Forces heroes have warned a tsunami of mental health woes faces the UK if action isn’t taken urgently to support the most traumatised troops from the war.
The alert comes after the vast majority of British and American troops pulled out from the embattled nation – opening the doors to a resurgent Taliban, who have swept through Afghanistan in a matter of weeks, erasing much of the work of British forces to stablise the country.
The decision has left UK veterans dismayed, with survivors of the conflict telling The News many now feel lost and angered, having watched friends die fighting in Afghanistan ‘all for nothing’.
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Retired Lance Corporal Dan Arnold deployed with the Second Battalion, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment to Afghanistan in 2008 – and lost three of his comrades to the war.
The 35-year-old dad from Portsmouth, who now works as a mental health specialist with the NHS having been left with post-traumatic stress disorder from his military service, was heartbroken by what’s now happening in Afghanistan.
‘It’s a mockery of the lads and lasses who were left behind’
He said: ‘I’m truly gutted by it all. It really makes the sacrifice and loss feel so pointless.
‘I have seen a huge wave go across the veteran community in the lads' morale. Some have taken this personally and feel like they have been betrayed and let down.
‘It makes a mockery of the lads and lasses that we left behind.’
He added: ‘When we were out there it felt like every day was just surviving. It never felt like there was a wider game. I felt like we were on the back foot getting hammered and just trying to do our best, fighting for the people to the left and right of us. Now what?’
His comments came as some 600 British paratroopers were being prepared to pull UK nationals and embassy staff out of the Afghan capital of Kabul.
The military scramble was prompted by the worsening situation in the country, with Taliban forces sweeping through the country and reclaiming regions once held by British and American forces.
Former military intelligence officer Dr Frank Ledwidge, a naval veteran who served as a justice advisor to the UK mission in Helmand Province in 2007-2008, said the UK had suffered a ‘humiliating defeat’.
‘Government must do more to protect veterans at home’
Dr Ledwidge, who is now a lecturer specialising in British foreign policy at the University of Portsmouth, said: ‘It’s important to stress that our people fought well but they were wasted on this hopeless mission. It doesn’t help anyone to pretend that this was anything other than the shameful defeat that it was.
‘There’s nothing positive about it. It was a waste of resources and people’s lives. The focus should now be on taking care of our veterans close to home.
‘The government spent £39bn on this war. None of that has been set aside looking after our veterans. We have a responsibility to our veterans, far more than the Afghans.
‘We have a responsibility for the people we sent into war. To not do this is a failure of the government.’
The call was repeated by Lieutenant Colonel Chris Parker, chairman of the PWRR Association, Hampshire’s local infantry association.
He said: ‘Many of our soldiers have been affected a lot in the last few weeks by this news because it rather sheds light on their sacrifice, both personal and their friend’s sacrifices and whether it was worth it.
‘We’re currently dealing with a lot of good care for people who just need a bit of reassurance at this time.
‘All our veterans are fine people and do a great job but we must remember at this difficult time we have to think of them and how they feel.’
The war claimed the lives of 455 British service personnel. However, many more were injured, with others having since taken their own lives.
Afghan death have not been ‘in vain’ says PM
The prime minister last night insisted 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 PM confirmed the ‘vast bulk’ of the remaining UK embassy staff in Kabul would return in the next few days.
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.
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.
Mr Johnson said it was the ‘inevitable logical consequence’ of the decision of 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.
‘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.’