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Let’s hope that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was trying to manage expectations when he gave a pessimistic assessment of the chances that US forces may hold Kabul airport beyond the deadline of August 31, in order to enable more people to leave the country. He observed: “The two people with the biggest vote in the room are the US... the international community, and the Taliban.”
That humiliating assessment leaves little scope for Britain to play any meaningful role. Today the G7 leading industrial nations — which Britain now chairs — meets for an online conference, and the Prime Minister will again be pressing President Joe Biden to be more flexible in respect of his self-imposed deadline.
If he, and other leaders, fail to persuade him to do so, there is no option but to work to extract as many people as possible from Afghanistan while we still can. It is the least we can do to respect our moral obligations towards Afghans who worked with British forces and NGOs and whose lives are now at risk as a result. Germany is seeking to ensure that even after US troops withdraw, civilian flights will continue, and with them the possibility of escape for more refugees, but this is by no means certain.
It is difficult for any online meeting really to allow for proper personal engagement and the G7 conference is no exception. But this meeting, at this time, is a salutary opportunity for the most powerful countries in the world, barring Russia and China, to consider the extent of their reliance on the US.
The G7 is not a military alliance like Nato but the question is what global role its members can now play after the Afghan debacle. This meeting is nothing less than an opportunity to assess whether the G7 has any meaningful future as a diplomatic entity.
In military terms, Britain and other Nato members must consider what follows from the Afghan withdrawal, which will have an effect on French forces combating Islamist extremists in Africa.
Asked whether Britain’s military relationship with the US would change, Wallace told the BBC: “They are the biggest military force in the West and share our values. It is in our interest for Europe and the Atlantic to have a strong link. But we must have a force which is interoperable as opposed to dependent.”
That is true, but what is evident is that the current US administration is less entranced by the value of a collaborative alliance.
Britain, which entered Afghanistan in support of the US, is struggling to persuade the US President to extend a deadline for withdrawing its forces for a matter of days or possibly weeks. It’s humiliating. Like other members of the G7, we must take stock of the new reality.
Going for gold
Today the Paralympic Games begin, and there can be no better way to raise our spirits than this competition between sportspeople who surmounted endless obstacles to take part in these Games. They are testament to the strength of the human spirit.
The Paralympics originated in the Stoke Mandeville Games organised for disabled veterans of the Second World War by the remarkable German-British neurologist Dr Ludwig Guttmann, a Jewish refugee. That bold and imaginative initiative has benefited generations of athletes. We are proud of the British team and we shall be willing them on — at a distance — to victory.