Britain should lobby the US to keep troops in Afghanistan, a Lords’ committee says, warning threats still remain from terrorism, drugs and regional instability.
A new report from the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee says Britain must make clear to the US the crucial role it plays in maintaining the Afghan government’s leverage in ongoing peace talks with the Taliban.
The ongoing presence of US and Nato troops in Afghanistan is essential to the Afghan government’s military strength and negotiating position at the peace talks in Doha, the report says.
An agreement last year between the US and the Taliban committed to the withdrawal of all foreign troops by May 2021 and a reduction of 2,500 US personnel in the country by Jan 15.
That situation is now uncertain as a result of the passage by Congress of the National Defence Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 2021, which may reverse the earlier decisions.
Committee Chair Baroness Anelay of St Johns said British diplomats have been engaging with the incoming US administration over any proposed troop withdrawal.
“Dame Karen Pierce, our ambassador in Washington, has been having talks with the Biden administration but we don’t know the details.
“We don’t want to see anything whereby the negotiating position of the Afghan government is completely undermined [by] a hiatus in the security situation caused by us,” she told the Telegraph.
“The government needs to get in early with the Americans, I hope now, but certainly post Biden taking over, to ensure there isn’t this break in the security support to the Afghan government.
“The important thing now is to hold our nerve because the peace talks can take months.”
MoD figures put the cost of Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014 as £21.3 billion.
Terrorist groups including al-Qaeda and Islamic State Khorasan Province still operate in Afghanistan and the country is the source of 95 per cent of the heroin in the UK. The Afghan state remains very fragile, with limited control of territory, and the Taliban’s insurgency continues.
Although the Taliban has demonstrated a degree of flexibility to local needs and demands in the areas it controls, the report says it remains “highly authoritarian and parasitic”.
Peers are critical that Britain’s presence in and funding for Afghanistan “appears to contribute little to the UK’s identified national security interest of countering the narcotics trade” adding the problem is “seemingly intractable”.
There were “few traces of a coherent UK policy approach to Afghanistan” the report said.
The report also criticised the UK’s inability to drive international policy in Afghanistan, despite the financial and military commitment. The UK could “nudge but not budge” major decisions taken in Washington.
Giving evidence to the Lords’ committee Kate Clark, Co-Director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a non-profit research organisation, said Britain had sought to negotiate with the Taliban in the early 2000s, but this had been “blocked by Washington”.
“If we had managed to push that through at that time, Afghanistan would be a different place now; the Taliban would certainly be a different organisation and we probably would not have had this war,” she said.
There were 456 British troops killed during the campaign in Afghanistan (2001–14) and over 600 personnel sustained life-changing injuries. Violence continues in the country, despite the ongoing peace talks. Most of the victims are civilians.
Britain should lobby US to keep troops in Afghanistan, Lords’ say The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ The Telegraph.