Philip Dunne speaks in the emergency debate on the situation in Afghanistan and highlights the importance of supporting our veterans, evacuating those who have helped British soft power, and assessing how our intelligence analysis failed so badly.
Other speakers in this debate have had far more direct experience and have spoken movingly of what this tragedy means to them and their colleagues—former soldiers and airmen. I was able to visit Afghanistan before the end of the combat mission seven years ago, and on each occasion I was enormously impressed by the commitment and dedication of our armed forces, working alongside allies from many other countries and members of the Afghan defence force in seeking to provide security for the Afghan people.
In most contributions today from both sides of the House it has been notable how the service and sacrifice of our armed forces have been appreciated and recognised for keeping us safe by preventing further international terror attacks from Afghanistan. We are proud of their heroism and must support veterans at this difficult time. Their efforts came at great cost in terms of lives lost, injuries sustained and money spent. But, as others have said, much was achieved: Afghanistan ceased to be a safe haven for terrorist groups; the lives of women and girls, particularly in the cities, were transformed; as we have heard, millions of girls have been to school to receive an education that cannot be unlearned; and women were able to work and to take part in government at regional and national levels. There is no hiding from the fact that all that has now come to a humiliating end. Despite yesterday’s statements of good intent from the Taliban spokesman, we all recall with trepidation their dark-ages ideology of violence and repression.
When I was in Camp Bastion, I was struck by the commitment of the medics who worked in the field hospital and treated those who had been injured on both sides of the conflict. In some cases, Taliban fighters and British soldiers were in adjacent wards. I hope that such magnanimous humanitarian generosity will be remembered by those who have now taken control of the country. Today is not the time for hand-wringing and apportioning blame; that is yet to come. As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said, now is the time to take urgent action to maintain the security cordon around the military side of Kabul airport. I am delighted that the Defence Secretary is in his place and will be able to reassure colleagues that the efforts of the British armed forces currently there are focused entirely on that effort.
The Prime Minister’s announcement today of a bespoke resettlement scheme for Afghan citizens and their families who helped our armed forces is welcome, but there is an urgent need for it to cover others who have helped British soft power working in the country, including the British Council, charities, contractors and aid agencies.
As a Salopian MP and my neighbour, will my right hon. Friend take part of the time left to him to pay tribute to all those Salopians who served in Afghanistan, both in DFID and the armed forces?
I am grateful to my neighbour for drawing attention to the fact that, like every Member of this House, all of us with constituencies in Shropshire have constituents who have served in the last 20 years, with many suffering injuries and some, tragically, death.
We have to ask ourselves how the intelligence analysis of the situation failed us so badly. We have known from some time, thanks to experienced voices such as that of General Petraeus, about the criticality of US contractors to maintain the US and Afghan air forces, which were vital to resupply. Once the 18,000 contractors had been withdrawn, the troops on the ground knew that there was no hope of resupply or reinforcement from the air, which was critical to maintain their morale.
Finally, I urge the Foreign Secretary in his winding-up speech to reflect on the impact of this humiliation on the integrated review.