London: The world “got it wrong” about how quickly the Taliban would take over Afghanistan, according to the head of the British army on Sunday, just days after the UK government admitted that intelligence suggested that “it was unlikely Kabul would fall this year” after Western troops withdrew from the war-torn country.
The Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan last month took the US and other countries off surprise, as did the startlingly swift fall of the Afghan military and government supported by the West after NATO soldiers left the country.
“It was the speed of it that shocked us, and I don’t think we realised exactly what the Taliban were up to,” General Nick Carter, Britain’s chief of the military staff, told the BBC.
When asked whether military intelligence was wrong, he said that the government got intelligence from a number of sources.
“It’s not only military intelligence,” he said.
The last British and American soldiers left Afghanistan a week ago, ending a 20-year military war in the country. There has been criticism of the West’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, with concerns raised about how the Taliban was able to take control of the country so quickly.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs last week that intelligence had predicted a “steady deterioration” in security in August, but that it was “unlikely” that Kabul would fall this year. However, on August 15, the Taliban seized over Kabul, and Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani fled to the United Arab Emirates.
Nick was asked by the BBC how the forecasts had gone wrong.
“The simple answer is that I think everyone got it wrong,” he added. “Even the Taliban did not change things changing as quickly as they did.”
When asked whether military intelligence was wrong, Nick said, “No… many of the assessments indicated it wouldn’t survive the course of the year, and, of course, that’s proved to be true.”
“It’s a lot wider issue than simply just military intelligence,” he said.
In our country, we have a combined intelligence committee that meets inside the Cabinet Office. So they gather sources from the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office, the inter-agencies, and the secret intelligence services, as well as other open source information.”
“I don’t think anybody anticipated how fragile that Afghan government was and how fragile its command of its military forces was,” he added.
After the Taliban took control of Kabul, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley commented on the intelligence assessment at a Pentagon news conference, saying the time frame for the Afghan government’s collapse “was widely estimated and ranged from weeks to months and even years following our departure.”
“There was nothing that I or anybody else observed that suggested this army and this government would collapse in 11 days,” Milley added.
Foreign countries will have to adjust to the possibility of dealing with an administration headed by Taliban militants if the Taliban announces a new government shortly.
The British army chief said it was too early to predict how the Taliban will govern, although the group might be less oppressive than in the past.
“On the face, things don’t seem to be going well right now. But let’s wait and see what occurs. “It may change,” he added.
“I also think they are not dumb enough to not see that the Afghan people have evolved and that they want a somewhat different kind of government.”
The Taliban was accused of killing a female police officer on Sunday. The death comes amid allegations that the group is tightening its grip on women.
He said that it was now up to the international community to persuade the Taliban to govern differently.
“They’re going to require some assistance to operate a contemporary state successfully,” he added.
“If they behave, they may receive some assistance,” he added.
According to Nick, the danger of terrorism will be determined by Afghanistan’s ability to establish a functional government.
Meanwhile, the Opposition Labour Party’s shadow foreign minister, Lisa Nandy, warned that the events in Afghanistan may make Britain less secure.
“The essential job for the government… is to ensure that Afghanistan does not revert to a sanctuary for terrorism,” the Indian-origin lawmaker added.
She urged the UK to cooperate with other countries, not only its friends, to adopt a unified approach to the Taliban and use their influence to demand rights for Afghan women and girls.