Should we have withdrawn our troops?
Imagine, if you can, being a nineteen-year-old young woman living in Kabul or another major city of Afghanistan. You were born after the so-called liberation of your country twenty years ago, free from the choking, iron-fisted grip of the Taliban, and have grown up believing you will, at the very least, have a say in your future life choices; an education, university, a career. The opportunities are vivid and exciting.
Then, almost overnight, everything changes. You can no longer make any choices. For much of the time you must remain at home, and when you are permitted outside you must cover up, if not in a full burqa hiding your entire body and head with just a mesh panel to see through, then most certainly with some form of hijab covering your head. Despite what the victorious Taliban are saying now, once their new regime is established and a leadership structure in place, a return to anything like their previous strict interpretation of Sharia law will mean girls’ schools closing, and university and a career out of the question for women. Any flouting of the laws by women, as well as by men, can lead to punishments as draconian as the hacking off of limbs or stoning to death. That is just one of the probable realities the departing Americans and their allies, including the British, have left behind as they chaotically fled Afghanistan rather than departing with the dignity and plan for the future they promised.
The fanatical Taliban simply overwhelmed the military might and the millions of the allied superpowers, now the blame game over the long occupation and the chaotic withdrawal continues. Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to shift those tactical failures on to President Joe Biden, apparently reviving the US leader’s “Sleepy Joe” nickname, but having lost thirteen more troops even as they departed Kabul, adding to the thousands of previous deaths, Biden is in no mood to be lectured by a prime minister who was on holiday when the crisis erupted.
At least Johnson immediately cut short his break, as opposed to the now former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who refused even to make vital telephone calls and disturb his own holiday in Crete. When he eventually returned to Britain, Raab was frequently at odds with his leader’s comments regarding intelligence received during the Taliban’s sweeping advance. And with heavyweight former prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair, who took Britain into Afghanistan twenty years ago, adding critical voices to the debate, Johnson scuttled off again, although Downing Street claimed that this time he wasn’t actually on holiday, just working away. Afghanistan has ultimately been a calamitous experience for the UK, but now that we are out it’s abundantly clear in our survey that few want a return.
And with the loss of 457 British military lives during the conflict was it worthwhile? We asked the same question in our July survey, and in our latest poll the number answering “No” has leapt from 59% to 71%.