Afghan government, in exchange for a US commitment to a complete withdrawal by May 2021.

The deal included NATO forces deployed to the country.

NATO will begin removing military personnel from Afghanistan on 1 May, aiming to complete its withdrawal "within a few months".

The UK currently has about 750 personnel in Afghanistan, and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has confirmed the drawdown of British troops, saying the security of UK personnel still in the country "remains our priority".

Asked about the US announcement, Gen Carter told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is not a decision that we hoped for but we obviously respect it. It is clearly an acknowledgement of an evolving US strategic posture."

He said that he felt a "great deal of pride" at what the British Armed Forces had achieved during their time in the country.

"We went into Afghanistan back in 2001 to prevent international terrorism ever emerging from Afghanistan," he said.

"In the last 20 years there has been no international terrorist attack mounted from Afghanistan.

"I think that is a great tribute to our Armed Forces and, of course, to the armed forces of the NATO countries that have been committed to this."

President Joe Biden has decided to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021 (Picture: US Department of Defense)
President Joe Biden has decided to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021 (Picture: US Department of Defense).

While he acknowledged the final pullout of international forces after two decades could lead to a return of the warlords to the country, Gen Carter believes the situation may not be "quite as bad" as some were predicting.

He said Afghanistan had "evolved hugely" over the last two decades, while the Taliban – who had allowed al Qaida to launch the 9/11 attacks from their camps in the country – had also changed during that time.

"I actually think that the Taliban is not the organisation it once was. It is an organisation that has evolved in the 20 years that we have been there and I think they recognise that they need some political legitimacy," Gen Carter said.

"I would not be surprised if a scenario plays out that actually sees it not being quite as bad as perhaps some of the naysayers at the moment are predicting.

"The Afghan armed forces are indeed much better trained than one might imagine. I think they could easily hold together and all of this could work out. We will just have to see," he added.

"At the end of the day, the Afghan people are looking for stability, they are looking for peace, and that is not lost on the Taliban."

Cover image: US Marine Corps.