It is with great sadness that we see events unfold in Afghanistan with so much future uncertainty as we withdraw our troops, staff, and the many people who have supported us over many years of conflict. As an MP, I have been regularly updated on the situation and given assurances that we, the United Kingdom, will do all we can to secure the safety of as many people as possible. There are clearly and tragically, given the pace of the Taliban advance, potentially going to be some people left behind.
The deployment of approximately 600 additional UK troops is already underway and more have been dispatched to safely facilitate the evacuation from Afghanistan. Operation Pitting includes logistics experts, medical support staff, air movement specialists, and force protection.
We are evacuating HMG personnel, those entitled under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), and other entitled people such as UK Passport holders. The criteria of people eligible under ARAP was recently widened to include relevant contractors, those dismissed for minor administrative offences and additional family members.
We are also now accepting applications from outside of Afghanistan. There is no quota or cap on total numbers. Increased resource has been allocated to speed up the processing for ARAP applications. Current intent is to complete the evacuation by early September, but this timeline remains fluid and responsive to the threats in Afghanistan.
The security of British nationals, British military personnel and former Afghan staff is the first priority of the MoD at present and the full force of the department is behind this operation. As with all military operations, a number of contingencies are in place.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) have relocated the British Embassy in Kabul and staff numbers have been reduced to a core team focused on providing consular and visa services for those applying for the UK’s relocation scheme.
The FCDO are also leading on plans for humanitarian support to continue after the drawdown is complete, including with international partners.
In my humble opinion, we have left Afghanistan too soon. We could not stay forever, but the Afghan Government and Military was disappointingly not ready to stand on their own. With the US Military withdrawing and despite our best efforts to secure an international coalition to stay on for longer, we could not feasibly stay on our own and nor should we. Support must be part of a humanitarian coalition. Had we stayed unilaterally, we could have been seen as an occupying force.
We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have worked with the United Kingdom to make Afghanistan a better place over the last twenty years. Many of them, particularly women, are now in urgent need of our help.
That is why the Government is establishing a new route for Afghan citizens - prioritising women and girls - who have been forced to flee their home or face threats of persecution from the Taliban to set up home in the UK permanently. This is in addition to existing programmes and routes already established and in operation.
The UK has a proud history of welcoming those fleeing persecution or oppression, and this Government will always stand by all those around the world who need our help in their hour of need.
The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme will see 20,000 of those forced to flee Afghanistan resettled here in the UK on top of the thousands of interpreters and support staff coming through the ARAP scheme.
I welcome that the Prime Minister has called for an emergency virtual G7 Summit to work with international leaders on a unified approach to prevent a humanitarian and refugee crisis.
I feel for the many veterans who have served in Afghanistan, who may, right now, be wondering what was the point of their service. The UK can, however, be extremely proud of what has been done in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. Thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of our armed forces there are millions of girls and young women who have been educated in Afghanistan and we have seen huge human rights gains in the country.
We will continue to support the people of Afghanistan using every diplomatic and humanitarian lever available and are working with our international partners to prevent those gains from being lost.