BORIS Johnson has said the sacrifices made by British troops in Afghanistan have not been “in vain”, but warned there was no “military solution” to prevent the resurgence of the Taliban.

Following a meeting of the Government’s Cobra contingencies committee, the Prime Minister confirmed the “vast bulk” of the remaining UK embassy staff in Kabul would return in the next few days.

The Northern Echo: Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Sovereign's Parade at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Camberley, which marks the completion of 44 weeks of training for the officer cadets. Picture date: Friday August 6, 2021.

At the same time, he said the Government was stepping up efforts to relocate Afghans who had assisted British forces during their time in the country and who now face reprisals if they fall into hands of the militants.

But Tom Blenkinsop, former Middlesbrough South and east Cleveland MP and Lance Corporal in 1 RMP (Royal Military Police), 243 Norton detachment, said “the lack of a coherent British strategy persists” and Mr Johnson’s present strategy of “not saying anything and hoping nobody notices, isn’t a strategy and it isn’t in Britain’s interest to act as such”.

A team of Home Office officials to help deal with their applications will join 600 British troops due to fly out to the country to assist in the evacuation of the remaining UK nationals and embassy staff as the Taliban forces close in on the capital.

There was, however, widespread dismay among MPs who claimed the country was being abandoned to its fate with a series of provincial capitals falling to the Taliban as they continue their lightning advance across the country.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Johnson said it was the “inevitable logical consequence” of the decision of the the US administration of President Joe Biden to complete the final pull-out of American troops by September.

While he said that the UK would continue to work with international partners to prevent the country again becoming a breeding ground for international terrorism, he acknowledged they could not impose a solution on the battlefield.

“It is very difficult obviously, but I think the UK can be extremely proud of what has been done in Afghanistan over the last 20 years,” he said.

“I think we have got to be realistic about the power of the UK or any power to impose a military solution – a combat solution – in Afghanistan.

The Northern Echo: Seriously injured veteran Ben Parkinson at his home in Doncaster, Yorkshire. Mr Parkinson and his family say the Taliban advances in Afghanistan have left them asking "what on earth was it all for" and hoping no more British soldiers are harmedSeriously injured veteran Ben Parkinson at his home in Doncaster, Yorkshire. Mr Parkinson and his family say the Taliban advances in Afghanistan have left them asking "what on earth was it all for" and hoping no more British soldiers are harmed

“What we certainly can do is work with all our partners in the region around the world who share an interest with us in preventing Afghanistan once again becoming a breeding ground for terror.”

Mr Johnson said the efforts of British forces, who first entered the country in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks, had helped prevent further terrorist atrocities.

“I don’t think that it was in vain. If you look back at what has happened over the last 20 years there was a massive effort to deal with a particular problem that everybody will remember after 9/11,” he said.

“That was successful. To a very large extent the threat from al Qaida on the streets of our capital, around the UK, around the whole of the West, was greatly, greatly reduced.

“I believe it was right, it was worth it and what we must do now is not turn our backs on Afghanistan.”

However many MPs said the UK should be doing more to prevent the country falling back into the hands of militants and extremists.

Conservative former defence minister Johnny Mercer, who served as a soldier in Afghanistan, said it was “deeply humiliating” watching events unfold.

He told BBC Breakfast: “(US President Joe) Biden has made a huge mistake here, but also we have a role. This idea we cannot act unilaterally and support the Afghan security forces is simply not true.”

Rory Stewart, a former Tory international development secretary, warned of the return of international terrorism as the Taliban regained its grip on power.

“They have been backing suicide bombing in the areas they control, women are not going to school and it is a total betrayal by the United States and the United Kingdom,” he told Sky News.

For Labour, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said the Government should consider “all possible measures” to support the Afghan army in resisting the advance of the Taliban.

“We have an obligation to the people of Afghanistan who have suffered so much – but the Government is sending all the wrong signals,” she said.

However Conservative former foreign secretary Lord Hammond said that while the withdrawal of US forces had been a “gross miscalculation” by the Biden administration, there was little the UK could do.

“It’s not the fault of the British Government, they had really no choice but to withdraw British troops once the US had decided to withdraw American troops,” he told Times Radio.

The Northern Echo:

Mr Blenkinsop said: “After two decades of a war that has left 457 British service men and women dead, with many more physically and mentally injured and tens of thousands Afghanistan dead with the cost to the west running into the trillions of dollars, Afghanistan is on the verge of falling to the Taliban, again.

“Firstly, the US decision to leave Afghanistan has meant Britain couldn’t have feasibly stayed as Britain played a supporting role to our larger NATO partner. Staying without a coherent strategy wouldn’t have helped the current situation.

“Yet, once again the majority of Afghans do not want a Taliban government, and are yet again denied a voice in their own individual and collective future.”

“Our departure has been criticised by Cabinet Ministers Johnny Mercer, Rory Stewart and Tobias Ellwood, who all served in the Army before becoming MPs. They all say the withdrawal is premature.

“Mr Stewart said NATO forces should continue to provide air support to the Afghan government forces and not leave “so recklessly and suddenly”. But that would necessitate a large ground force deployment also.”

The Taliban forces are now in control of about two-thirds of the country, and are on the verge of taking Kabul.

Mr Blenkinsop added: “Leaving Afghanistan in the hope that is to be resolved by Russia and China, due to a future NATO absence, is not a long term viable option either. This only erodes our international leverage further and degrades our standing relationships in the region and elsewhere.

“You need only look at the vast numbers of uighur lingering in the Chinese communist party’s concentration camps, without the merest hint of protest from surrounding autocratic muslim nations to understand that the powers on the ascendancy in the region are all enemies of individual liberty.

“The lack of a coherent British strategy persists. The main question for Boris Johnson is what is he going to do to support the Afghan government and help negotiate a peace settlement? His present strategy of not saying anything and hoping nobody notices, isn’t a strategy and it isn’t in Britain’s interest to act as such.”

A serving North East reservist sergeant, who asked not to be named, said: “We lost I believe 456 UK servicemen and women during the Afghanistan conflict. A great number more were left with horrific life changing injuries.

“Any progress that was made during the 20 year campaign to establish a democratic government has fast been lost to Al Qaeda in recent months. A hasty withdrawal as witnessed by the international coalition force could only lead to Al Qaeda securing a foothold once again.

“Was the sacrifices made by the British armed forces and other allied nations worth the end result? It's not for me to pass judgment, but a question for the wider nations of those who lost brave soldiers, sailors and airmen & airwomen.”