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UK and NATO must not leave Afghanistan before peace-talks conclude

13 January 2021

The International Relations and Defence Committee publishes its report, The UK and Afghanistan. The report is published against the backdrop of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which resumed in Qatar at the weekend, and high levels of violence claimed by the Taliban and Islamic State Khorasan Province. The report criticises the lack of clarity on UK policy towards Afghanistan, expresses concern over the premature withdrawal of troops by the US, and says the Government will have to carefully consider its approach to the Taliban if a power-sharing agreement is reached at  the  peace talks.


Between 2001 and 2014, the UK was involved in the conflict in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al Qaeda. The last UK combat troops left Afghanistan in October 2014.

Around 850 UK troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, as part of the non-combat NATO Resolute Support Mission, which provides security and helps to train Afghan security forces.

The UK is the third largest bilateral donor to Afghanistan, providing £167 million in official development assistance in 2020–21.

The Committee’s inquiry explored the UK’s diplomatic, military and aid strategy for Afghanistan, including scrutiny of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It considered the UK’s work with international partners such as the US, NATO, and the Afghan government.

Chair's comments

Commenting on the report, Baroness Anelay of St Johns, Chair of the Committee, said:

“Afghanistan’s relative prioritisation as a UK national security issue has slipped since 2010, but the scale of the challenges facing the country, and their potential impact on UK interests, have not diminished. The Afghan state remains very fragile, while the Taliban’s insurgency continues, and terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and Islamic State Khorasan Province, operate in the country. Afghanistan is the source of 95% of heroin on UK streets. 

“This is a critical time for Afghanistan, with peace talks in Qatar having resumed over the weekend and an unacceptably high level of violence continuing to afflict an already poor and unstable country.    

“The Government must engage urgently with the incoming Biden Administration on the strategy for Afghanistan, and emphasise to the US and to NATO Allies the importance of their ongoing presence in Afghanistan until a peace deal is reached.  The Government should be front and centre in calling for a multinational approach to Afghanistan within NATO, addressing regional stability, counter-terrorism and countering narcotics production and trafficking. 

“The UK is a major aid donor to Afghanistan, and we are concerned that the Government’s decision to renege on its commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid from 2021 could have a disproportionately negative impact on Afghanistan.” 

Conclusions and recommendations 

  • The UK has shown little inclination to exert an independent voice on policy on Afghanistan and has followed the lead of the US. The Committee finds few traces of a coherent UK policy approach to Afghanistan. It urges the UK call for a multi-national approach to Afghanistan within NATO, and focusing on the UK’s objectives of regional stability, counter-terrorism and countering narcotics production and trafficking.
  • The ongoing presence of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan is essential to the Afghan government’s military strength and negotiating position at the talks in Doha. The report emphasises the urgency of UK engagement with the incoming Biden Administration on Afghanistan. The UK must make clear to the US and NATO allies the crucial role they play in maintaining the Afghan government’s leverage in the peace talks. 
  • The Taliban has not demonstrated that it has changed, and it is ideologically opposed to the progress on human rights made since 2001. While it is engaging with the peace talks, its commitment to a negotiated settlement and to power-sharing remains unclear. The Committee concludes the Government should carefully consider how it will handle its future relationship with the Taliban in the event of the peace talks resulting in an agreement, in the context of future UK security assistance and aid to an Afghan government with Taliban representation.
  • Human rights, particularly the rights of women and minorities, are in danger of being a casualty of the Afghan peace talks. The Committee welcomes the UK’s enduring commitment to human rights, but regrets that the UK is unlikely to have sufficient leverage to ensure these rights are protected. 
  • Afghanistan is extraordinarily aid dependent, which makes it particularly vulnerable to future cuts in ODA provision. The Committee reiterates its opposition to the UK Government’s decision not to meet its statutory target to spend 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) on official development assistance (ODA) from 2021.  
  • The UK should urgently review the status of the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) and consider including it on the Home Office’s list of proscribed terrorist organisations. 

Further information