Published: 10:06, 18 August 2021
| Updated: 16:03, 18 August 2021
A Kent MP has given a powerful speech about his time in Afghanistan during an emotionally charged Commons debate on the crisis.
Tonbridge and Malling's Tom Tugendhat (Con) is among a number of ex-forces MPs and has been outspoken on the issue, saying the withdrawal of British troops in Afghanistan is the biggest foreign policy disaster for more than 50 years.
Kent MP Tom Tugendhat speaks to KMTV
He addressed the Commons during the debate, which will last until 5pm after Boris Johnson recalled parliament early.
In an emotional speech that drew applause from colleagues Mr Tugendhat said: "Like many veterans this last week has seen me struggle, through anger, grief and rage. The feeling of abandonment, the sacrifices my friends made, I've watched good men go into the earth. This week has torn open some of those wounds. I know aid workers, diplomats and journalists who feel the same. I know that we've all been struggling."
He continued "the tragedy of Afghanistan" would be the lack of patience.
Mr Tugendhat warned of a second war in Afghanistan and attacked American president Joe Biden over his “shameful” questioning of the Afghan troops.
The former soldier who served for four years in the country said the Taliban's takeover had "torn open" wounds.
“The feeling of abandonment, not just of a country, but of the sacrifice my friends made.”
The MP said "the Cold War was won with patience" and pointed to Cyprus and South Korea as countries which are at peace "with patience".
"So let's stop talking about forever wars, let's recognise that forever peace is bought not cheaply but hard through determination and a will to endure.
"The tragedy of Afghanistan is that we are swapping that patient achievement for a second fire and a second war, now we need to turn our attention to those who are in desperate need."
He denounced the US president for calling into question the courage of Afghan troops "I fought with" and the claim that they ran is “shameful.”
"Those who have never fought for the colours they fly should be careful about criticising those who have."
He said it was "not armies that win wars - armies can get tactical victories and operational victories that hold the line - they can just about make room for peace for people like us to talk compromise, listen. It's nations that make war - nations endure, mobilise and muster determine and patience".
At one point he was interrupted by a colleague just so he was afforded more time to finish.
He concluded by presenting two images to MPs from the years he served as advisor to the governor in Helmand.
"The joy to see parents taking their children to school was fantastic. The second image is a harder one, it is of a man whose name I never knew carrying a child who had died hours earlier into our base and begging for help but there was nothing we could do, it was over. This is what defeat looks like when you don't have the option to help. This doesn't have to be defeat but at the moment it feels like it."
The Prime Minister had faced several interventions as he endured a difficult start to proceedings.
Addressing a packed chamber he said it was an "illusion" to think the UK could have stopped the collapse of Afghanistan.
But he added the Taliban is letting the evacuation go ahead although the situation is "precarious". He ruled out an independent inquiry when asked to conduct one by Tobias Ellwood MP.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson's promise of taking in 20,000 Afghan refugees over 5 years (5,000 a year) is not good enough.
He added the current government immigration plan would criminalise an Afghan woman and her child fleeing from the Taliban and crossing the Channel.
He said: "The scale of the refugee crisis requires an international response. But we must lead it and lead with a resettlement programme that meets the scale of the challenge."
In a scathing attack on Mr Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab he added: "When Kabul was falling you were on holiday... you cannot co-ordinate an international response from the beach."
Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield said the government should ensure that those authorities who participated in a resettlement scheme should be properly funded.
She said: “The situation in Afghanistan is one few of us can imagine. It is fundamentally our duty to exhaust every possible avenue; to do all we have in our power to help those in need. We are all they have. We are safe and free and we must offer the same freedom to those who are at risk of losing theirs.
“We must offer safe routes out and we must offer asylum; no ifs and no buts. It is deeply disturbing that the fundamental rights of women and girls are under threat. The excellent Kent Refugee and Asylum Network has laid out what is needed; they are asking questions they need urgent answers to.”
She urged the government to commit funding to councils in Kent who were proposing to participate in the government’s resettlement scheme, saying support was needed to provide suitable accommodation.
She added: “I have been inundated with emails from people who want to help. The government must listen and ensure they are carrying out the will of the majority of British people.”
In a powerful statement earlier today Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins said: "We cannot turn our backs on the crisis in Afghanistan, and we must surely have learnt over the past twenty years that a humanitarian disaster in one nation can soon become a problem for the whole world, and one that will quite literally reach our shores."
SNP leader Ian Blackford told the house asylum has been rejected for 32,000 Afghans including almost 900 girls since 2001, stressing the government needs to change its attitude to asylum seekers, including those crossing the Channel of which as many as 70% are from Afghanistan.
Since US and British forces pulled out of the war-torn Middle Eastern state after 20 years the Taliban has retaken large swathes of the country with terrifying ease.
There have been reports of women being turned away from universities and offices, while former interpreters are pleading with the UK to grant them asylum amid fears they will be killed for aiding the coalition.
Britain and other western countries have been scrambling to get their remaining nationals out before it was too late.
Officials said they were doing all they could to assist the estimated 2,000 Afghans who had worked with the British during their time in the country to relocate while there was still time.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister is to unveil a “bespoke” resettlement scheme for vulnerable Afghans as efforts to get British nationals and other support staff back to the UK continue.
