May warns of terror threat posed by ‘wing and prayer’ Afghanistan withdrawal

Theresa May has suggested Boris Johnson hoped “on a wing and a prayer it’d be all right on the night” in Afghanistan – before warning that the UK faces an increased terror threat.

The former prime minister also hit out at ex-US president Donald Trump’s decision to “do a deal” with the Taliban and raised her fears for women and girls in Afghanistan under the new regime.

Mrs May’s remarks were the latest in a series of critical House of Commons speeches aimed at her successor, having previously criticised Mr Johnson’s decision to slash international aid and proposals to reform the planning system.

The Commons was also at its busiest since March 2020 as Parliament was recalled from its summer recess to debate Afghanistan.

MPs were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on both sides of the House, with masks being worn by more opposition MPs than Conservative ones.

Addressing the House, Conservative MP Mrs May said: “Of course the Nato presence was always going to end at some point in time.

“But the withdrawal when it came was due to be orderly, planned and on the basis of conditions. It has been none of these.

“What has been most shocking has been the chaos and speed of the takeover by the Taliban.

“In July this year, both President Biden and the Prime Minister indicated that they did not think the Taliban was 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? Or did we really believe this? Or did we feel we just had to follow the United States and hope that on a wing and a prayer it’d be all right on the night?

“Because the reality is that as long as this time limit was given and dates given for withdrawal, all the Taliban had to do was to ensure there were sufficient problems for the Afghan government not to be able to have full control of the country and then just sit and wait.”

Mrs May said US President Joe Biden had “upheld” a decision made by Mr Trump, noting: “It was a unilateral decision of President Trump to do a deal with the Taliban that has led to this withdrawal.

“What we’ve seen from the scenes in Afghanistan is that it hasn’t been all right on the night, so I say that there are many in Afghanistan who fear not just that their lives will be irrevocably changed for the worse, but who fear for their lives.”

She went on: “The Taliban proclaim that women will be allowed to work and girls allowed to go to school but this will be under Islamic law – or rather their interpretation of Islamic law – and we have seen before what that means for the lives of women and girls.”

After she highlighted the potential humanitarian crisis and welcomed extra funding from the UK, Mrs May turned to the security risk.

She said MPs must be “deeply concerned” about the possible impact in the UK, adding: “The Taliban of course have said that they will not allow Afghanistan to become a haven for terrorists again… their actions must be what we look at, not their words, and their action has… been to release thousands of high-value Taliban, al Qaida and Daesh fighters.”

She went on: “So their action is completely different from their words and I think it is absolutely essential for us to recognise the probability that Afghanistan will once again become a breeding ground for the terrorists who seek to destroy our way of life.”

Mrs May said she found it “incomprehensible and worrying” that the UK was not able to bring together an “alternative alliance” of countries to provide support to sustain the government in Afghanistan, noting: “Surely one outcome of this must be a reassessment of how Nato operates.”

She added Russia and China will “not be blind” to the implications of the withdrawal, adding if the West continues to appear less willing to defend its values then “it will embolden those who do not share those values and wish to impose their way of life on others”.