British forces prepare to launch air strikes against IS in Afghanistan

31 August 2021, 07:30

The RAF could launch air strikes at IS in Afghanistan.
The RAF could launch air strikes at IS in Afghanistan. Picture: Reuters/Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

British forces are preparing to launch air strikes targeted at IS in Afghanistan, the head of the Royal Air Force (RAF) has suggested.

It comes after the group's Afghan offshoot, Isis-K, carried out a bloody attack on Kabul airport in the final days of the evacuation effort, killing two Brits along with the child of a British national.

However, despite the end of the Western military presence in Afghanistan on 30 August, the UK and US remain willing to take on the so-called Islamic State, also known as Daesh.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston indicated that the RAF could strike against the group, saying: "Ultimately what this boils down to is that we've got to be able to play a global role in the global coalition to defeat Daesh, whether it's strike, or whether it's moving troops or equipment into a particular country, at scale and at speed."

Read more: UN resolution adopted calling for safe passage out of Afghanistan

"If there's an opportunity for us to contribute I am in no doubt that we will be ready to - that will be anywhere where violent extremism raises its head, and is a direct or indirect threat to the UK and our allies," he told the Daily Telegraph.

"Afghanistan is probably one of the most inaccessible parts of the world, and we're able to operate there."

Read more: Foreign Sec calls for international support to help at-risk Afghans escape the Taliban

Read more: Ten members of one Afghan family killed in US drone strike - reports

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the global coalition against the terrorist group was ready "to combat Daesh networks by all means available, wherever they operate".

The group's attack on Kabul airport led to a transatlantic blame game between allies, however, with US sources suggesting the gate that was attacked was kept open to facilitate the British evacuation.

Read more: US Military leaks blame UK for Kabul airport bombing deaths

Read Admiral Peter Vasely, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, had wanted to close Abbey Gate but it was kept open to allow UK evacuees into the airport, according to leaked Pentagon notes obtained by Politico.

The Ministry of Defence said that throughout the operation at the airport "we have worked closely with the US to ensure the safe evacuation of thousands of people".

Final US troops left Kabul on a flight shortly before midnight local time on Monday, a day ahead of the deadline set by Joe Biden.

It meant the end of a 20 year war, which began in the wake of the September 11 attacks, leading to the Taliban proclaiming "full independence" for Afghanistan.

With the UK having already pulled out its remaining troops, the day also marked the conclusion of airborne evacuations from Kabul, leaving Afghans wanting to escape the Taliban facing an uncertain future.

Read more: Final US evacuation flight departs Kabul as Taliban hails 'full independence'

However, the new regime in Afghanistan faces mounted pressure to respect human rights and provide safe passage for those who wish to escape its rule, following the passage of a UN Security Council resolution.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "Tonight's UN Security Council resolution, led by the UK with our allies, makes clear that the international community stands with Afghans.

"There can be no return to repression or terror. We will push as one voice for safe passage, humanitarian access and respect for human rights."