Nato's resolve 'found wanting' during Afghanistan withdrawal

UK's defence secretary says the alliance was not defeated militarily despite Taliban takeover

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Nato was not militarily defeated in Afghanistan but its “resolve was found wanting”, the UK’s defence secretary has said.

Ben Wallace also renewed his criticism of the February 2020 Doha Agreement that paved the way for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

Responding to questions from the British MPs following the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan in August, he said it “couldn’t have been more helpful to the regime in achieving its victory”.

Mr Wallace, who recently described the Doha deal as “rotten” despite giving it some initial support last year when it was announced, has previously claimed he tried to convinced “like-minded” allies to stay on in Afghanistan after the US’s planned withdrawal at the end of August.

“No, I don’t think we were defeated,” he said, referring to Nato.

“Our resolve was found wanting, I would say, rather than defeated,” he told the UK Parliament’s defence committee.

Under the 2020 deal that the US agreed to with the Taliban, Washington began reducing its troop numbers and released 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for a pledge from the hardline group that Al Qaeda would not find safe haven in Afghanistan.

“The US Doha deal and then Nato chose to draw down to leave. They could have said we're not doing a deal and we're staying there,” Mr Wallace said. The forces available to the alliance, he said, were overwhelming.

He was asked what the difference was in arguing Nato was not militarily defeated, when its Afghan partners were overrun by a militant group the alliance had fought for nearly two decades.

“I think the difference is Nato was there to enable a political resolution and political campaign. I think that is what failed.

“We were the enabler. The military were there to put in place the security environment in order to try and deliver that. When that is withdrawn, that's when you find out whether your political campaign has worked. And I think what we discovered is it didn't work. It was the western resolve and the western political narrative or political foundations they had laid [that] failed.”

But Mr Wallace insisted that the initial mission to Afghanistan in 2001 after 9/11 had been a success because of its counter-terrorism efforts.

“Al Qaeda did not mount successfully a terrorist attack on the United Kingdom or her allies from Afghanistan. For many soldiers that is very important.”

However, he conceded that “it is highly likely that we will see a return to Al Qaeda and an increasing threat coming from Afghanistan”.

As the Taliban continue their advance in the summer, Mr Wallace said in July the “game was up”.

“I took the view that the game was up and that we should start the process of significantly drawing down so we were not found to be caught out."

Updated: October 27, 2021, 3:26 AM