457 British servicemen and women gave their lives in conflict in Afghanistan, many more have suffered life changing injuries. Their sacrifice has never been more present in our minds than now, nor the 69,000 members of the Afghan Army that have died alongside them.
Those who committed themselves to this struggle did so proudly and rightly so. Not only did they make us safer but they presented a different vision to the people of Afghanistan. One in which in an increasingly prosperous and urbanised country, 3.6m girls attended school last year and a quarter of Afghan MPs are women. One in which for years the population has had the opportunity to see how their country may become a better place. This has laid roots in Afghanistan and in the hearts of her people.
We will judge the new regime that emerges not on its words but it’s actions. Working as President of the G7 the U.K. is determined that no international recognition should be made without clarity on how the new regime will be acting from preventing terrorist bases being established, through its view of the narcotics trade, to the role of women in society.
While doing so we are very conscious of the immediate threat to those who have supported and worked with us over many years. There is a huge exercise that is currently ongoing to bring out of Kabul personnel bound for the U.K., joining those who we have already brought out. The operation is extremely intense with everyone involved, Armed Forces personnel and civil servants on the ground in Kabul alike, hugely aware of the potential implications for those that cannot be reached.
The Prime Minister in the Commons debate I attended this morning also set out how the U.K. is leading the way in showing its willingness, as it always has, to provide support to those who hold our values and our commitment to provide humanitarian support.
The drawdown of NATO forces started in 2014 and has been protracted. Following the US decision to withdraw the last of its forces we looked ourselves at staying longer but to do so would ignore the realities of the situation on the ground.
No one who has studied the history of Afghanistan makes predictions of that complex country with confidence. However those who fought for peace and security in Afghanistan, both for us and the Afghans have left a legacy in that country which I believe will best be judged not this week nor next but over many years to come.