Boris Johnson has said the UK can be proud of the legacy British troops left behind in Afghanistan and proclaiming he will judge the Taliban’s rule of the nation “by their actions, not their words”.
He told them: “We will judge the Taliban by their actions not their words, and use every economic, political and diplomatic lever to protect our own countries from harm and to help the Afghan people.”
Ahead of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday, Mr Johnson pinpointed the terror attacks as the reason “we went into Afghanistan in the first place”.
The Prime Minister told MPs: “On Saturday, we shall mark the 20th anniversary of the reason why we went into Afghanistan in the first place: the terrorist attacks on the United States which claimed 2,977 lives including those of 67 Britons.
“If anyone is tempted to say that we have achieved nothing in that country – or still tempted to say that we have achieved nothing in that country in 20 years – tell them that our armed forces and those of our allies enabled 3.6 million girls to go to school, tell them that this country and the western world were protected from al Qaida in Afghanistan throughout that period and tell them that we have just mounted the biggest humanitarian airlift in recent history.
“Each time the RAF rescued more than 400 people on a single plane.”
He added: “There are very few countries which have the military capability to do what we have just done, and fewer still that would have felt the moral imperative to act in the same way. We can be proud of our armed forces and everything that they have achieved and for the legacy they leave behind, and what they did was in the best traditions of this country.”
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said British troops were “let down” by Boris Johnson and the government calling any UK nationals and Afghans eligible for the evacuation scheme left behind a “national disgrace”.
He said: “They were let down on strategy. The Prime Minister underestimated the strength of the Taliban, despite intelligence warnings that rapid Taliban advances could lead to the collapse of the Afghan security forces, a return to power of the Taliban and our embassy shutting down amid reduced security – the Government continued to act on the assumption that there was no path to military victory for the Taliban.
“Complacent and wrong.”
Sir Keir said troops were also “let down by a lack of planning” by the government.
He said he heard of Afghans who had applied for the Arap scheme months ago but because of poor handling of their paperwork didn’t make it onto a plane at Kabul airport.
He added: “The Prime Minister doesn’t even know how many UK nationals and how many Afghans eligible for the Arap scheme have been left behind to the cruelty of the Taliban - a national disgrace.”
“We have a Prime Minister incapable of international leadership just when we needed it most.”
He concluded with further praise for troops, adding: “We are proud of all those who contributed. Their story made even more remarkable by the fact that whilst they were saving lives, our political leadership was missing in action.”
Boris Johnson later said 311 people eligible to come to the UK from Afghanistan through a special resettlement scheme are still in the Central Asian country. He added that the Government has doubled the UK’s humanitarian and development assistance to £286 million this year.
Boris Johnson also suggested sanctions could be imposed on Taliban-controlled Afghanistan if they fail to live up to their commitments on evacuations.
He told MPs: “We are going to do everything we can to help those who wish to have safe passage out of Afghanistan and that is why we’ll continue – with our international friends and partners – to apply whatever pressure we can, economic, diplomatic, on the Taliban to ensure that they comply with that – as they have said that they will.”
Theresa May’s intervention in the emergency Afghanistan debate two weeks ago made clear she believed NATO forces should have attempted to retain a presence in the country even as the United States withdrew.
On Monday, the Conservative former Prime Minister Theresa May asked Mr Johnson: “Does (he) agree that as a result of Nato forces withdrawing from Afghanistan the terrorist threat has increased, and will he confirm that all those involved in counter-terrorism work here in the UK will be given the necessary support to ensure they can keep us safe?”
Mr Johnson replied: “We have no direct information as yet of any increase to the threat but I can assure her and the House that every effort will be made to make sure that our counter-terrorist agents have the resources they need to keep us safe.”
In emotional scenes, Labour’s Imran Hussain claimed families from his Bradford East constituency had been “forcibly removed from flights and thrown out of Kabul airport onto the streets”.
He said: “The Government leaving vulnerable Afghans and British nationals behind is unforgiveable, but what is completely and utterly reprehensible is that the families of two of my constituents, including a seven-month-old child, were forcibly removed from flights and thrown out of Kabul airport onto the streets where the scene of the horrific suicide bombing (happened) hours before.
“I am absolutely furious and I want to ask the Prime Minister how on earth was this potentially fatal decision allowed to happen even after I raised these matters with ministers sat to his left and his right, and how many others were ejected from the airport into harm’s way and just what does he have to say to the families that the Government has now put in grave danger?”
Mr Johnson replied: “I have to tell him that I’m told we have no evidence of anybody being pulled off flights, but obviously I would ask him to raise the particular cases directly with (ministers).”
Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda, said that he given the names of 143 Afghans connected to his constituency who were stuck in Afghanistan to the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. Since then he knew of “one who had been shot, one has been raped and one has been tortured”.
He urged the Government to have one point of contact or triage point to get help to in danger Afghans
Boris Johnson replied saying the whole house sympathises with those individuals and “we are doing the level best to help people as fast as we can”.