The world was “wrong” about how quickly the Taliban would take over Afghanistan, the British army chief said Sunday, days after the British government acknowledged intelligence suggesting that “Kabul was unlikely to fall this year.” after Western troops withdrew from the war-torn country.
The US and other countries were caught off guard by the Taliban’s lightning-fast conquest of Afghanistan last month and the remarkably rapid fall of the Afghan military and Western-backed government as NATO troops left the country.
“It was the pace that surprised us and I don’t think we realized what the Taliban were up to,” Britain’s chief of defense staff, General Nick Carter, told the BBC.
When asked whether military intelligence was wrong, he said the government received intelligence from several sources.
“It’s not just about military intelligence,” he said.
The last British and American troops left Afghanistan a week ago, ending their 20-year military campaign in the country. There has been criticism of the way the West withdrew from Afghanistan, with questions about how the Taliban were able to take control of the country so quickly.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs last week that the intelligence assessment had been that the security situation “would steadily worsen” in August, but that Kabul was “unlikely to fall this year”. However, on August 15, the Taliban took over Kabul and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled to the UAE.
Speaking to the BBC, Nick was asked how the predictions had been wrong.
“I think everyone is wrong is the right answer,” he said. “Even the Taliban didn’t expect things to change as quickly as they did.”
When asked if military intelligence was wrong, Nick said, “No…a lot of the reviews suggested it wouldn’t last over the course of the year and of course it proved that.”
He said, “It’s much broader than just strictly military intelligence.” The way it works in this country is we have the joint intelligence committee that sits in the cabinet. So what they’re doing is bringing together the sources of the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the inter-agencies and the secret intelligence services and broader open source material.”
He said: “I don’t think anyone could have predicted how vulnerable that Afghan government was and how vulnerable it was in relation to command of its armed forces.”
After the Taliban took control of Kabul, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, commented on the intelligence community’s assessment at a Pentagon news conference, saying the timeframe of the Afghan government’s collapse ” was generally estimated and varied from weeks to months and even years after our departure.”
“There was nothing I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and government in 11 days,” Milley said.
The Taliban are expected to announce a new government soon, meaning foreign powers will have to adapt to the prospect of dealing with a government led by Taliban terrorists.
The British army chief said it was too early to say how the Taliban would rule, but there was a possibility that the group would be less repressive than in the past.
“At first glance, it doesn’t look good at the moment. But let’s see what happens. It could very well change,” he said.
“I also don’t think they are stupid enough to… [not] know that the Afghan people have changed and they want a slightly different kind of governance.”
On Sunday, the Taliban were charged with the murder of a female policewoman. The murder comes amid reports that the group is escalating its oppression of women.
He said it is now up to the international community to encourage the Taliban to rule in a different way.
“They’re going to need a little help to run a modern state effectively,” he said.
“If they behave, they might get help,” he said.
Nick said the risk of terrorism will depend on whether an effective government can be formed in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Labor Party shadow foreign minister, Lisa Nandy, said there is a good chance Britain is now less safe because of the events in Afghanistan.
“The urgent task for the government … is to ensure that Afghanistan does not collapse again into a haven of terrorism,” said the Indian politician.
She called on the UK to work with other countries – not just their allies – to take a common approach to the Taliban and use their influence to demand rights for women and girls living in Afghanistan.