British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled out an inquiry into the United Kingdom’s involvement in Afghanistan, disappointing legislators who have called for one following the Taliban’s rapid seizure of power in the country.
Addressing Parliament on Wednesday, Johnson dismissed pleas from across the political spectrum for a public hearing into the part played by the UK in the years-long intervention in Afghanistan headed by the United States in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
He told legislators, recalled from their summer recess for an emergency debate on Afghanistan, that he believed “most of the key questions have already been extensively got in to”, adding an “extensive defence review” had been carried out after the “combat mission ended in 2014”.
Johnson’s remarks came after Tobias Ellwood, a member of Parliament from the prime minister’s governing Conservative Party, accused the UK and its allies of “ceding back” control of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
The armed group, which was deposed by coalition forces in 2001 after five years in power, seized Kabul on Sunday following a blistering nationwide offensive launched against the backdrop of a withdrawal of foreign troops as the US-led intervention is wound down.
The Taliban’s move on the capital came as Afghanistan’s Western-backed, democratically elected president, Ashraf Ghani, fled the country. Ghani is currently in the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf country has confirmed.
Ellwood said there were “so many lessons to be learned from what happened over the last 20 years” as he urged Johnson to initiate an “independent, formal inquiry into the conduct in Afghanistan”.
“The reputation of the West to support democracies across the world has suffered,” Ellwood added.
Given the tragedy that is now unfolding, following the reckless decision to pull out, I asked the PM, once again, for an independent inquiry so we can learn lessons.
Once again the answer was NO. pic.twitter.com/f5KZ1rAzIq
— Tobias Ellwood MP (@Tobias_Ellwood) August 18, 2021
‘Lessons to be learned’
Several other legislators also vented their anger and concerns about the unfolding situation in Afghanistan during Wednesday’s hours-long debate, including Johnson’s predecessor and fellow Conservative, Theresa May, and his political rivals Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn, the current and former leader of the main opposition Labour Party respectively.
Echoing Ellwood, Corbyn called for an inquiry into the UK’s role in Afghanistan, where the Taliban’s resurgence has fuelled concerns of a possible humanitarian crisis and a widespread erosion of freedoms, particularly among women.
“There are some serious historical lessons to be learned here about how we take major foreign policy decisions,” he said. “Now surely is the time for a sober reflection on the disaster that has happened in Afghanistan.”
Starmer and May, meanwhile, accused Johnson of having miscalculated the strength of the Taliban, with the former saying he had displayed “staggering complacency” over the armed group.
Defending his position, Johnson told Parliament his government had little choice but to follow the decision taken by US President Joe Biden, who has opted to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this month.
“The West could not continue this US-led mission, a mission conceived and executed in support of America, without American logistics, without US air power and without American might,” he said.
“I really think that it is an illusion to believe that there is appetite amongst any of our partners for a continued military presence … in Afghanistan,” he added.
But May said it was “incomprehensible and worrying that the UK was not able to bring together an alternative alliance of countries to continue to provide the support necessary to sustain a government in Afghanistan”.
“We boast about global Britain, but where is global Britain on the streets of Kabul?” she asked.
“Was our understanding of the Afghan government so weak? Was our knowledge of the position on the ground so inadequate? Or did we just feel that we have to follow the United States and hope that, on a wing and a prayer, it would be all right on the night.”