British and NATO forces will not return to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, the United Kingdom’s defence secretary said, after the group took control of Kabul following a blistering nationwide offensive.
Ben Wallace told Sky News on Monday that it was “not on the cards that we’re going to go back” as reports of bloodshed in the Afghan capital fuelled concerns of a looming humanitarian crisis.
“I acknowledge that the Taliban are in control of the country,” Wallace said.
The group’s rapid takeover was a “failure of the international community”, Wallace later told the BBC, describing the 20-year-long intervention led by the United States as a job only half-done.
“All of us know that Afghanistan is not finished. It’s an unfinished problem for the world and the world needs to help it,” he said.
Wallace pointed to the Taliban’s removal from power after the September 11, 2001, attacks and the death of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden as evidence that “half the mission … was entirely successful”, but warned of an impending threat to global security as the group resurged.
He has previously accused former US President Donald Trump of having brokered a “rotten deal” with the Taliban that allowed their return against the backdrop of a hasty withdrawal of foreign forces.
“I’m afraid when you deal with a country like Afghanistan, that is 1,000 years of history effectively and civil war, you manage its problems and you might have to manage it for 100 years,” Wallace said.
“It’s not something that you just rock in, rock out and expect something to be fixed.”
As chaos gripped Kabul airport, Wallace said the military side of the airport was secure and that the UK was doing everything it could to evacuate British citizens and Afghans with links to the UK, having relocated its embassy to the airport from the capital.
Five people were reported killed at the airport on Monday, witnesses told Reuters, as hundreds of people tried to flee Afghanistan by entering planes without tickets.
In extraordinary scenes, some Afghans were even seen clinging onto the exterior of planes in desperate attempts to leave.
“Our target is … about 1,200 to 1,500 exit a day in the capacity of our aeroplanes, and we’ll keep that flow,” Wallace said.
The UK last month withdrew most of its 750 soldiers remaining in Afghanistan as part of the US-led pullback of foreign forces, but last week announced that 600 soldiers would return to help with repatriation efforts.
Wallace said 370 embassy staff and British citizens were flown out on Saturday and Sunday, with 782 Afghans scheduled to leave in the next 24 to 36 hours.
Parliament has been recalled on Wednesday to discuss the situation, including asylum and support for Afghan nationals who have fled the country.
Asked how he would feel if he saw the Taliban flag flying over the former British embassy building in Kabul, Wallace said: “It’s not the embassy any more, we have left that location … so it’s now just a building.”
But he admitted that “symbolically, it’s not what any of us wanted”.
Wallace also said it was not yet the right time to decide on whether to recognise the Taliban as the Afghan government.
“I think there is a lot of more to come before those decisions are made,” he said. “The proof of the pudding will be, obviously, in their actions rather than their rhetoric.”