Boris Johnson: Britain has to work with Taliban to tackle 'grim' Afghan crisis

UK Prime Minister also warns Russia it would be a 'tragic mistake' to invade Ukraine

A Ukrainian tank during a military exercise near Russian-annexed Crimea, as Moscow assembles troops on the Ukraine border. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned Russia it would be a 'tragic mistake' to invade. Reuters
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has admitted that the “grim” situation in Afghanistan has given the British government no option but to work with the Taliban.

Under questioning from Members of Parliament he also warned the Russia that it would be a “tragic, tragic mistake” if it attempted to invade Ukraine.

He also admitted to the influential Commons liaison committee that following terror attacks in the UK there was more that could be done on tackling online radicalisation.

“Afghanistan looks like hell on earth,” Labour Party MP Sarah Champion said.

“You've got the drought … millions of displaced people, the infrastructure collapsing and more than half the country facing starvation in a very harsh winter. You have promised more aid, how and when will that be delivered?”

Mr Johnson responded she was “right, and the situation is grim” but then added although it was controversial the UK had no option but to engage with the extremists in charge.

“There is no point in the UK just standing on the sidelines and failing to engage with the with the Taliban,” he said.

“They may not speak for all Afghans far from it, but they are some kind of authority – even if a very imperfect authority. The UK a must try to engage, for the sake of the people that you're talking about.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson under questioning from MPs at the Commons liaison committee. PA

Mr Johnson also faced questioning from Conservative Party MP Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the defence committee, over the threat from the massive Russian forces assembling on the Ukraine border.

“Can I ask what military assistance we can offer both Poland and indeed Ukraine to show Russia that we are serious about deterring any kinetic action?” he said.

Mr Johnson responded that while Poland was protected under Nato, Moscow should seriously consider the cost of invading Ukraine.

“What we've got to do is to make sure that everybody understands the cost of miscalculation on the borders of Ukraine,” he said.

“I think it would be a tragic, tragic mistake for the Kremlin to think there was anything to be gained by military adventurism.”

Mr Johnson had a heated discussion with Mr Ellwood, who said at a time of intense great power competition Britain was cutting back tanks, aircraft, ships and 10,000 soldiers.

Mr Ellwood suggested the government should re-examine its Integrated Review. Published last year, this was out of date and defence spending needed to increase to 3 per cent of GDP, Mr Ellwood said.

But Mr Johnson said the Integrated Review was necessary for tackling modern threats – such as cyber warfare and conflict in space – and that calling for more tanks was an idea from the 1940s.

Mr Ellwood said it was Russian tanks that were amassing on the Ukraine border.

It was also put to Mr Johnson during the two-hour hearing if, given two terrorist attacks in the UK in the last month, more should be done to tackle the malign influence of the internet.

“I think there's always much more that we should do to tackle radicalisation online,” Mr Johnson said.

“When you look at some of the cases that we've seen recently, it's clear that people are increasingly adept at using concealed ID devices to conceal their internet tracking history as they radicalise themselves.”

His comments came after it was reported that suspected terrorist Emad Al Swealmeen, who was killed in an explosion outside a Liverpool hospital, had learnt bomb-making techniques online.

Updated: November 17, 2021, 7:22 PM