Boris Johnson is to convene an emergency Cobra meeting on Friday afternoon to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, Downing Street has announced.
The Prime Minister’s decision to bring together a top-level Government meeting comes amid growing concern over the Taliban’s lightning offensive that is gradually encircling the capital Kabul only weeks before the full withdrawal of Allied armed forces.
Britain and the US have agreed to send in additional troops, with 600 UK personnel due to help with efforts to get citizens out of the country and support the relocation of former Afghan staff.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said he feared multinational terror network al Qaida, the group behind atrocities such as the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, would “probably come back” as Afghanistan destabilises once again.
Taliban insurgents are now estimated to hold more than two-thirds of Afghanistan and continue to press their offensive, having taken the country’s second and third largest cities, Kandahar and Herat, as part of a week-long blitz.
Afghan officials announced on Friday that the Taliban had captured Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern Helmand province, giving them a further scalp as US and UK forces pare back their presence in time for withdrawal on September 11.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister is convening a Cobr this afternoon to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan.”
Johnson has come under pressure domestically to recall Parliament to debate the fallout in Afghanistan, with a cross-party call coming from Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey and Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy.
The withdrawal of troops – intended to mark the end of a two-decade war – was agreed following a deal signed between then-US president Donald Trump and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020.
Wallace has called it a “rotten deal” but said the UK was left with no alternative but to follow Washington’s lead.
But the Cabinet minister has refused to rule out further military action in Afghanistan, despite withdrawal plans being well under way.
He told LBC: “I’m going to leave every option open. If the Taliban have a message from last time, you start hosting al Qaida, you start attacking the West or countries at that, we could be back.”
The latest US military intelligence assessment suggests Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days and that, if current trends hold, the Taliban could gain full control of the country within a few months.
Thousands of Afghans have fled their homes amid fears the Taliban will again impose a brutal, repressive government, all but eliminating women’s rights and conducting public executions.