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Military Veteran MPs Condemn "Shameful" Afghanistan Crisis Response in Emotional Commons Speeches

The Tory MP and former soldier Tom Tugendhat led a number of veterans in Parliament criticising the situation in Afghanistan at today's emergency debate (Parliamentlive.TV)

5 min read

Senior Conservative MP and former soldier Tom Tugendhat has led a cohort of Army veterans now serving in Parliament in scathing criticism of the international community's response to the crisis in Afghanistan.

He criticised the decisions which have led to the Taliban reclaiming much of the country in recent days as the UK and the US begun withdrawing their final remaining troops.

Tugendhat described efforts of the military, aid workers, journalists and others who worked in the country, and said it was with "great sadness" that he felt forced to criticise Britain’s closest ally America after US President Joe Biden appeared to blame the Afghan army for being unwilling to fight the Islamic insurgents.

“To see their commander in chief call into the question the courage of men I fought with, to claim that they ran is shameful,” he said.

"Those who have not fought for the colours they fly should be careful about criticising those who have."

He noted that "we've all been struggling" and praised a commitment by health secretary Sajid Javid to do more to support verterans' mental health. 

Tugendhat recalled his time as an advisor to the governor of Helmand and the "joy" given to families by the opening of schools for girls.

"I didn't understand it until I took my own daughter to school about a year ago," he said. 

"There was a lot of crying when she first went in, but I got over it and it went OK. I'd love to see that continue."

But he left MPs with a "harder" image. "It's one that the forever war that has just reignited could lead to," he explained.

"It is the image of a man whose name I never knew, carrying a child who had died hours earlier – carrying this child into our fire base and begging for help.

"There was nothing we could do. It was over. This is what defeat looks like when you no longer have the choice of how to help.

"This doesn't need to be defeat but at the moment it damn well feels like it."

MPs from across the House clapped as he sat down, and many also praised the speech on social media.

"One of the most powerful, perhaps the most powerful, speech I have heard in my 16 years here," Tory MP Sir Bob Neill tweeted. 

Conservative colleague Dehenna Davison tweeted that the speech was “one I will remember for the rest of my life”.

Another Tory former solider, Tobias Ellwood, also criticised events in Afghanistan as "such an operational and strategic blunder” and a “humiliating strategic defeat for the West".

The chair of the defence select committee said: "A decision that's already triggering a humanitarian disaster, a migrant crisis not seen since the Second World War and a cultural change in rights to women, and once again turning Afghanistan into a breeding ground for terrorism."

"I'm sorry there's no vote here today because I believe the government would not have the support of the House."

Ellwood also repeated his call for an independent inquiry. "We are complicit in allowing another dictatorship to form as we become more isolationist," he added. 

“The West is today a little more weaker and the world a little more dangerous because we gave up on Afghanistan.”

Johnny Mercer, who served three tours of Afghanistan in a 10-year army career, went even further, accusing Boris Johnson of "consistently failing" to support former soldiers properly, and warned the government must step up to deal with a "bow wave" of mental health issues among veterans following the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The Tory former minister said: "The Prime Minister must not wriggle out of his commitments on this issue. The Office for Veterans Affairs is nothing like it was designed to be and he knows that.

“The paltry £5million funding slashed after less than a year, the lack of staff, not even an office to work from, even today the brilliant staff of the Office for Veterans Affairs simply cannot cope with the scale of the demand."

Mercer added: "Was it all for nothing? Of course it wasn't for nothing and we have to get away from this narrative.

“Whether we like it or not for a period of time Afghans – the average age in Afghanistan is 18 years old – they will have experienced a freedom and privileges that we enjoy here and no one will ever take that away from them."

Labour’s Dan Jarvis, another veteran of the Afghanistan conflict, said the attempt to break the cycle of war in the country and give hope to women and girls has been “snatched away” by the brutality of the Taliban and “the catastrophic failure of the international community”.

The Barnsley MP called President Biden's remarks about Afghan soldiers as “distasteful”. 

"I had the honour of serving with Afghans in Helmand. They were our brothers-in-arms. I shudder to think where those men are now," he said. 

"Many will be dead. Others I know consider themselves to be dead men walking. Where were we in their hour of need? Nowhere."

His voice cracking he added: "I am racked with a profound sadness at the catastrophe we are seeing in Afghanistan. 

"Above all it is an unspeakable tragedy for the people of that country who after decades of conflict now live under a terrible cloud of fear and repression."

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