The UK government has been talking to the Taliban through an intermediary and a pathway for the hardline Islamist terror group to be recognised as the government of Afghanistan exists, the defence secretary has said, as he defended President Joe Biden’s handling of the withdrawal.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace spoke to several UK broadcast networks on Monday morning amid emerging scenes of chaos and violence in Afghanistan and Britain’s re-committal to a group of Air Assault Brigade troops to the country to protect efforts to expatriate both UK passport holders and Afghan interpreters coming to Britain.
Wallace recognised that after 20 years of Western nation-building, the Taliban now controlled Afghanistan, and also revealed that the United Kingdom was already entering into discussions with the jihadist organisation to negotiate for the safety of British citizens in the country.
Chaotic exodus from Kabul airport.
Apaches used to clear the runway.
If this is not Saigon 2.0 I don’t know what is.
Is this how we thought we’d depart Afghanistan?
I repeat my call for a UK inquiry. pic.twitter.com/Bd7bRPRTVy
— Tobias Ellwood MP (@Tobias_Ellwood) August 16, 2021
Speaking to Sky News, Wallace remarked: “I acknowledge that the Taliban are in control of the country, you don’t have to be a political scientist to spot that’s where we’re at. I have engaged through a third country yesterday to make sure we seek assurances from the Taliban to protect our people and indeed the people we’re trying to work to get out.”
Wallace said the intermediary was a Middle Eastern country that was speaking to the military leadership of the Taliban on his behalf. He again made the point when speaking to the BBC later in the morning, when he confirmed not only that the UK was negotiating with the Taliban, but that the terror group had offered assurances to London.
He said: “I sought through a third country, a Middle East country yesterday, assurances from the Taliban military leadership that they would respect the airport, their statements are that they would.”
Beyond granting the Taliban the legitimacy of not just seeing them as the de facto rulers of Afghanistan and negotiating to protect Britons in country with them through an intermediary, Wallace tacitly expressed that there was a route for the Taliban to be recognised as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, too. Asked on Sky News whether the UK would recognise the Taliban as the Afghan government, Wallace said that decision had not yet been made and suggested the answer would depend on how the fighters treated the country once in power.
— LBC (@LBC) August 16, 2021
Another persistent talking point for Wallace on Monday was where he saw the blame laying for the rapid deterioration in the Afghan security situation, with the UK defence minister clear that his views were in lockstep with Washington’s, that today’s events were the fault of former President Donald Trump, not the present president, Joe Biden.
Wallace said Trump’s 2020 Doha peace agreement “undermined the Afghan government and left it in a place where we ultimately saw the end” and, even more explicitly, told the BBC: “The die was cast when the deal was done by Donald Trump, if you want my observation.”
Absolving the Biden presidency for responsibility, Wallace continued: “President Biden inherited a momentum, a momentum that had been given to the Taliban because they felt they had now won, he’d also inherited a momentum of troop withdrawal from the international community, the United States.
“So I think in that sense, the seeds of what we’re seeing today were before President Biden took office. The seeds were a peace deal that was effectively rushed, that wasn’t done in collaboration properly with the international community and then a dividend taken out incredibly quickly.”
Wallace’s talking points closely resembled those in President Biden’s Saturday statement on Afghanistan. As Breitbart News Network’s Charlie Spiering reported then, Biden’s tone on Afghanistan has changed considerably, when he has gone from assuring that it was “highly unlikely” that the Taliban could have overrun the country, to blaming Trump for that happening when it did just weeks after that speech.
President Trump, for his part, has rejected such claims and said when he spoke with Taliban leaders as part of achieving the 2020 peace agreement, it was clearly understood that their present actions would not have been acceptable, and the U.S. withdrawal under a second Trump term would have been “conditions-based”.
“It would have been a much different and much more successful withdrawal, and the Taliban understood that better than anyone,” the former president said.