Brutality of the Taliban in Afghanistan puts the world at risk, says GARY JONES

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The world will undoubtedly pay a high price for deserting Afghanistan. The naivety of that decision is breathtaking. After the horrific al-Qaeda terrorist attacks nearly 20 years ago I spent over three months reporting from Afghanistan, the epicentre of the war on terror. Make no mistake, the Taliban today are as dangerous a threat to world security as they were then. They are a murderous regime with a brutal interpretation of Islamic sharia law.

Their hatred of the West – our culture, our way of life – runs so deep that any belief they will run anything other than a pariah state is delusional.

The devastating impact of 9/11 in 2001 concentrated the world’s attention on this mountainous territory, which was home to the terrorist network al-Qaeda. My colleague Andy Stenning and I witnessed the conflict between Taliban fighters and the Northern Alliance, a ragtag army of warlords dedicated to winning back control.

British and American special forces on the ground organised devastating air attacks on the Taliban, which was the only effective way to destroy their forces.

Such was the reluctance at the time of US and British forces to engage in a ground offensive that tens of millions of dollars were paid to Afghan forces friendly to the West to wage war and seize control of Kabul. That’s how desperate the Allies were to neutralise the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Now the Taliban is back with a vengeance and the sacrifices of British troops who would later fight so valiantly against a shadowy enemy has been in vain. The death toll of the British military in Afghanistan is 456, with many more suffering life-changing injuries. Their families are rightly asking why their mission, once deemed so critical to the stability of world order, was discarded so abruptly.

Now Afghanistan will again endure the revenge of the Taliban and its brutal regime that leaves little hope for human rights and the emergence of freedoms and education for women so long denied a future.

And as for al-Qaeda? The Taliban said during recent “peace talks” that the terror group would be banned from their territory, but who can believe such a promise?

After the removal of the Taliban and al-Qaeda from power in 2001, we saw the abandoned bomb-making factories used to such devastating effect. Those drawn to al-Qaeda’s poisonous ideology learnt the skills there, which ultimately led to the 2005 London bombings that killed 52 people. We can only hope Allied forces will now monitor the country so closely that such a threat to our safety will not emerge again.

But we must recognise the abandonment of Afghanistan was a miscalculation that might well have devastating consequences. And as for the future of the Afghan people, their plight can only be described as desperate, miserable and wretched. I owe a great personal debt to these people. They provided myself and fellow journalists with food, accommodation and security, giving freely what little they had.

I returned their generosity by paying for repairs to a school and supplying desks and school books to a building near Bagram air base that was, until just a few weeks ago, the American headquarters that provided protection to the country and its 40 million inhabitants.

The re-emergence of the Taliban will mean no girls will go to that school and the capture of the air base and the release of 5,000 Taliban fighters imprisoned there further threaten Afghan families.

Afghanistan is a tragedy that knows no end. We turned our backs on its people. How we react now will define its future, and impact on ours, for decades to come.

There are no easy decisions and more British lives should not be lost, but we must, for all our sakes, do something – and quickly.

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