Not our decision: British Army chief on US-led Afghanistan withdrawal

Gen Nick Carter hopeful that Afghan armed forces hold firm against the Taliban

British soldiers walk with their gear after arriving in Kandahar on October 27, 2014, as British and US forces withdraw from the Camp Bastion-Leatherneck complex in Helmand province. British forces October 26 handed over formal control of their last base in Afghanistan to Afghan forces, ending combat operations in the country after 13 years which cost hundreds of lives. The Union Jack was lowered at Camp Bastion in the southern province of Helmand, while the Stars and Stripes came down at the adjacent Camp Leatherneck -- the last US Marine base in the country. AFP PHOTO/WAKIL KOHSAR (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP)

The UK disagreed with US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, according to the head of the British Armed Forces.

Gen Sir Nick Carter said on Friday the drawdown was not the announcement the UK had hoped for but it ultimately accepted the decision.

Mr Biden pledged to end America's "forever war" as he vowed to call back all US forces – about 2,500 troops – starting in May.

After the announcement, Britain said it would withdraw about 700 troops, while Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would pull about 7,000 military personnel from Afghanistan.

The drawdown will end on September 11, marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“It’s not a decision we hoped for but we obviously respect it,” said the general, who served as a commander in Afghanistan several times.

The announcement coincided with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin’s visit to London on Thursday.

Gen Carter said the withdrawal of troops was a change in strategic direction for the US.He said he did not share the concerns of those who predict a return to bloodshed as the Taliban moves to increase its foothold.

“I actually think the Taliban is not the organisation it once was – it’s an organisation that has evolved significantly in the last 20 years that we’ve been there and they recognise that they need some political legitimacy,” he said.

“I would not be surprised if a scenario that plays out is not quite as bad as some of the naysayers are predicting.”

Gen Carter said it was possible there could be a return to warlordism in Afghanistan after September.

“That is one of the scenarios that could play out but the Afghan armed forces are much better trained than one might imagine,” he said.

“They could easily hold this together and all of this could work out – we’ll just have to see. At the end of the day, the Afghan people are looking for stability and peace and that’s not lost on the Taliban.”

Some defence experts are doubtful, however, that the Afghan army will be able to defend itself without Nato support.

Robert Clark, who served in Afghanistan and is now a defence research fellow at the UK's Henry Jackson Society, predicted the central government in Kabul would be quickly overrun.

"There will be no battle – if the Taliban wish, they will almost certainly take key strategic provinces without much of a fight," he told The National.

Nick Reynolds, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said terrorist group Al Qaeda could again base itself in the country should the Taliban take control.

“The Taliban has always sheltered Al Qaeda, and their goal was to strike internationally. That is the risk to us.”

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