Afghanistan: West's 'catastrophic' withdrawal leaves a sour taste as Taliban take control – Scotsman comment

After Taliban fighters took Afghanistan’s second and third-largest cities, Herat and Kandahar, the full implications of the decision to withdraw western forces after two decades are becoming clear.

Internally displaced Afghan families, who fled fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces, sit in tents in the courtyard of the Wazir Akbar Khan mosque in Kabul yesterday (Picture: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)

The capital Kabul may come under attack within 30 days and the Taliban could potentially be in control of the whole country within a few months, according to an assessment by the US military.

While the US has warned that its forces will respond if they are attacked before they withdraw fully, the Taliban currently appears content to usher them out, keeping just close enough on their heels to make it feel like defeat for the West as much as the Afghan government.

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The UK had little choice but to follow their coalition partner’s lead, but this was not the way British ministers, who failed in an attempt to set up a new force with France and Germany, wanted to leave.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said it was “not the right time or decision to make”, warning of the threat to global security posed by failed states and that al-Qaida would “probably” come back.

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While Donald Trump announced the withdrawal plan in February 2020 – which Wallace said had been a “mistake” – his successor in the White House, Joe Biden, could have done things differently if he wanted.

Former UK International Development Secretary Rory Stewart was much more forthright than Wallace, calling the withdrawal a “betrayal” and a “catastrophic failure” by the US, UK and Nato. “This is totally heart-breaking and totally unnecessary. There was no reason for us to do this, and by doing this we've broken Afghanistan in a matter of weeks,” he said.

The consequences can already be seen in the numbers of refugees camping in tents in Kabul or fleeing to neighbouring countries. And they have good reasons to be afraid.

The Taliban may be attempting to present their softer side to the world’s media, but they are infamously brutal with women in particular at risk of summary execution for supposedly dressing immodestly and other non-crimes.

In July, Boris Johnson told the Commons wearily that “there is never going to be a right time to leave Afghanistan” and that is probably true. But, surely, there could have been a better way.

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