LISA NANDY: Witnessed humbling acts of bravery
The extraordinary acts of bravery from our armed forces and diplomatic staff in Afghanistan have been humbling to witness.
Even in the last few hours before the final flight took off, soldiers continued to put their lives at risk to get people to safety in the face of unimaginable risks.
The fact that more than 15,000 people were helped to leave the country in less than a fortnight is down to their commitment and bravery, and they deserve a heroes’ welcome home.
Despite having 18 months to plan for the evacuation, as General Lord Richard Dannatt, former Chief of Staff of the British Army has said “the government was asleep on watch”.
This meant soldiers had to make agonising decisions in the final hours about who could stay or who could go.
They also witnessed the devastation of the airport attacks which killed so many British nationals, Afghan civilians and American troops.
Too often we have failed our armed forces when they return home from service. We must ensure there is adequate support, especially with mental health, now they are safely back home.
With the airbridge now closed the Prime Minister must also live up to his promise to “move heaven and earth” to help the thousands of people left behind – among them British nationals and the Afghans who supported our armed forces and our government over two decades.
In recent weeks I have been working with current and former servicemen and women from Wigan who are in contact with those they served alongside, desperate to secure their safe passage.
Currently the only advice they have been given is to find a “safe place” to stay as the Taliban and other jihadist militant groups patrol the streets.
The Government still doesn’t have any idea of how many British nationals and Afghans who assisted us have been left behind. Reports over the weekend from a whistle-blower in the Foreign Office suggest that thousands of emails from MPs, soldiers and charities raising urgent cases of individuals stranded in Afghanistan still remain unread.
A special Government helpline set up to provide advice and support to vulnerable Afghans during the crisis was at one point redirecting callers to a washing machine company in the West Midlands.
The absolute chaos across Government contrasts starkly with the calm, compassionate professionalism that our troops displayed in Kabul to the very end.
The Government is yet to set out a clear plan, both for how they will deal with the new and increased terror threat from Afghanistan now that the Taliban have regained control and for how they will help people in danger to flee.
It must now work urgently with our allies to share intelligence and with the governments of countries that share land borders with Afghanistan to find ways to create routes of safe passage for those looking to leave and offer support to those countries to provide a home to those who settle there.
While Pakistan is already hosting three million Afghan refugees and the UK Government has asked it to do more, here in the UK the Government has capped the number of refugees it will receive at 5,000. The leaders of Greater Manchester stand ready to welcome the Afghans – among them the soldiers, interpreters, charity and embassy workers - who fought and worked shoulder to shoulder with our soldiers during the last 20 years.
The planning effort is impressive. While the Government frequently places refugees into poor-quality unsuitable housing in areas where there is little support and with no warning for the community, Greater Manchester’s leaders are once again co-ordinating our efforts so that together we can warmly, and safely, welcome the Afghans who supported us to our area.
We can be proud of the efforts of so many Britons in recent weeks, chief amongst them our armed forces. We badly need a Government that shows the same level of commitment and dedication as we enter this next phase.
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