The fall of Kabul to the Taliban should spark a more honest debate about the UK’s unconditional support for US plans
The UK’s latest Afghan war, the fourth since 1839, has ended in failure. There is no consolation in claiming that this shameful retreat was down to a bungled withdrawal of US forces by Joe Biden. Britain scuttled out at the same time, the prime minister telling MPs on the day of Mr Biden’s announcement that “there is no military path to victory for the Taliban”. As events subsequently proved, Boris Johnson’s assessment of the situation was badly wrong. The extent of the military and political catastrophe for the UK that the blitzkrieg Taliban takeover represents is hard to overstate.
The UK is currently driven by a desire to stay close to the US. But America is a superpower, able to shrug off defeats and move on. The blow of losing Kabul is felt more deeply in a Britain shorn of substantial global influence. This has led the UK to take Washington’s lead in military affairs. In Afghanistan, the US judgment that a combination of special forces, local proxies and air power would wipe out domestic resistance to a military occupation was flawed. The Afghan security forces that Nato trained were exposed as a shell. In 20 years, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project, more than 170,000 Afghans have lost their lives. The death toll was rising. In June almost 1,000 Afghans were killed in the simmering civil war. A few weeks later half the country was under Taliban control.