British, NATO forces will not return to Afghanistan: UK defense chief

LONDON (AA): British and NATO forces will not be returning to Afghanistan, the UK’s secretary of defense said while acknowledging the Taliban’s control over the country.

Speaking to Sky News on Monday morning, Ben Wallace confirmed that the UK’s role in Afghanistan was now focused on evacuating all British citizens out of the country as well as those Afghans who aided the UK forces during the decades-old conflict.

“I acknowledge that the Taliban are in control of the country. I mean, you don’t have to be a political scientist to spot that’s where we’re at,” Wallace said, adding: “I have engaged through a third country yesterday (Sunday) to make sure we seek assurances from the Taliban to protect our people and indeed the people we are trying to work to get out.”

Wallace said going back was “not on the cards” when asked if NATO forces will return to the embattled country. “If you remember, at its height, over 100,000 troops were deployed into Afghanistan to hold the line, that wasn’t just the initial 2001-2002 intervention, that was almost a decade later — heavy, heavy fighting — and I think the United States made itself clear they are not intending to stay,” he added.

The UK defense chief also said Washington’s decision to withdraw left the UK as a framework nation with difficult choices on what to do next with Afghanistan as it failed to find international partners to remain in Afghanistan and fight the Taliban.

Wallace, however, noted that with the new defense initiative drawn up this March, the UK government will have the funding and resources to no longer depend on one world power and to prevent crises like that developing in Afghanistan from happening again.

Continued evacuation and Taliban recognition

The defense secretary made reassurance that the government and military will do everything they can to evacuate as many people as possible out of Afghanistan and that military flights are continuing to enter and leave the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

Over the weekend, 370 staff and citizens at the British Embassy in the capital Kabul were flown out of the country with the first flight landing at the Royal Airforce base of Brize Norton. The UK government will also help Afghan nationals, especially those who aided British forces, leave the country.

“The next group of Afghans to come out will be 782 and we’ll make sure we get them in the next 24 to 36 hours out of the country and are continuing to process those people. We will do everything we can to bring as many people out as possible.”

When asked if the UK will recognize a government formed by the Taliban movement, the defense chief said the time is not yet right to decide on whether or not the Taliban are the rightful successors to the now-defunct Afghan government.

“I think there is a lot of more to come before those decisions are made,” Wallace said, adding that “the proof of the pudding will be, obviously, in their actions rather than their rhetoric.”

The Taliban have rapidly claimed a majority of the country, an offensive that has blindsided western powers. Kabul fell to the group on Sunday after the Afghan government collapsed and former President Ashraf Ghani fled to Uzbekistan.

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