Ex-UK army chief urges more aid to Afghanistan a year after Taliban victory

Concern over Afghans in limbo and those still living in hotels after evacuation to Britain

Some Afghans have yet to find a permanent home a year after the evacuation of Kabul. Photo: US Marine Corps
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Britain was urged by a former army chief on Monday to increase aid to Afghanistan to rescue people “starving up and down the country” a year on from the Taliban's capture of Kabul.

Gen Lord Richard Dannatt's comments came with some Afghans still in limbo in the country as they seek evacuation to Britain, while others airlifted to the UK a year ago are still living in hotels.

He told Sky News that Afghanistan was “in a terrible condition” following a year of Taliban rule, as the militants have barred Afghan girls from schools and overseen dire humanitarian conditions.

“We went there to help the Afghan people, and now we're actually just watching them suffer,” he said.

“We spent 20 years building up Afghanistan, Afghan society, we spent 20 years helping the people — why should we suddenly stop helping the people now because we don’t like the Taliban?”

Britain has announced multiple batches of aid for Afghanistan in the past year, routing it through the UN and humanitarian agencies to avoid paying the Taliban directly, but it has been criticised for cutting its overall development budget to save money after the coronavirus pandemic.

A British watchdog recently estimated that more than 90 per cent of people in Afghanistan were living in extreme poverty, with 24.4 million in need of humanitarian support.

About 15,000 people were airlifted to the UK in the chaotic aftermath of the fall of Kabul, but two parallel schemes set up for Afghan refugees to settle in Britain have not satisfied campaigners.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said it was unacceptable that many families were still living in unsuitable hotel accommodation, even as a handful were offered permanent homes.

“It’s nobody’s wish or intention that people who’ve come to the UK under very difficult circumstances should still be living in hotels. They need to rebuild their lives,” Laurie Bristow, the ambassador to Afghanistan at the time of the evacuation, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But he said there was pressure on housing from the Ukraine refugee crisis and high domestic demand, adding: “We got 15,000 people out whose lives would have been at mortal risk.”

Back in Afghanistan, some of those who worked as translators for the British army are still fighting legal battles to be given sanctuary in the UK.

Ambassador Laurie Bristow, second right, was at the centre of Britain's evacuation efforts in Kabul. Reuters

Mr Bristow paid tribute to British troops and civilian staff who organised the evacuation under difficult circumstances and “dealt, with enormous humanity, enormous compassion, with people who were fleeing for their lives”.

He echoed Lord Dannatt's call for aid by saying that poverty and resentment in Afghanistan were a national security issue as well as a humanitarian one because of the danger that extremists would exploit them.

The fear that Afghanistan will once again become a haven for terrorists came sharply into focus when the US announced that the head of Al Qaeda, Ayman Al Zawahiri, had been located and killed in Kabul.

About 150,000 British troops served — 457 of whom died — during the 20-year intervention in Afghanistan.

The American-led coalition went into Afghanistan in 2001 to dismantle Al Qaeda's operations after the 9/11 attacks, but the two-decade campaign ultimately failed to suppress the Taliban insurgency.

However, Mr Bristow struck a more optimistic note, saying there was now a “whole generation of young Afghan women and men who have been educated who have tasted what it’s like to live in a more or less free society.”

“Those people are who they are, they will not change,” he said.

Updated: August 15, 2022, 9:49 AM