Former head of the armed forces says UK 'let down' Afghan contractors

Former head of the armed forces General Sir Nick Carter says the UK has ‘let down’ Afghan contractors and warns the country could become a base for terrorist groups like al Qaeda

  • Ex-chief of the defence staff said Afghan contractors regret working with UK
  • Sir Nick Carter warned Afghanistan could end up as a base for terrorist groups
  • He called last year’s chaotic evacuation from Kabul ‘a failure of political will’

The former head of the British armed forces said ‘a failure of political will’ led to the Taliban recapturing Afghanistan and the subsequent rushed evacuation.

General Sir Nick Carter was chief of the defence staff at the time Kabul fell within weeks last year.

He said the UK let down Afghan contractors ‘who trusted us’, and that many of them have said they wished they never worked with our government. 

He also warned the international community that the country could become a pariah state and potentially host terrorist groups like al-Qaeda if the Taliban are not engaged with.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme a year on from the chaotic scenes which saw UK soldiers take part in a mass airlift from Kabul, Sir Nick said: ‘What has materialised in Afghanistan was not the outcome that we spent 20 years fighting for.’

Former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, the head of the British armed forces at the time Kabul fell to the Taliban, has described ‘a failure of political will’ as part of a ‘wider malaise’ which lead to the evacuation

The British armed forces worked with the U.S. military to evacuate eligible civilians and their families out of Afghanistan in August 2021

The Taliban were able to recapture the entire country in a matter of weeks, taking advantage of a vacuum left by departing U.S. and NATO forces

He said Afghan contractors can’t be blamed for regretting working with the UK government due to the dangers they now face in Afghanistan.

Sir Nick said: ‘These are people who trusted us. They wanted to work with us to help rebuild their country and it appears that we have let them down. And that is a really, really bad place to be.

‘You know we raised a lot of expectations through our presence in Afghanistan, and many of those expectations have been horribly shattered by what has now happened.’ 

The former chief of the defence staff believes that the international community could have done more prior to evacuating Afghanistan and that people did not plan enough for what might happen.

Sir Nick told the programme: ‘What materialised a year ago in Afghanistan was a symptom of a much wider malaise.’

He added: ‘Ultimately I think it was a series of failures. It was a failure of politics. It was a failure to understand the local political circumstances over a period of 20 years.

‘It was a failure to understand that the government that we constructed wasn’t sustainable. It was a failure to understand of course that from that the Afghan security forces weren’t sustainable.

‘And I think above all it was a failure of political will.’

Armed Forces personnel managed to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan

Sir Nick said there is a risk Afghanistan could again become a base for dangerous groups such as al-Qaeda

Addressing the failure of political will, Sir Nick said that he believed the deal to leave Afghanistan had more of an emphasis on exiting the country rather than delivering a plan that would ensure things were properly monitored and controlled afterwards.

On the need to engage with the Taliban, he said: ‘I think that collectively as an international community with the regional neighbours playing in this, we have to engage because we have to recognise the humanitarian crisis that is under way there.’

Asked if there is a risk that Afghanistan could again become a base for dangerous groups such as al-Qaeda, Sir Nick said: ‘Yes, I do think that.

‘I think if it becomes a pariah state then it’s far more likely they will end up harbouring terrorists and the sort of people who will do the sorts of things that we saw in 9/11 20 years ago.’

He added: ‘I think that one has to try and encourage this (Afghan) government and those who are prepared to listen and those who perhaps have a more modernist view on life that actually there is merit in having a relationship with the international community.

‘Because if we don’t engage them we will end up shutting them off as a pariah state in the way that they were before 2001 and that’s not a good place to be. But we have to be clear-eyed. These are people who were our absolute enemies over a period of 20 years.’

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