The Taliban was “inevitably” going to assume political power in Afghanistan despite two decades of Nato involvement in the country, a UK defence minister has said.
Armed Forces minister James Heappey said it was “always inevitable the Taliban would be part of the solution” – comparing the current situation to the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Despite a UN warning that Taliban militants have been going door-to-door in their hunt for those who worked with Nato forces, the defence minister insisted the group was “part of the peace”.
Mr Heappey told Sky News: “It makes me sick, of course it does, to see the scenes we’re seeing in Afghanistan, I gave some of the best years of my life and I risked my life in Afghanistan.”
He added: “The fact the Taliban is part of the peace, as painful as that is for people like me who have served, was always going to be the reality.”
The defence minister, who served in Afghanistan during his time in the British Army, compared the current need to engage with the Taliban to engagement with former provisional IRA figures in the 1990s.
He told LBC radio: “The reality is that anyone who served knows that peace is imperfect. I severed in Northern Ireland and I know that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness who had been part of the provisional IRA became part of the government in the peace deal.”
It comes as a UN document warned that the Taliban are targeting Afghans who worked for Nato forces or the previous government. The group are targeting “collaborators” according to a document by the RHIPTO Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, which provides intelligence to the UN.
Former MI5 chief Lord Jonathan Evans has said the Taliban takeover was likely to increase terrorism threat which will emerge in Afghanistan over “the coming months and years”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think there are two problems – I think there is more operating space more likely to be available to groups like al Qaida, and there have been reports of Islamic State elements present in Afghanistan.”
Lord Evans added: “If they get the opportunity to put down infrastructure to train and to operate then that will pose a threat to the West more widely … it probably does mean an increase in threat over the coming months and years.”
Meanwhile, the governments is facing calls to do more and speed up the evacuation of remaining British citizens and Afghans who worked with UK forces, as the push to get people on flights continues.
The defence minister said on Friday that 963 people have been evacuated from Kabul on the RAF “air bridge” in the last 24 hours. “We’re looking forward to delivering similar numbers today, tomorrow and over the days ahead.”
Mr Heappey said it was unclear how long the UK evacuation plan will last as it is dependent on the “dynamic” circumstances. “We don’t have it in our gift to say it will last for five days, 10 days, 15 days.”
He said he understood the Taliban are not turning people away from Kabul airport, noting: “Where they have done I’ve heard it’s more that they are being officious rather than malicious.”
The Guardian reported that a group of around 100 guards at the British embassy in Kabul were told they are not eligible for government protection because they were hired by a private contractor, the security firm GardaWorld.
But Mr Heappey said the guards would be evacuated. “They have arrived at the airport this morning and we will be moving them out later today.”
The minister insisted that people at all levels in the government are “working their backsides off” to evacuate people after he was questioned about foreign secretary Dominic Raab’s response to the Afghanistan crisis.
Mr Raab is under growing pressure to resign over his failure to cut his holiday short as the Taliban advance. The crucial phone call he was urged to make to help evacuate interpreters in Afghanistan did not happen, the Foreign Office has admitted.
Defending the government, Mr Heappey told Sky News: “No one phone call would have changed the trajectory, either for the collapse of the Afghan government or the acceleration of the airlift.”
Asked whether Mr Raab’s job was safe, the junior minister added: “That’s not a judgement for me. He has been very, very effective in what he has been doing in the last week.”