Boris Johnson 'apprehensive' about Afghanistan's future ahead of statement marking UK withdrawal
British Prime Boris Johnson has conceded that he is "apprehensive" about the future of Afghanistan ahead of a planned statement to parliament marking the end of the UK’s 20-year deployment to the war-torn country.
Johnson described the current situation in Afghanistan as "fraught with risks" as he spoke to select committee chairs in the UK’s parliament liaison committee on Wednesday, signalling his doubts as the Taliban seek to tighten their grip on roughly a third of Afghanistan's more than 400 districts.
In response to a question delivered on behalf of Tory MP Tobias Elwood on the UK's deployment to Afghanistan, Johnson said: "If you’re asking me whether I feel happy about the current situation in Afghanistan, of course I don't. I'm apprehensive, of course I am."
He suggested that the UK must be prepared for the prospect of Afghanistan's government reaching a settlement involving the Taliban. Some 454 British troops died in Afghanistan, just over 400 of them in combat against the insurgents since the UK joined the US in the 2001 invasion of the country to oust them.
The UK has reasoned that the withdrawal of its remaining 750 troops in the country, who assist Afghan forces largely in a training role, is justified due to a loss of protection when the 2,500-strong US-led mission in the country leaves.
On Wednesday, the US Central Command announced the American withdrawal from the country was 90 percent complete.
Johnson is likely to confirm that the UK will continue operating its embassy in Kabul, but with its protection tasked to private contractors rather than UK troops.
The prime minister will make a statement on Thursday morning marking the end of the UK's mission and clarifying its diplomatic and military stance on Afghanistan.
When asked by Bernard Jenken, the chair of the liaison committee, on whether the UK would launch a public probe into its 20-year long engagement, Johnson said he would not "extemporise away" before his Thursday statement.
In November, a leading Afghan human rights group called on the British government to carry out an independent inquiry into allegations of possible war crimes in Afghanistan, following an inquiry into the alleged unlawful killing of Afghan civilians at the hands of Australian special forces.
Last year, signs emerged that the UK is making it harder the prosecute potential war crimes, with the introduction of the Overseas Operations Bill granting qualified immunity to servicemen and women accused of war crimes and abuses committed more than five years ago.
Separately on Wednesday, Iran hosted meetings between a Kabul delegation and representative of the Taliban, in the latest sign of growing international pressure for the country's warring sides to come to an agreement.
Meanwhile, Moscow has pledged its support to Tajikistan as Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon ordered the mobilisation of 20,000 military reservists to the Afghan border, through which more than 1,000 Afghan security personnel have fled to Tajikistan following the Taliban's seizure of districts.