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US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan risks ‘losing the peace’ – Ellwood

Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent
·3 min read

A former defence minister has warned that the US decision to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the autumn risks “losing the peace”.

Senior Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood said Washington’s move would make it “very difficult” for British troops to remain in the battle-ravaged country and that the subsequent vacuum could allow extremism to “regroup”.

President Joe Biden has announced that he will withdraw all 2,500 American troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America that were coordinated from the Asian country.

Speaking to Times Radio, Mr Ellwood said the president’s foreign policy decision was “concerning” and “not the right move”.

“It reflects the troubles we’ve had in interventions over the last couple of decades where we win the war, but lose the peace,” the chairman of the Commons Defence Committee said.

“We don’t put enough effort into the stabilisation and the peacekeeping, the nation building, and encouraging better governance, better security, that indigenous capability so they can look after their own affairs.

“Instead, as we’ve seen in Iraq as well, we defeat the bad guys and then we withdraw, we don’t do enough to then lift the country off its knees.

“And I fear that we will see – in fact it’s happening already – is extremism will regroup in Afghanistan in the way that it’s regrouping in Iraq, and indeed, to some degree in east Africa as well.”

Asked whether he thought the US troop withdrawal was a signal that Britain could exit from Afghanistan as well, the former Army veteran replied: “Yes it is.

“It’s a reflection that we went in there as a coalition, and if the biggest partner in that coalition chooses to step back, it makes it very difficult.”

Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood
Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Mr Ellwood said there was still hope that a ceasefire could be negotiated with the Taliban before soldiers withdraw fully by September.

“It could be – troops aren’t leaving immediately – that this will prompt Afghanistan leadership itself to advance the talks and get some form of peace settlement,” he added.

The Government said any decision on the presence of armed forces in the country would be taken “in agreement with allies”.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was travelling to Brussels on Wednesday afternoon to discuss Afghanistan with Nato partners, as well as hostilities on the Ukrainian border.

A spokeswoman said: “We are working closely with the US, Nato allies and partners to support a secure and stable Afghanistan.

“For there to be any chance of a lasting peace, the Taliban must engage meaningfully in a dialogue with the Afghan government.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was due in Brussels to speak to Nato allies on Wednesday about Afghanistan
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was due in Brussels to speak to Nato allies on Wednesday about Afghanistan (Victoria Jones/PA)

“Any change to our security presence will be made in agreement with allies and after consultation with our partners.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is reportedly due to meet US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in the “coming days”.

Mr Ellwood predicted the pair would discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the increasing destabilisation across the globe.

“The threat picture across the world is deteriorating – there is a 1930s feel to the world I think at the moment, with the rules-based order being tested at breaking point, international institutions not really working well any more and global strategic powerbases once again on the move,” he added.

“We’ve got China doing its thing, Russia very aggressive, not least in what is happening in Ukraine – the agenda is going to be very busy indeed.”