President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan "is disastrous" and could be "fatal" for the country's government, a former British Cabinet minister has said.
Concerns are growing in the international community that once the 10,000 American and other Nato troops depart this summer, Afghanistan will be overrun by the Taliban.
Rory Stewart, the former international development secretary who is now teaching at the Jackson Institute, Yale, added to the chorus of those calling for the foreign troops to stay to prevent Afghanistan becoming a terrorist haven.
He called Mr Biden's decision "disastrous" and said that the contingent of troops "kept some degree of stability and stopped the Taliban from taking too many towns and districts".
In particular US combat aircraft played a significant role in holding back the Taliban. “The key is air support,” Mr Stewart told the BBC. “By providing planes the Americans have been able to stop the Taliban posing a conventional threat, which has protected cities and towns but Biden's announcement of withdrawal of US planes is probably the most fatal thing.
“I think the very sad thing here is that this is unnecessary, President Biden could have kept to a light, long-term footprint.”
He said hope remained that the dire warnings of a Taliban takeover might persuade the president to change his mind at the last minute.
The drawdown is expected to diminished any incentive for the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government and Western powers on the grounds the terrorist group will believe they have the strength to take control.
He said the West’s credibility was in jeopardy after investing trillions of dollars and thousands of lives trying to stabilise Afghanistan over the past 20 years.
“The Taliban taking control of a country like Afghanistan is very, very worrying for America’s reputation and very worrying for the stability of the region," he said.
"It's something in which Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia, Russia and potentially even China will get involved. So, we need to think about the stability of the world and this is a very foolish short-term decision.”
The former British Army officer said the UK and France had neither the military capability nor the appetite to fight in Afghanistan without US assistance.