LONDON: A former head of the UK armed forces has called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to outline the country’s strategy for Afghanistan as the war-torn nation slides into further conflict amid the Taliban’s advance.
Gen. Lord Richards, former chief of defense staff, said he is “fed up” with the government’s lack of planning for the next stage of supporting Afghanistan, where he served as the commander of coalition forces between 2006 and 2007. He lamented the West’s “defeat” in the country.
With Western forces lined up to be fully removed by Sept. 11, Richards warned of the potential creation of an “ungoverned space” that could be exploited by terror groups for the planning of atrocities such as the 9/11 attacks.
He told the BBC that he takes a “share of the blame” for the West’s calamitous performance in Afghanistan, but that while NATO military force — chiefly from the US and Britain — largely achieved what was expected, politicians had failed to give Afghanistan sufficient economic and political support following the 2001 removal of the Taliban from power.
“We have invested — as a country, as the West and the US particularly — 20 years of time and much money and many lives in Afghanistan,” said Richards.
“I’m getting a little bit fed up that I’ve not heard from our government — indeed from the prime minister — as to why we have reached this nadir. It’s really not good enough, and I would like to hear from the government — I think it’s a prime ministerial obligation now — as to why we’ve got into this position and what we are now going to do about it,” he added.
“It’s deflecting attention from our defeat. Added to what happened in Iraq, Libya, Syria, it’s a pretty sorry tale of Western failed geo-strategy over the last 20 years. And it’s time we had an explanation of why and what are we now going to do about it, to prevent it from happening in the way we all now fear might occur.”
The decorated former officer complained that following the invasion, the UN conducted a “light-touch” approach masterminded by envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, which meant the West failed to build on the military gains of 2001.
Richards said the short supply of economic support meant that the Taliban returned as a threat five years later.
“As all soldiers will tell you, we know we can’t win these things by military means alone. What we hoped we were doing was providing an opportunity for governments, the whole of the West, to act in the way they needed, not just militarily but politically and economically,” he added.
“That didn’t happen … At the very moment, in 2002 to 2005, when the West should have poured in assets — and I’m talking primarily non-military by the way — we didn’t do so. The Taliban sensed an opportunity, they came back.”
Richards warned that the Taliban’s capture of Kandahar — Afghanistan’s second city — is “inevitable” without a change in strategy, which would lead to the group sweeping across the south of the country.
“My biggest worry at the moment is, with the Western forces having pulled out with no adequate explanation of what is going to replace them, we are going to see a potential collapse in Afghan Armed Forces morale,” he said, adding that the resurgence of Taliban control would “almost certainly” facilitate the return of terror training camps.
“There will be ungoverned space … and in that ungoverned space terrorist acts may yet again be planned and executed,” warned Richards.
“I think we all forget too readily the scenes of 9/11, the Twin Towers and the attack in Washington. That is actually why we went into Afghanistan, and we’ve been spectacularly successful in achieving what we aimed to do,” he added.
“That is now being put at risk, along with all the wonderful gains in terms of education, health, and democracy, allowing people to hope for the future. All that is now, I’m afraid at great risk. We don’t have a substitute strategy and I want to hear what it should be.”