Tony Blair: Afghanistan war 'wasn’t a hopeless endeavour'

'Afghanistan did and does matter', the former PM said - Political Correspondent David Wood reports

Tony Blair, who made the decision 20 years ago to send troops into Afghanistan, said Britain's involvement was not a "hopeless endeavour" and that the sacrifice of soldiers was "not in vain".

"It’s really important that [UK veterans] know that this wasn’t a hopeless endeavour," the former Labour prime minister said on Sunday. “We went in there for very good reasons, and we achieved a lot thanks to those British and American and other armed forces over the last 20 years. The sacrifice was not in vain."

Mr Blair's comments follow those he made on Saturday night, in which he called Joe Biden's decision to withdraw troops “tragic, dangerous, unnecessary”. He added that the move had “every Jihadist group round the world cheering”.

Former prime minister Tony Blair with then US president George Bush Credit: PA

In an article on the threat of “radical Islam”, he said the exit was not in the West or Afghanistan’s interest and lamented the likely reversal of gains made during the occupation.

The UK government is now in a race against time to evacuate vulnerable people from Afghanistan ahead of the US withdrawing its troops on August 31 - at which point, it's unlikely Kabul airport will be able to operate as a means of bringing people to safety.

But Mr Blair urged for there to be “no repetition of arbitrary deadlines” – a reference to Washington’s Doha agreement with the Taliban, committing to vacate Afghanistan in time for the 9/11 anniversary – in the rescue mission.

“We must evacuate and give sanctuary to those to whom we have responsibility – those Afghans who helped us and stood by us and have a right to demand we stand by them,” said the former Labour Party leader.

“There must be no repetition of arbitrary deadlines. We have a moral obligation to keep at it until all those who need to be are evacuated.

“And we should do so not grudgingly but out of a deep sense of humanity and responsibility.”

People being evacuated from Afghanistan at Kabul airport. Credit: MoD

Former Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell hit out at Tony Blair over his article. He tweeted: "Blair has some front criticising Biden when along with Bush he was responsible for the greatest loss of civilian life in war in the twenty first century.

"I also recall when he sent troops into Afghanistan he implied it would be a short lived exercise.Liar or imbecile or both?

As of Saturday night, the UK had evacuated 3,821 British and Afghan citizens from the country since Friday 13 August.

The Foreign Office said: "The government’s priority is to continue to do all we can to deliver on our obligations to British nationals, and those Afghans who have helped us, and to get them out as swiftly and safely as we can.

"The evacuation process will run as long as the security situation allows in joint coordination with our close US partners."

But shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy has called on her counterpart to make an "urgent intervention to alleviate the crisis facing UK and Afghan nationals" trying to escape.

Members of the UK Armed Forces taking part in evacuations from Kabul airport in Afghanistan. Credit: AP

Ms Nandy said her office had been in contact with "hundreds of people who have been shot at, beaten or turned back trying to reach the airport and British processing centre in Afghanistan."

In the 2,700 word article, Mr Blair defended his own decision making in 2001 when he joined President Bush and the US forces in sending troops into Afghanistan.

After the Taliban refused to evict al Qaida, the terror group behind the 9/11 terror attacks, Mr Blair said Western allies, who feared worse attacks were to come, felt there was “no safer alternative” than to strike.

He continued: “There is no doubt that in the years that followed we made mistakes, some serious. But the reaction to our mistakes have been unfortunately further mistakes.

“The world is now uncertain of where the West stands because it is so obvious that the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in this way was driven not by grand strategy but by politics.

“We didn’t need to do it. We chose to do it," he said.

The former Middle East envoy said that, although “imperfect”, the “real gains over the past 20 years” were likely to be lost following the Taliban victory, including advances in living standards, education particularly of girls, and other freedoms.

The UK government has been working diplomatically to ensure there is no unilateral recognition of a Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has refused to rule out applying sanctions if the militants renege on their promise to be more inclusive, especially in their attitudes towards women, than when last in control.

Already ITV News has heard reports of torture and shootings at the hands of the Taliban since they took control of the country earlier this week.