Afghanistan withdrawal was 'strategically very stupid', John Major says

Former British PM attacks 'shameful' failure to evacuate all Afghans who worked alongside British forces

British armed forces members land in England during the operation to remove UK nationals and eligible personnel from Afghanistan. AFP/pool
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The withdrawal from Afghanistan was “strategically very stupid” and will have echoes around the world, former British prime minister John Major has warned.

Sir John launched a withering attack on the policy, including the “shameful” failure to help all Afghans, who had worked alongside British forces and diplomats, to leave the country.

He blasted British and American policy over the pullback, which he said was a “stain on the reputation of the West that will last a very long time”.

He is the second former prime minister, after Tony Blair, to publicly attack the policy that has left Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban.

“I think we were wrong to leave Afghanistan. I think we were wrong morally, but we were also wrong practically,” Sir John said at the FT Weekend Festival in London.

“I think it was shameful that we weren’t able to take out those who had worked for us in one capacity or another, or who had worked carrying out the changes to Afghanistan that the Taliban won’t approve of.

“It’s also I think strategically very stupid.”

Sir John Major (left) at the FTWeekend festival. Getty Images for FTWeekend Festival

Sir John extended his criticism to US President Joe Biden, who had insisted American troops leave the country by the August 31 deadline.

“The fact that it was left in that fashion will leave a stain on the reputation of the West that will last for a very long time and certainly through the whole of the lifetime of those people in Afghanistan whom we have returned to Taliban rule,” Sir John said.

“Does Hong Kong feel safer from China? Or does Taiwan or Japan? The answer to that question is no. The prestige of the West and its ability to spread democracy has taken a step back, remarkably.”

An estimated 1,100 Afghans who helped British efforts, their relatives and other vulnerable civilians, are feared to have been left behind.

More than 8,000 former Afghan staff and their family members were among the 15,000-plus people evacuated by the UK since August 13.

A UK Border Force staff member helps an Afghan refugee arriving at Heathrow Airport. AFP

Sir John was the predecessor to Mr Blair, who was in power between 1997 and 2007 and took Britain into the war in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks.

Mr Blair has accused western nations of abandoning Afghanistan and described the withdrawal from the country as “unnecessary” and “dangerous".

“The abandonment of Afghanistan and its people is tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, not in their interests and not in ours,” he said.

“Russia, China and Iran will see and take advantage. Anyone given commitments by western leaders will understandably regard them as unstable currency."


Updated: September 05, 2021, 11:55 AM
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