British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that a “terrorist” threat remains in Afghanistan but said Britain is “not about to turn away.”
He added that the UK would continue to work towards a negotiated settlement in the country and it would have to include the Taliban.
Johnson confirmed that most British troops have left Afghanistan, almost 20 years after the UK and other Western countries sent troops into the country to engage in what they described as a “war on terror.”
Johnson stressed that the threat posed by al-Qaida to the UK has substantially diminished, but he sidestepped questions about whether the hasty military exodus by the country and its NATO allies risks undoing the work of nearly two decades or leaves Afghanistan vulnerable to the Taliban, which has made rapid advances in many northern districts.
The prime minister declined to give details about the troop withdrawal, citing security reasons.
But he said that “all British troops assigned to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan are now returning home,” adding that “most of our personnel have already left.”
He stressed that Britain remains committed to helping achieve a peace settlement in Afghanistan through diplomacy.
“We are not about to turn away, nor are we under any illusions about the perils of today’s situation and what may lie ahead. We always knew that supporting Afghanistan would be a generational undertaking,” Johnson said.
He noted the fact that the Taliban are advancing quickly in rural areas following the U.S. and UK’s withdrawal, and the ISIS terrorist group remain a significant threat.
He added that any negotiated settlement in the country would have to involve the Taliban.
A total of 457 British service members died in Afghanistan during the UK’s deployment, a much higher death rate compared to the UK involvement in Iraq.
Britain’s last combat troops left Afghanistan in October 2014, though about 700 remained in Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission to train Afghan forces.
Britain’s Defence Ministry has said the withdrawal of the last troops would be “complete within a few months.”
The U.S. military announced Tuesday that 90 percent of American troops and equipment had already left the country, with the drawdown set to finish by late August.
Last week, U.S. officials vacated the country’s biggest airfield, Bagram Air Base, the epicenter of the war to oust the Taliban and hunt down the al-Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.
Most European troops have also quietly pulled out in recent weeks.