Recent events in Afghanistan have unfolded at an extraordinary pace, the world has been shocked as the Taliban have taken control. There will be many within the Armed Forces Community for whom the fall of Afghanistan is particularly hard to take. Over the last two decades members of our community have spent years separated from those that they love, many have suffered injuries that have changed their lives completely, and 457 tragically lost their lives leaving behind devastated families. The professional efforts of those in uniform contained the Taliban threat allowing over 4 million refugees to return to the country whilst stimulating dramatic economic progress, significant improvements in health care, education, and freedom of speech. Unfortunately political progress and the fight against corruption did not match the achievements in other areas of Afghan society. When the international presence withdrew, the fragility of the Afghan state, and by extension the security forces was revealed; progress had been made but not enough to be self-sustaining.
The Armed Forces Community, those in uniform, veterans and their families have invested a huge amount in the future of the Afghan people. We served believing that we were doing the right thing in support of a just cause, helping the Afghans rebuild their nation and reducing the risk to the UK of terrorist attacks such as 9/11. The British forces in Afghanistan served with honour, professionalism, bravery and distinction in extremely difficult circumstances. It is a record to be proud of. Families who provided support for over twenty years, experiencing the loneliness and worry of separation, raising children on their own for extended periods, and for some enduring the pain of loss, should also be recognised. We have been in touch with MPs, and Ministers through the Office for Veteran’s Affairs, to try to ensure that they highlight the extraordinary nature of that service in their communications as the situation develops.
The political decision to leave Afghanistan to the Taliban will generate a mixture of emotions: anger, frustration, and a strong sense of being let down. It will be a particularly difficult time for those who have given the most. There will also be real concern for those left behind who served with the international community as interpreters and support staff, and their families. The UK must provide sanctuary for those under threat and will be judged in the eyes of the world and by our community accordingly. The current Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (accessed here at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/afghan-relocations-and-assistance-policy/afghan-relocations-and-assistance-policy-information-and-guidance#eligibility-under-the-arap-scheme) was designed prior to the current crisis and we are pressing the MOD for details of updates as they occur. We have also asked for details of how the Sector may provide support to those being relocated. We will pass on any information that we receive through the Newsletter and the Website.
Support from the Service Charity Community comes in many forms, from simply providing comradeship to the provision of professional services and advice. I know from speaking to some members that requests for support have already shown an increase and their view is that further demand will follow as the situation develops. As ever, the Confederation’s many charities will be there to provide assistance and support in whatever way that they can.
General Sir John McColl KCB CBE DSO
Chairman of Cobseo
17 August 2021