Former soldier Tom Tugendhat laments feeling of defeat over Afghanistan

A former soldier-turned-Conservative MP warned Afghanistan “damn well feels like” defeat, as he urged a fresh “vision” must be developed to help.

Tom Tugendhat, who served in Afghanistan, was applauded following an emotive Commons speech in which he recalled his experiences in the country.

He was also among several MPs to criticise US President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump for their decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan.

Addressing a silent Commons, Mr Tugendhat said he had struggled through “anger, grief and rage” over the past week and noted he had previously watched “good men go into the earth, taking with them a part of me and a part of all of us”.

He touched on the efforts of the military, aid workers, journalists and others before noting: “I know that we’ve all been struggling and if this recall has done one thing… I’ve spoken to the Health Secretary, he’s already made a commitment to do more for veterans’ mental health.”

Mr Tugendhat said it was with “great sadness” that he was to criticise the US, noting: “To see their commander in chief (President Joe Biden) call into the question the courage of men I fought with, to claim that they ran is shameful.

“Those who have not fought for the colours they fly should be careful about criticising those who have.”

Mr Tugendhat suggested the West and the UK had not shown patience, adding: “This is a harsh lesson for all of us and if we’re not careful it could be a very, very difficult lesson for our allies.

“It doesn’t need to be.

“We can set out a vision, clearly articulate it, for reinvigorating our European Nato partners, to make sure that we are not dependent on a single ally, on the decision of a single leader, that we can work together with Japan and Australia, France and Germany, with partners large and small and make sure we hold the line together.”

Joe Biden
Tom Tugendhat criticised comments by US President Joe Biden about the courage of Afghan soldiers (Evan Vucci/AP)

He ended by recalling his time as an adviser to the governor of Helmand and the “joy” given to families by the opening of schools for girls, adding: “I didn’t understand it until I took my own daughter to school about a year ago.

“There was a lot of crying when she first went in, but I got over it and it went okay.

“I’d love to see that continue.”

He left MPs with a second, “harder” image, which he explained: “It’s one that the forever war that has just reignited could lead to.

“It is the image of a man whose name I never knew, carrying a child who had died hours earlier, carrying this child into our fire base and begging for help.

“There was nothing we could do.

“It was over.

“This is what defeat looks like when you no longer have the choice of how to help.

“This doesn’t need to be defeat but at the moment it damn well feels like it.”

Dan Jarvis, Labour MP for Barnsley Central, speaking during the debate on the situation in Afghanistan
Dan Jarvis MP spoke of the sacrifice of ‘brave’ British service personnel (House of Commons/PA)

Conservative former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt also criticised the US.

He said: “President Biden said this week that his only vital national interest in Afghanistan was to prevent a terrorist attack.

“Even if that is the case, both he and President Trump should be deeply ashamed, and I say this with great sadness, because their actions have returned Afghanistan to the very government that harboured the 9/11 bombers.”

Dan Jarvis, Labour MP for Barnsley Central, who served in the British armed forces in Afghanistan, spoke of the service and sacrifice of the “brave” British servicemen and women “who throughout showed outstanding professionalism and courage”.

He went on: “It was particularly distasteful and dishonouring of President Biden to make reference to the lack of courage and commitment by those Afghan soldiers who have served with such bravery and distinction.”

Veteran and Conservative former defence minister Johnny Mercer also accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of “consistently failing” to support former soldiers properly, and warned there would be a “bow wave” of mental health issues among veterans following the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He added: “The Prime Minister must not wriggle out of his commitments on this issue. The Office for Veterans’ Affairs is nothing like it was designed to be and he knows that.”