Following the chaotic military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August this year, nearly two-thirds of British voters believe the UK’s mission in the country was not a success.
Only 16 per cent of people think the intervention – which the then prime minister David Cameron declared a “mission accomplished” in 2013 – was a success, with 63 per cent saying it was not, and 21 per cent saying they were unsure, according to exclusive polling by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for the New Statesman.
The UK had a military presence in Afghanistan for 20 years after joining the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban in 2001.
As Joe Biden withdrew US troops from the country, Boris Johnson said it would be unsustainable for the UK to remain there without a US presence – which the public seems to accept.
While only 33 per cent of people polled support Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw American troops (with 32 per cent opposing it and 27 per cent neither supporting nor opposing), a majority (51 per cent) support the British government’s withdrawal once the Americans had taken the decision to leave.
Senior UK government officials, including the former foreign secretary Dominic Raab, were heavily criticised for their handling of the withdrawal. It was suggested that more Afghan nationals could have been evacuated if the government had been better prepared.
The government subsequently announced it would take in 20,000 Afghan refugees, with 5,000 to be relocated in the first year. Forty-four per cent of people polled agree with this initiative, with 27 per cent opposing the policy (24 per cent neither support nor oppose it).
At the same time, more than a third of voters (37 per cent) think admitting 5,000 Afghan refugees within the next year is “too many”. Twenty-eight per cent say 5,000 refugees a year is “about the right amount” with 19 per cent saying this quota is “too few” – 16 per cent say they are unsure.
A total of 150,000 British service members have served in Afghanistan over the last 20 years and 457 have died. With the benefit of hindsight, nearly half of those polled (43 per cent) ultimately think the government was wrong to decide to intervene in Afghanistan in 2001 – with 29 per cent supporting the decision and 29 per cent saying they didn’t know.
[see also: Jeremy Bowen’s Diary: Where the West went wrong in Afghanistan, the ruins of Helmand, and my sharp new attire]