No 10 said Johnson would give more information about the refugee scheme in the coming days, with the policy anticipated to be focused on helping women and girls.
In Afghanistan, British armed forces numbers are to be bolstered to 900, with a further 200 announced by the Ministry of Defence on Monday.
They will be involved in the push to bring UK nationals home and secure the safety of selected Afghans, an effort that has intensified since the Taliban took Kabul following their lightning offensive which has shocked the West.
The decision to send in additional troops follows frantic scenes at Kabul airport that left seven people dead, including some who fell from a departing US military transport jet.
However, in a defiant statement, US President Joe Biden said he stood “squarely behind” the decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, vowing not to let the war enter a “third decade”.
Despite Allied intentions to withdraw armed forces entirely by next month, both the US and the UK are sending in further troops to assist with evacuation efforts, a move that armed forces minister James Heappey said would make controlling Kabul airport easier.
The Afghanistan veteran, who said the government had been working on the premise that Kabul would hold until next year, told BBC Newsnight: “The airport is a focal point for many people who are very desperate and unsurprisingly there have been a number of incursions into the airfield over the last 24 hours, which has required it to be closed at various stages.
“But the arrival of the US 82nd Airborne and 2 Para from the United Kingdom’s Parachute Regiment should mean we are able to secure the airfield more consistently over the coming days.”
'When Kabul was falling you were on holiday... you cannot co-ordinate an international response from the beach...'
The Telegraph reported that the resettlement scheme could be similar to that used to take in Syrian refugees in 2015, which saw women with children, people with serious medical conditions and survivors of torture prioritised.
The paper said the government had yet to determine how many Afghan refugees could benefit from a similar initiative, but the Syrian programme enabled 20,000 to be resettled over six years.
Mr Heappey, asked whether women’s rights activists could be among those to be welcomed to Britain, said: “It is not in my gift as the minister for the armed forces to say here and now, yes they should, but I know their cries are not falling on deaf ears.”
With the refugee scheme in the pipeline, the Home Office also announced that restrictions on the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) – the programme to resettle Afghan nationals who have supported British efforts in the central Asian country – have been eased.
The department has removed the requirement for applications to be made in Afghanistan, allowing those who are able to flee the Taliban-occupied area to do so without compromising their eligibility to settle in the UK.
With Afghan interpreters hiding in basements out of fear of being killed by the Taliban, former British Army officer Charlie Herbert told BBC Newsnight that efforts to rescue those who had supported UK troops should be a priority.
“If we can salvage some dignity from this humiliation, it would be to get those people out of Kabul as quickly as we can,” said the former major general.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The UK team in Afghanistan is working around the clock in incredibly difficult circumstances to help British nationals and as many others as we can get to safety as soon as possible.
“At the same time, we are bringing together the international community to prevent a humanitarian crisis emerging in Afghanistan – it’s in everyone’s interest not to let Afghanistan fail.
“That means providing whatever support we can to the Afghan people who have worked so hard to make the country a better place over the last twenty years and who are now in need of our help.”
Mr Johnson wants G7 leaders to focus on ensuring Afghanistan does not once again become a source of international terrorist threats, No 10 said.
There will also be an effort to secure support for the people of Afghanistan, including through increased humanitarian assistance and agreeing expectations of whatever government emerges in Afghanistan.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has refused to rule out sanctions against the Taliban if they fail to co-operate internationally.
It comes as Ashford council says it is preparing to take in families fleeing Afghanistan under the government's proposed resettlement scheme.
Conservative leader Gerry Clarkson has confirmed that the authority has already approached the Home Office offering to assist and provide housing and support for families from Afghanistan.
He said the authority would use its experience of helping Syrian refugees to ensure families were well supported and the council would be appealing to private landlords to provide appropriate accommodation.
Cllr Clarkson said: “First and foremost, we are keen because it's a moral imperative to us because we are a caring borough. We absolutely don't just articulate that, we actually mean what we say about caring for our population. And that's why we want to be part of this, we were a bit ashamed that western governments have come out of Afghanistan in this way.”
“It's a no brainer to me - we must help these people, these are people who helped us. We have a loyalty and respect for them and we need to help them.
“If you find someone bleeding on the roadside, you don't just walk past because you've got other problems on your plate.”
He said exact numbers had not been calculated but was likely to involve about 10 families a year, a similar number to those it had helped Syrian refugees over a five-year programme.
The council has won accolades for the way in which it had taken in families fleeing Syria and helped them with housing and finding work.
It was the first council to participate in the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (VPRS) set up in 2015.
Cllr Clarkson said families from Afghanistan were likely to need less intensive support and would in time find jobs.
He said he was unconcerned that people might be unhappy with the idea of accepting more refugees, adding: "These people are going to be useful contributors to the country. They're going to get jobs and they're mainly English speaking.
“People may condemn it and gripe about it but frankly I don't give a damn about that because I think the vast majority of people who are intelligent, reasonable and sensible will realise that what we're doing is really the right thing to do.”
He urged other authorities to come forward to help.
Cllr Clarkson's comments come after landlord Fergus Wilson, who has historically owned many homes in Ashford, offered to sell the government 150 properties to house Afghan refugees.