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‘Some people won’t get back’: Britain’s defense secretary breaks down over those left behind in Afghanistan

From Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, here's what leaders around the world said about Afghanistan's collapse. (Video: The Washington Post)
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LONDON — British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace appeared to break down during an interview Monday as he discussed the fate of those attempting to flee the Taliban in Afghanistan.

During an interview with radio station LBC, Wallace outlined plans to evacuate those still on Afghan soil and said the government and armed forces were risking their lives to process the relevant documentation before people could leave the country.

“It’s a really deep part of regret for me,” Wallace said before pausing, “that some people won’t get back.”

“Some people won’t get back,” he repeated, seemingly choking back tears.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said Monday that Britain was planning to evacuate “hundreds” of British nationals and eligible Afghans on flights every day.

“We want to obviously continue to do this as long as we are able to do so and as long as it is safe to do so,” the spokesman said, according to Reuters.

When asked by host Nick Ferrari why he was feeling the situation so personally, Wallace explained that he had served in the military. “I’m a soldier,” he said, adding that the situation was “sad.”

Wallace served as a captain in the British army before he was appointed defense secretary in 2019.

“It’s sad that the West has done what it’s done,” he added, before vowing to get as many people out as possible.

Veterans around the world also have expressed horror and sadness over Afghanistan’s fall.

“Why did my friend get blown up? For what?” one Afghanistan war veteran told The Washington Post last week. Others expressed anger that the United States and its allies had withdrawn troops from Afghanistan.

Last week, the British Embassy in Kabul urged its nationals in Afghanistan to “leave immediately” as the Taliban advanced, while the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office advised against all travel to the country.

Wallace’s comments come as Johnson and President Biden continue to face pressure over the West’s decision to withdraw troops after a 20-year conflict.

Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, criticized the government and said the escalating crisis was “shocking.”

“The government has been silent as Afghanistan collapses which will have ramifications in the UK,” Starmer tweeted Sunday evening local time.

In Britain, there was also resounding criticism for Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who spent last week on vacation in Cyprus. According to lawmakers, Raab did not communicate with other officials despite growing chaos in Afghanistan and beyond.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said that Raab’s absence “during an international crisis” was “nothing short of shameful.”

In response to the backlash, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said that Raab would return to Britain on Sunday and that he was “personally overseeing” the department’s response to the scenes in Afghanistan.

“It is critical that the international community is united in telling the Taliban that the violence must end and human rights must be protected,” Raab said Sunday.

Read more:

The Taliban has retaken control of Afghanistan. Here’s what that looked like last time.

Afghanistan’s military collapse: Illicit deals and mass desertions

Defiant and defensive, a president known for empathy takes a cold-eyed approach to Afghanistan