Afghanistan must not 'become breeding ground for terror', PM says as Taliban set to declare control

How does the West respond to the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan? Asks ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo

Afghanistan must not "become a breeding ground for terror" and the west must work together to ensure this, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said as the Taliban look set to soon declare control of the country.

An official from the militant group said they will soon declare the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from the presidential palace in the capital, Kabul.

It comes as President Ashraf Ghani left the country and the militants entered the capital.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was the name of the country under the Taliban government ousted by US-led forces after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The PM was speaking after chairing an emergency Cobra meeting to discuss the Taliban’s seizure of Afghanistan.

He also confirmed MPs would be brought back from their summer holidays to Parliament to discuss the situation on Wednesday.

MPs are expected to to vent their anger and frustration when they return, many arguing that the west has been humiliated by insurgents with just basic weaponry.

"I think it is very important that the West should work collectively to get over to that new government - be it by the Taliban or anybody else - that nobody wants Afghanistan once again to be a breeding ground for terror and we don't think it is in the interests of the people of Afghanistan that it should lapse back into that pre-2001 status," the prime minister said.

"What the UK will be doing is working with our partners in the UN Security, in Nato, to get that message over. We don't want anybody to bilaterally recognise the Taliban.

"We want a united position among all the like-minded, as far as we can get one, so that we do whatever we can to prevent Afghanistan lapsing back into a breeding ground for terror."

In a statement after the meeting, Mr Johnson said the government's priority is to get British nationals out of Afghanistan "as fast as we can".

The PM also said the UK was determined to deliver on its obligations to those Afghans who had helped it over the past 20 years.

“Our priority is to make sure that we deliver on our obligations to UK nationals in Afghanistan, to all those who helped the British effort in Afghanistan over 20 years, and to get them out as fast we can,” he said.

“We are going to get as many as we can out in the next few days.”

"People didn't see this coming," says ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo, adding that just a few days ago the US intelligence community predicted the fall of Kabul would take place in November, not mid-August.

Mr Johnson said the UK ambassador was at the airport, processing applications.

The PM said the UK has received 1,978 Afghan nationals who helped British troops as part of a resettlement programme.

"I think we can be pleased with that," he said, adding that he imagined there would be "more to come".

The government has come under fire for the low numbers of Afghans it has allowed to settle in the UK.

Members of Joint Forces Headquarters get prepared to deploy to Afghanistan to assist in the draw down from the area Credit: LPhot Ben Shread/MoD/Crown Copyright

Britain has sent 600 troops – including Paras from 16 Air Assault Brigade – to assist in the evacuations.

Meanwhile other Western countries were scrambling to get their people out, with helicopters shuttling from the US embassy to the airport while smoke was seen coming from the embassy rooftop as diplomats burned sensitive material.

With a new Taliban-led Afghan government expected to take power in a matter of days, or even hours, Mr Johnson said the UK would be working with allies to take a concerted approach to the new regime.

“We don’t want anybody to bilaterally recognise the Taliban,” he said.

“We want a united position among all the like-minded, as far as we can get one, so that we do whatever we can to prevent Afghanistan lapsing back into a breeding ground for terror.”

However senior MPs expressed concern that the credibility of the West had been fundamentally damaged by its failure to support an ally 20 years after international forces first entered the country.

Taliban fighters sit on the back of a vehicle in the city of Herat Credit: Hamed Sarfarazi/AP

The chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, said it was “the biggest single foreign policy disaster since Suez” in the 1950s.

While the Defence Committee chair Tobias Ellwood told Times Radio: “This is completely humiliating for the West.

“We assembled the most incredible, technologically advanced alliance the world has ever seen and we are being defeated by an insurgency that’s armed with AK47s and RPGs.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the prime minister needed to set out plans to prevent the fall of the Afghan government turning into a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of displaced people trying to escape the Taliban.

There was particular concern about the plight of those Afghans who had worked with the UK and other Western countries, amid fears they would be targeted by the insurgents.

The Taliban insisted they were seeking a peaceful transfer of power and promised an amnesty for those who had worked with foreign countries or the Afghan government.

However such assurances were met with deep scepticism amid fears they would return to the hardline policies they pursued before they were forced out in 2001 – including the suppression of women and girls.

Mr Tugendhat told BBC News: “The real danger is that we are going to see every female MP murdered, we are going to see ministers strung up on street lamps.”

Labour called for the urgent expansion of the scheme to re-settle Afghans who had worked with the UK.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said she had been inundated with appeals for help and that the government had just hours to resolve the issue.

“Some of them have already been killed, others have received threats to themselves and their families.

“We have an obligation as a country to make sure that they are safe,” she told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.

The Home Office said it had already resettled 3,300 Afghan staff and their families and was continuing to fulfil its “international obligations and moral commitments”.

A US Chinook helicopter flies over the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan Credit: AP

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the UK government of staying "silent" and said it needs to prevent Afghanistan becoming a base for international terrorism again.

He said: “The situation in Afghanistan is deeply shocking and seems to be worsening by the hour.

“The immediate priority now must be to get all British personnel and support staff safely out of Kabul. The government has been silent while Afghanistan collapses which, let’s be clear, will have ramifications for us here in the UK.”

He also called on Mr Johnson to seek emergency meetings of Nato and the UN Security Council.

Keir Starmer said the hasty decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan was the wrong one

Among senior parliamentarians there was shock at the speed of the Afghan collapse after the West had invested billions in building up the country’s armed forces.

In the course of little over a week many cities fell to the Taliban without a fight after tribal elders stepped in to negotiate the withdrawal of government forces in order to avoid bloodshed.

While much of the anger was directed at the US for its decision to withdraw its forces, precipitating the collapse, some MPs expressed concern that Britain could have done more to avert the crisis.

Mr Johnson said however that while the US decision had “accelerated things”, the end was inevitable.

“This has been in many ways something that has been a chronicle of an event foretold.

“We’ve known for a long time that this was the way things were going,” he said.