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Defence Committee To Launch Review Into UK Military Operations In Afghanistan

3 min read

Exclusive: The Commons Defence Committee plans to launch its own inquiry into UK military operations in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, PoliticsHome has learned.

Prime minister Boris Johnson appeared to rule out a formal inquiry during an emergency Commons debate on the crisis in Afghanistan last week, claiming “key questions have already been extensively got into” with a defence review on Afghanistan in 2014.

But committee chair and former defence minister, Tobias Ellwood MP, has now said the cross-party group will consider how British armed forces had been utilised to meet the objectives of the 20 year mission, which he added “was not clear”.

In a forthcoming interview with The House, Ellwood said: “I think it’s right, when Britain goes to war, particularly with the sacrifices that we made, that there is an independent assessment of what we did so that there are lessons that can be learnt.” 

Ellwood, who has been calling for an independent, formal inquiry, said he had been “absolutely baffled” by Johnson’s response to parliament last week.

“The Taliban have just taken over the capital city, I’m not sure anybody could’ve predicted that, or that after 20 years we’d be departing in this manner,” he said. 

Ellwood clarified that the review would not be to the scale of Chilcot or be as far-reaching as the inquiry MPs are calling on from Boris Johnson.

The committee's 2014 inquiry on Afghanistan recommended an independent national lessons study into the conflict. The then-government responded to the report by saying that significant and immediate lessons were already being learned in many different ways.

In his evidence then-defence secretary Philip Hammond told the panel that although insurgency remained strong, he was confident the country would not descend into civil war as US and NATO troops began their combat mission withdrawal later that year.

In 2015, a Strategic Defence Review was published, which only mentioned Afghanistan 9 times, despite a British forces presence still remaining in the country. Likewise, this year’s Integrated Review mentions Afghanistan only twice, despite the timetable for US withdrawal already having been in motion when it was published.

The Foreign Affairs Committee is due to question foreign secretary Dominic Raab separately next week over the handling of UK evacuation efforts in Afghanistan. 

Committee chair Tom Tugendhat MP has described recent events as “the biggest foreign policy failure since Suez,” adding that MPs would question Raab on how the government would deal with the Taliban moving forward, and how Afghanistan will shape the UK’s regional strategy.

A report from the House of Lords international relations and Defence Committee released earlier this year also warned that gains made in the country since 2001 could be lost. It noted the Taliban’s ability to coordinate military actions and called on the government to reinforce to its allies the need for a multinational approach.

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