Tony Blair says 'boots on the ground' needed to defeat radical Islam

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Watch: ‘Radical Islam’ still a first-order security threat, says Tony Blair

Tony Blair has said that "boots on the ground" is needed to defeat "radical Islam".

In a speech to the Royal United Services Institute military think-tank on Monday, the former prime minister urged world leaders to come together to develop a common strategy to counter the threat to their societies. 

He said a strategy based on responding to direct terrorist attacks through drone strikes and special forces had "limitations".

Citing the Sahel region in Africa, Blair argued that countries could assist with "security" but support governments in their own attempts to develop their nations since poverty and underdevelopment "undoubtedly facilitate the extremists". 

Read: Haibatullah Akhundzada: Who is the hardline leader of the Taliban?

"This will encompass more than conventional counter-terrorism. We need some 'boots on the ground'," he said.  

"Naturally our preference is for the boots to be local. But that will not always be possible," he added. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 06: Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a defence think tank, on September 6, 2021 in London, England. Mr Blair, who served as prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007, reflected on the roots of Islamist extremism and the consequences of the Afghanistan withdrawal. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Tony Blair speaks at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). (Getty)

It comes after Nato forces, including UK troops, pulled out of Afghanistan, ending the 20-year military engagement in the country. 

The swift withdrawal and the Taliban's sweep to power has left the country has lead to a humanitarian crisis while MPs have grilled Boris Johnson over the hundreds of Afghans who are at risk of Taliban reprisals as well as British nationals left behind. 

Blair, who first committed British troops to Afghanistan in 2001, said that it was clear "radical Islam" had not declined as a force in that time.

Watch: PM faces a grilling in House of Commons over Afghanistan crisis

He said its ideology, turning religion into political doctrine backed if necessary by armed struggle, inevitably brought it into conflict with open, modern culturally tolerant societies.

Likening it to revolutionary communism in the 20th century, he said that it remained the principal cause of destabilisation across the Middle East and Africa.

"In my view, Islamism, both the ideology and the violence, is a first order security threat; and, unchecked, it will come to us, even if centred far from us, as 9/11 demonstrated," he said.

"Like revolutionary communism, it operates in many different arenas and dimensions; and like it, its defeat will come ultimately through confronting both the violence and the ideology, by a combination of hard and soft power."

He said while initial efforts to counter the threat would inevitably centre on Western nations, it was important to bring in Russia and China as well Muslim countries which opposed the extremists.

Blair said it represented a particular challenge to European nations given that it was now clear following the withdrawal from Afghanistan that the US had "a very limited appetite for military engagement".

A US soldier shoots in the air with his pistol whiel standing guard behind barbed wire as Afghans sit on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP) (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Tony Blair said that US had 'a very limited appetite for military engagement' after its withdrawal from Afghanistan. (AFP via Getty Images)

He added that Western nations had become "deeply adverse" to casualties among their own armed forces.

"This is not a problem of the armed forces themselves, who are brave and extraordinary people," he said.

"But it is now an overwhelming political constraint to any commitment to Western boots on the ground, except for special forces," he said.

"Yet the problem this gives rise to, is obvious: if the enemy we're fighting knows that the more casualties they inflict, the more our political will erodes, then the incentive structure is plain."

He finished by questioning whether his generation of leaders "were" naïve in thinking countries could be "remade"or whether this "remaking" needed to last longer. 

"But we should never forget, as we see the women of Afghanistan in the media, culture and civic society now flee in fear of their lives, that our values are still those that free people choose," he said. 

Watch: Taliban breaks up women's rights protests in Kabul by 'firing bullets and tear gas'

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