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Defence Committee launch inquiry into withdrawal from Afghanistan

9 September 2021

The Defence Committee launches its inquiry into the recent withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan and the rapid government takeover by the Taliban. The inquiry will examine developments following the US agreement with the Taliban in February 2020 to withdraw NATO troops from Afghanistan (the Doha Agreement), which was endorsed by the NATO decision of March 2020.

Work will focus on the planning for, and execution of, the withdrawal of UK Armed Forces, and evacuation of UK nationals and Afghans who had worked with the UK Armed Forces. The Committee will explore whether the UK was involved in the decision by the US and NATO to withdraw, and ask whether there was an option to remain regardless. The inquiry will also ask what adjustments were made to plans for training and equipping the Afghan forces following the setting of the withdrawal date. The Committee will explore the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) role in the evacuation effort, asking what plans were made and whether changes to those plans were made once the speed of the takeover became apparent. Questions such as whether the UK attempted to prevent the Taliban from using UK military equipment, and how many UK nationals and Afghans who worked with the UK remain in Afghanistan, will also be explored.

Send us your views

The Committee welcomes written evidence on the following questions:

  • What part did the UK play in the decision by the US and NATO to withdraw from Afghanistan? Was the option of remaining without US forces considered? How realistic would that have been?
  • How were effective the UK’s Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams? What was the make-up and training of the Afghan armed forces?
  • Following the decision to withdraw, what changes were made to plans for training and equipping the Afghan armed forces?
  • What plans were made for withdrawal of UK forces and the evacuation of UK nationals? What estimate was made of the number of Afghan nationals who should be evacuated?
  • What plans were made for the evacuation of Afghan nationals who had worked with or for UK Armed Forces?
  • On which elements of the evacuation did the MoD lead or support and how effective was coordination with other Government departments? What was the effect of other operations, for example in Iraq?
  • What assessment was made of whether and how long the Afghan armed forces would be able to resist the Taliban?
  • How were plans for evacuation changed once the speed of the takeover by the Taliban became apparent? What UK and other military equipment was left for the Taliban and how could it be used against the UK? What efforts were made to deny the Taliban any UK military equipment left in country?
  • What discussions were there with a) the US and b) other NATO allies about delaying withdrawal of NATO forces? What would have been the consequences of delaying withdrawal?
  • How successful was the evacuation? Did it go according to plan?
  • How many UK nationals and Afghan nationals and families who worked with or for UK Armed Forces remain in Afghanistan? What can now be done to enable them to leave? What criteria will be used?
  • What effect will the withdrawal have on future operations, and what will be the impact on the willingness of local personnel to work with, and support, the UK in future operations?
  • What extra support for UK veterans will be provided to help with the mental health and other effects of withdrawal?

Chair's comment

Chair of the Defence Committee, Tobias Ellwood MP, said:

“The sheer speed of the Taliban takeover following our withdrawal from Afghanistan sent shockwaves across the world. After twenty years of war, the images of Taliban fighters celebrating victory on the streets of Kabul are sobering. It has been a dark and troubling time for the West and supporters of democracy and human rights worldwide.

British troops demonstrated impressive valour, dignity and resilience in the face of tremendous pressure and an immediate risk to life. While questions remain over the strategic decisions taken during the evacuation, the courage and contribution of our troops is without question or doubt. Every effort should be made to provide support for currently serving personnel, veterans and families, many of whom have asked ‘what was it all for?’. It is painful to think of those left behind and we will be asking what can and should be done to enable their passage to safety.

This inquiry will focus on defence’s contribution, examining the Ministry of Defence’s role in the withdrawal and evacuations, in terms of both strategy and execution. The inquiry will examine at the UK’s role in decision making, and the extent of our collaboration with the US.”

Form of written evidence

Submissions should be no longer than 3,000 words. The main body of any submission should use numbered paragraphs. Each submission should contain: 

  • a short summary, perhaps in bullet point form;
  • a brief introduction about the person or organisation submitting evidence, for example explaining their area of expertise or experience;
  • any factual information from which the Committee might be able to draw conclusions, or which could be put to other witnesses;
  • any recommendations for action by the Government or others which the submitter would like the Committee to consider for inclusion in its report to the House.
  • Submissions should be in malleable format such as MS Word (not PDFs) with no use of colour or logos. Submissions should be arranged in numbered paragraphs
  • Guidance on submitting written evidence and data protection information is available here: Guidance on submitting written evidence.

Deadline for submissions

The Committee is asking for initial written evidence to be submitted by 17.00 on Thursday 14 October 2021.

It is recommended that all submitters familiarise themselves with the guidance on giving evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons which outlines particulars of word count, format, document size, and content restrictions.


We encourage members of underrepresented groups to submit written evidence. We aim to have diverse panels of Select Committee witnesses and ask organisations to bear this in mind when we ask them to choose a representative. We are currently monitoring the diversity of our witnesses.

Further information

Image: MoD