Conservatives have reacted with anger at Joe Biden’s speech justifying his decision to pull US troops out of Afghanistan while placing blame on the country’s political leaders, with one MP describing it as “grotesque”.
It comes after the US president used a national address the day after the Afghan capital, Kabul, was seized by the Taliban, and chaos erupted at the airport, saying he stood “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw troops from the region.
Admitting the takeover of Afghanistan unfolded “more quickly than we had anticipated”, he also argued the country’s political leaders “gave up and fled the country” — rather than resisting the insurgents.
“The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight,” he said. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves”
Claiming the military in the country “were well equipped” with “every tool” they would need, he went on: “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for their future.”
However, the speech provoked anger among some quarters of the Conservative Party, with the MP Simon Clarke posting on social media: “The more you reflect, the more you realise the speech POTUS gave last night was grotesque.
“An utter repudiation of the America so many of us have admired so deeply all our lives — the champion of liberty and democracy and the guardian of what’s right in the world.”
The former Tory MP Rory Stewart, who ran for the leadership of the party in 2019, also described the speech to The Independent as “hollowed, devoid of empathy, and naively pessimistic”.
Tom Tugendhat — the chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee — also told The Independent: “Blame shifting in the fact of the predicted disaster that is Afghanistan today is extraordinary.”
“We need to take responsibility for our actions and recognise the consequence of political decisions,” he said.
Gavin Barwell, who was chief-of-staff to former prime minister Theresa May, posted on Twitter: “After POTUS speech last night, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.
“The US will remain a key ally where its vital interests are involved, but neither the Democrats nor Republicans any longer believe the US should be the world’s policeman.”
He added: “The lesson for Europe is clear: whoever is president, the US is unlikely to offer the same support that it used to in parts of the world where its vital interests are not involved”.
Elsewhere, Labour’s Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, said: “We were critical when the UK government blindly followed the United States during the Trump years.
“We won’t shy away from that same criticism now. Abandoning the Afghan people is wrong. The UK government should have the courage to say so.”
Her frontbench colleague Wes Streeting added after Mr Biden’s speech on Monday evening: “Listening to the presidents of two of our closest allies in the United States and France you would think that the nativists won the elections. Around the world, all the wrong people are cheering”.
Speaking to Times Radio, Hugo Llorens, the former US ambassador to Afghanistan between 2016 and 2017, said that while the president was a “good man”, he “completely” disagreed with the decision to withdraw the American military from the region.
“I think that to a significant degree, the president realises this was a mistake,” he said. “This is now the issue of the moment. It’s clearly been a disastrous result.
He went on: “They clearly didn’t expect it. The president accepted that, they did not see the deterioration as rapidly as it occurred. But I think there’s a little bit of, you know, politicians trying to protect and defend themselves. And I think there’s a little bit of rewriting of history.”
Addressing the situation in Afghanistan on Tuesday, Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, suggested the situation at Kabul international airport was “stabilising” as the UK continued attempts to evacuate British citizens and some Afghans granted visas.
The cabinet minister revealed around 2,000 UK nationals had contacted the Foreign Office from Afghanistan, but also echoed comments from the defence secretary Ben Wallace, saying there was “always a risk” some people could be left if the situation deteriorates.
However, the foreign secretary, who arrived back in London on Monday after being on holiday in Greece, attempted to claim the no one saw the swift Taliban takeover in the country “coming” as the government faced criticism over its strategy.
“We’ve monitored this very carefully, but the truth is across the world people were caught by surprise,” he told Sky News.