UK: Our big mistake was to assume we had won, says British ambassador to Afghanistan

Sir William Patey, the British ambassador to Afghanistan, has spoken frankly about what he sees as the errors and failings in the country over the past decade.

With two weeks left of his diplomatic career, Sir William Patey could be forgiven for being discreet. Instead, as he sits in his office in Kabul, the British ambassador to Afghanistan is undiplomatically frank about what he sees as the errors and failings over the past decade. Principal among them is the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, taken less than two years after Britain, America and an alliance including Australia and France went into Afghanistan to depose the Taliban. Sir William told The Sunday Telegraph that both Washington and Downing Street wrongly assumed that the war was “won and the Taliban had run away”. But that led to a long-running problem: “years of missed opportunity” followed because the focus was on Iraq instead of Afghanistan. The 58 year-old said the opportunity to train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces to fill the power vacuum was missed, allowing the Taliban to return. “We were too focused on Iraq and we took our eye off the ball. We thought we had won [in Afghanistan] and the Taliban had run away and we just sort of left it to the Afghans to get on with it and we very quickly switched our focus to Iraq. You don’t normally write history so quickly but I’m pretty clear that we won’t have to wait too long for history to make that judgment.”

Speaking the day before six British soldiers were killed in Kandahar, the ambassador also suggested that the presence of International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) had become a hindrance to the stability of the country.

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Categories: Afghanistan, Europe, UK

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