MPs and peers unite to condemn ‘dishonour’ of US president’s withdrawal and his criticism of Afghan troops left behind to face Taliban
Joe Biden's handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal was condemned as "catastrophic" and "shameful" on Wednesday as the Houses of Parliament delivered an unprecedented rebuke to a US president.
MPs and peers from across the political spectrum, including Boris Johnson, put some blame for the Taliban's takeover and the chaos that followed on Britain's closest ally.
Mr Biden was accused of "throwing us and everybody else to the fire" by pulling out US troops, and was called "dishonourable" for criticising Afghan forces for not having the will to fight.
Former defence chiefs who led British troops in the Middle East were among those to speak out, while there were warnings that the West's withdrawal would embolden Russia and China.
The interventions mark a deterioration in UK-US relations almost exactly 20 years after Britain joined America in invading Afghanistan to root out terrorism after the September 11 attacks.
But it was not just Mr Biden who faced criticism, with Mr Johnson and his ministers told they had overseen the worst disaster in British foreign policy for 65 years.
The Prime Minister was accused of not doing enough to rally allies to support Afghanistan as the US departure became apparent, including by his predecessor, Theresa May.
Wednesday's debate marked the first time Parliament has sat as normal in more than a year, as MPs and peers crammed into the chambers with Covid social distancing rules gone.
Mr Johnson began by arguing that America's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan had forced Britain's hand, saying it was an "illusion" to think other allies wanted to step in to keep the peace.
"The West could not continue this US-led mission – a mission conceived and executed in support and defence of America – without American logistics, without US air power and without American might," the Prime Minister said in a clear swipe at Washington.
MPs from all sides of the Commons were forceful in their criticism. Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said: "The US is, of course, an important ally, but to overlook the fighting of the Afghan troops and forces, and the fact that they have been at the forefront of that fighting in recent years, is wrong."
Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "The American decision to withdraw was not just a mistake – it was an avoidable mistake, from President Trump's flawed deal with the Taliban to President Biden's decision to proceed, and to proceed in such a disastrous way."
Tom Tugendhat, the Tory chairman of the foreign affairs committee, who fought alongside Afghans as a British soldier, called out Mr Biden's criticism of the Afghan army.
"To see their commander in chief call into question the courage of men I fought with, to claim that they ran, is shameful," he said, to murmurs of approval from other MPs.
Labour MP Chris Bryant called Mr Biden's remarks about Afghan soldiers "some of the most shameful comments ever from an American president".
Khalid Mahmood, a Labour MP and former defence minister, said: "The Biden government have just come in and, without looking at what is happening on the ground, have taken a unilateral decision, throwing us and everybody else to the fire."
Other MPs who served as soldiers also rounded on Mr Biden. Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader, called his comments "shameful", while Labour MP Dan Jarvis described them as "particularly distasteful and dishonouring". Tobias Ellwood, a former veterans' minister, said the US withdrawal was "absolutely the wrong call".
Leading Conservatives in the Lords also made clear their disapproval. Lord Hammond, a former foreign secretary, said: "When I listen to the US president, I cannot help reaching the conclusion that this decision was made out of a sense of political tidy-mindedness – we need to close a file; we need to draw a line; it has gone on for too long."
Lord Howard, another former Tory leader, said Mr Biden's withdrawal "is, and will be seen by history as, a catastrophic mistake which may well prove to be the defining legacy of his presidency".
The heated rhetoric has thrust the state of the "special relationship" and the Biden-Johnson partnership into the spotlight. The Telegraph understands Mr Johnson had been attempting to get Mr Biden on the phone to discuss Kabul falling from Monday morning. The pair eventually talked at close to 10pm on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, General Sir Nick Carter, the head of the Armed Forces, accused the US of "shattering" the morale of Afghan troops when they stopped air strikes.
A UK defence source insisted the UK and US military were continuing to work closely at Kabul airport in a race against time under way to evacuate people with the Taliban nearby. However, there is concern amongst some in government that the US might soon pull out of the airport, according to Whitehall sources.
Philip Reeker, America's acting ambassador, went into Downing Street for talks with Will Gelling, Mr Johnson's foreign policy adviser.
While the day of debate was playing out in Westminster after Parliament was recalled from its summer recess, the Taliban was tightening its grip on Afghanistan. Militants shot dead at least three people after protesters pulled down the group's banner and raised the Afghan national flag in its place.
The Taliban was also tightly controlling which Afghans could enter Kabul airport to escape, leading to footage of girls locked out and begging to be helped by Western forces.
Senior former UK defence figures criticised Mr Biden, with Lord Dannatt, the former head of the British Army, saying: "The manner and timing of the Afghan collapse is the direct result of President Biden's decision to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
"At a stroke, he has undermined the patient and painstaking work of the last five, 10, 15 years to build up governance in Afghanistan, develop its economy, transform its civil society and build up its security forces. The people had a glimpse of a better life – but that has been torn away."
Lord Houghton of Richmond, a former chief of the defence staff, said: "I think the American decision to withdraw military support was a dreadful one, and the resulting chaos should be of no surprise."
Mr Johnson came in for repeated criticism for his handling of the Afghanistan withdrawl, including by Mrs May.
She said: "In July of this year, both President Biden and my Right Honourable friend the Prime Minister indicated that they did not think that the Taliban were ready or able to take over control of the country.
"Was our intelligence really so poor? Was our understanding of the Afghan government so weak? Was our knowledge of the position on the ground so inadequate? Did we really believe that, or did we just feel that we had to follow the United States and hope that, on a wing and a prayer, it would be all right on the night?
"We boast about global Britain, but where is global Britain on the streets of Kabul? A successful foreign policy strategy will be judged by our deeds, not by our words."
Mr Johnson talked to Mario Draghi, the Italian prime minister, on Wednesday as he pushed world leaders for a unified position on the new Taliban regime. Foreign ministers from the G7 group of nations will hold talks on Afghanistan on Thursday.
The UK had evacuated around 1,200 people from Kabul on military flights as of Wednesday morning. Around 300 were UK nationals and 900 were Afghans and others who had helped the UK's mission in the country.