March 11, 2020
After nearly two decades of military intervention in Afghanistan, the UK finally looks set to depart the country following the US peace deal with the Afghan Taliban.
According to the Times newspaper, “hundreds” of British troops are set to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by “mid-July” as part of the “first phase” of the US-Taliban peace deal.
Altogether, 330 British soldiers are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of the summer. Currently there are 1,100 “regular” UK military personnel stationed in Afghanistan, most of them in and around Kabul.
The full evacuation of the British troops, as part of the “second phase” of the drawdown, is dependent on the sustainability of the volatile peace agreement between the US and the Taliban leadership.
The Times defence editor, Lucy Fisher, tweeted that there is “doubt” about durability in view of the Taliban’s propensity to engage in further resistance against US and UK forces.
Crucially, it is not clear at this stage if British Special Forces, notably soldiers from the Special Air Service (SAS) and its sister unit the Special Boat Service (SBS), will be withdrawn in tandem with regular forces.
Currently SAS and SBS soldiers are embedded with US forces in areas well beyond Kabul, notably in the southern Helmand province.
News that British forces are finally retreating from Afghanistan will come as a big disappointment to military families, particularly those who lost loved ones in the conflict.
Since April 2002, 456 British military personnel have been killed in Afghanistan, whilst more than 2000 have been injured.
In addition, British military veterans who served in Afghanistan continue to suffer acute psychological distress with reports that at least 14 former and serving soldiers (with service experience in Afghanistan) have committed suicide in this year alone.
British military families are likely to take the government and the military high command to task for consistently misleading them about Britain’s muddled war aims in Afghanistan and the failed project of transforming the highly complex country into a pro-Western “democracy”.