Afghan officials announced on Friday that the Taliban had captured Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern Helmand province.
Cabinet minister Ben Wallace denied the plan to send 600 troops in to Afghanistan, announced on Thursday, was a last-minute decision, arguing that it was put in place “some months ago” in preparation for withdrawal alongside the US by September 11.
The short-term deployment, which comes as the US vowed to send 3,000 of its troops to Afghanistan, will be used to support diplomacy, help citizens leave the country and support the relocation of former Afghan staff as the Taliban continues to make in-roads.
Wallace – who refused to rule out further ground attacks or air strikes if the situation worsens – admitted he is concerned that multi-national terror network al Qaida, the group behind atrocities such as the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, could “come back” as Afghanistan de-stabilises once again.
He told Sky News: “Of course I am worried, it is why I said I felt this was not the right time or decision to make because, of course, al Qaida will probably come back, certainly would like that type of breeding ground.
“That is what we see – failed states around the world lead to instability, lead to a security threat to us and our interests.”
The Defence Secretary said he thinks the deal signed between then-White House incumbent Trump and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020 to withdraw from Afghanistan was a “mistake” – but argued the UK had no choice but to follow.
Since the deal was signed, Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, has continued with the withdrawal timetable.
Wallace said: “I was public about it that at the time of the Trump deal – with obviously the Taliban – I felt that that was a mistake to have done it that way, that we will all, as an international community, pay the consequences of that.
“But when the United States, as the framework nation ,took that decision, the way we were all configured, the way we had gone in meant that we had to leave as well.”
But former defence minister and Afghanistan veteran Johnny Mercer contested the idea that the UK cannot act alone in the central Asian country.
The Conservative MP said it is “deeply humiliating” to watch the situation unfold in Afghanistan, with US officials stating that the capital, Kabul, could fall within weeks.
He told BBC Breakfast: “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.
“The political will to see through enduring support to Afghanistan has not been there and a lot of people are going to die because of that, and for me that is extremely humiliating.
“It’s a world tragedy and we are going to reap the repercussions of this over many years to come.”