Afghanistan: Boris Johnson says UK military intervention 'not in vain' despite Taliban resurgence

ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener on what the advance of the Taliban means for the UK

Boris Johnson has said the UK can be “extremely proud” of its role in Afghanistan as he insisted the sacrifices made by British forces had not been in vain despite the increasingly worsening situation that has seen a new Taliban insurgence sweep the country.

But the prime minister said there was no military solution following the gains made by the Taliban, saying it was not “realistic” to expect outside powers to impose a “combat solution” in Afghanistan.

The Taliban took the city of Lashkar Gah on Friday, following their capture of Kandahar and Herat, as the lightening offensive presses on into new territory.

The UK government have committed to sending hundreds of troops there in order to evacuate British citizens from the country.

Mr Johnson said the “vast bulk” of the remaining British embassy staff in Kabul would return to the UK and that a team of Home Office officials was being sent over there to step up efforts to relocate Afghans who worked for the British forces in the country.

ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener on how the UK government are reacting to the unfolding crisis

Mr Johnson's comments come after an emergency Cobra meeting in the wake of the Taliban's increasing dominance in the country since US and UK troops withdrew.

The capture of Lashkar Gah in the southern province of Helmand means the insurgents now control more than two-thirds of the country, just weeks before the US plans to withdraw its last troops.

The fundamentalist Islamist group has taken 18 of the 34 provincial capitals in recent days, as the security situation in the country quickly deteriorates.

“I don’t think that it was in vain" - Boris Johnson says it was "worth" military action in Afghanistan despite the Taliban's resurgence

Speaking on Friday evening, Mr Johnson said the UK's military intervention was not "in vain" despite the deteriorating situation following the West's swift departure from Afghanistan that happened almost overnight.

“If you look back at what has happened over the last 20 years there was a massive effort to deal with a particular problem that everybody will remember after 9/11,” he said.

“That was successful. To a very large extent the threat from al Qaida on the streets of our capital, around the UK, around the whole of the West was greatly, greatly reduced.

“I believe it was right, it was worth it and what we must do now is not turn our backs on Afghanistan.”

The UK government have committed to sending hundreds of troops there in order to evacuate British citizens from the country.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the situation in Afghanistan is "absolutely unprecedented" and there is "an enormous effort across government" to bring home British citizens still in the country.

Attaullah Afghan, the head of the provincial council in Helmand, said after heavy fighting, the Taliban raised their white flag over governmental installations in Lashkar Gah.

Three national army bases outside of Lashkar Gah, however, remain under control of the government, he added.

Afghan officials moved to Camp Bastion, a former British army base, with about 1,500 soldiers surrendering.Home to some 200,000 people, Lashkar Gah became the headquarters for the British deployment to Helmand Province in 2006 and remains of strategic importance.

People inspect a damaged building after airstrikes in Lashkar Gah, a city in Helmand province. Credit: AP

Speaking to ITV News, Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP and chair of the defence select committee, said that Afghanistan is now descending into civil war, with Iran, China and Russia looking to fill the "dangerous" vacuum.

"Terrorism itself will then reap its ugly head again", he said, adding that there was not enough of a focus on governance and reconstruction when Western troops were involved in the conflict.

Speaking after the Cobra meeting, Mr Johnson denied said the UK will use the methods at its disposal to try to ensure Afghanistan did not again become a base for international terrorism.

“I think anybody in government in Kabul is going to recognise that the West, the UK, have a permanent interest in making sure that that does not happen,” he said.

"I think the idea of a military or a combat solution is not one that we would be pursuing right now" - Boris Johnson has said the UK will use the methods at its disposal to try to ensure Afghanistan did not again become a base for international terrorism

The latest advances came hours after the insurgents captured the country’s second and third largest cities - Kandahar and Herat - in a lightning advance.

The seizures on Thursday marked the biggest prizes yet for the Taliban, whose rapid offensive has triggered some of the heaviest fighting seen in the past two decades.

On Wednesday, the Afghan forces also lost a key military base in Kunduz, another important city that has fallen to the Taliban in recent days.

Footage from Kunduz in Afghanistan shows the city falling to the hands of the Taliban, as ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent reports

The multiple fronts of the battle have stretched the government’s special operations forces - while regular troops have often fled the battlefield - and the violence has pushed thousands of civilians to seek safety in the capital Kabul.

Many of those internally displaced have seen the capital as their last safe refuge, with some 72,000 children among those fleeing there in recent days, according to Save the Children.

Internally displaced Afghans from northern provinces take refuge in a public park in Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: AP

But the latest US military intelligence assessment warns that Kabul could itself fall to the Taliban within a few months if the rate of the Taliban's advance continues at pace.

The stark assessment comes as the World Food Programme said food shortages are "dire", warning of an impending humanitarian catastrophe in the country.

Smoke rises after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel in the city of Kandahar, southwest of Kabul. Credit: AP

The difficulty of moving troops out to the provinces means the government is likely to focus all its efforts on defending the capital.“We demand an immediate end to attacks against cities, urge a political settlement, and warn that a government imposed by force will be a pariah state,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy to the talks.

With security rapidly deteriorating, the United States planned to send in 3,000 troops to help evacuate some personnel from the US Embassy in Kabul. 

Separately, Britain said about 600 troops would be deployed on a short-term basis to support British nationals leaving the country.

Announcing the troop deployment, the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: "I have authorised the deployment of additional military personnel to support the diplomatic presence in Kabul, assist British nationals to leave the country and support the relocation of former Afghan staff who risked their lives serving alongside us.

"The security of British nationals, British military personnel and former Afghan staff is our first priority. We must do everything we can to ensure their safety."