One of the hardest things I’ve had to do as an MP was to attend the funeral of Lance Corporal Andrew Breeze at Christ Church in Denton back in 2010.
Lance Corporal Breeze was serving in Afghanistan when he was killed in an explosion whilst clearing an area near Check Point Kingshill. The purpose of the operation was to improve security in the region.
I wasn’t an MP when the Afghanistan mission started in the aftermath of 9/11, but Lance Corporal Breeze’s death is a tragic reminder that decisions taken by politicians can have a lasting impact on local communities thousands of miles away from the heart of the conflict. I know after the last few weeks, many veterans and their families – and especially the families of loved ones lost – will be asking whether it was worth it.
Our involvement in Afghanistan for 20 years did achieve a lot. The terror network of Al-Qaeda was significantly disrupted. Osama Bin-Laden was found and killed. Women and girls reclaimed rights that were long ago lost, including access to education and to work. Terrorist training camps across Afghanistan were dismantled, and a fragile democracy was in the process of being built. It was the professionalism and sacrifices of our armed forces that brought about these vital developments.
The unilateral decision of the US to withdraw all support in Afghanistan on an arbitrary deadline has thrown those achievements into jeopardy and caused the resulting chaos. I am not an advocate of an ‘endless war’ as President Biden recently called it. I recognise that our military objectives were indeed long over but believe that we still had a crucial role to play supporting the Afghan army, both with regards to air support and military consultancy. This support should not have been yanked from the Afghan army when they needed it most.
The British Government has made the right decision to help those brave translators, support staff and Afghan personnel who stood alongside allied forces over the last 20 years and are at most risk of Taliban reprisals. I hope to see a comprehensive refugee plan put into place that meets the scale of the crisis and supports Afghans, particularly women and girls, who are most at risk of oppression and brutality.
The Taliban have made promises that I do not believe they will keep. Human rights matter, at home and abroad. The rights of women and children matter, at home and abroad. And our security matters, at home and abroad. Supporting the Afghan people is not only a moral necessity, but a practical one as well. The United Kingdom is not a solitary country, and what happens across the Globe affects us in several direct and indirect ways.
We must use whatever diplomatic mechanisms we have to force the Taliban regime to stick to its promises on human rights, narcotics, and terrorism. I wholeheartedly hope that history doesn’t repeat itself. Time will tell.