CAAT statement on Afghanistan

CAAT's statement on recent events in Afghanistan and the record of UK arms sales to Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion

CAAT stands in solidarity with the people of Afghanistan who have endured a 20 year failed military intervention, led by US, UK and NATO forces, during which time they have faced brutal violence at the hands of all parties: international forces, the Afghanistan government and allied warlords, the Taliban, Islamic State, and other armed groups.

Over the course of the invasion and occupation the UK has approved licences for military goods to Afghanistan valued at £151 million since 2008. While some of the licences were for diplomatic missions or humanitarian organisations, a significant proportion were for the Afghanistan security forces. Additionally the UK has approved 86 unlimited-value “open” licences. This has been part of failed efforts, led by the US, to build up the Afghanistan military and police, which has fuelled massive corruption, with billions of dollars of aid funnelled into the accounts of politicians, officials, military commanders and warlords. In 2021 alone, these licences covered military goods including components for combat aircraft, small arms ammunition, and military communications equipment. 

The millions of pounds worth of military goods that the UK has exported to Afghanistan are another terrible example of the destruction left behind by this catastrophic foreign policy failure. Arms have been supplied, by the US and UK and others, with no regard to where they will end up, or how they are used, or to the systematic corruption involved in their supply. If these weapons make it into the hands of Taliban or other groups they will continue to have devastating consequences for civilians – in 2020, 8,820 civilian casualties were documented, more than in any other country according to the FCDO’s 2020 Human Rights and Democracy Report. 

A narrow and reductive interpretation of the government’s own arms export licensing criteria has become the expected standard when it comes to countries such as Afghanistan, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The criteria explicitly state that the government will not grant a licence if there is ‘a clear risk that the items might be used for internal repression’ nor for items which would ‘provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in the country of final destination’. Either the government is incapable of applying their own regulations and accurately evaluating risk, or the criteria as written do not allow for even the most modest consideration of the long-term consequences of exporting weapons to a deeply unstable country. 

Like the invasion itself, the government’s short-sighted approach to arms export licensing will leave a brutal scar on the lives of Afghan civilians, women and children in particular, for decades to come. The government needs to urgently investigate which end users now have control over these military goods, and why the arms export licencing criteria in place have utterly failed to account for what was clearly a very high risk. 

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