Britons react to the collapse of Afghanistan

Connor IbbetsonData Journalist
August 16, 2021, 3:41 PM UTC

Most think two decades of bloodshed achieved nothing

Over the last twenty years, 454 British forces personnel or MOD civilians have died while serving in Afghanistan. Now, following the withdrawal of western forces, the Afghan government has collapsed and Kabul has fallen to rapidly advancing Taliban forces. Helicopter evacuations of foreign diplomats, as well as scenes of widespread panic across the city, are reminiscent of the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Was it right for the western allies to withdraw?

Last week, YouGov research showed found that 44% of Britons supported the withdrawal of western troops from Afghanistan, compared to 26% who were opposed. Now, with Afghanistan falling back under complete Taliban control for the first time since 2001, people tend to think it was the wrong decision to pull military support out of the country.

Two fifths (42%) of Britons say it was the wrong decision to withdraw troops, compared to 28% who think it was right to do so. Three in ten Britons (31%) are unsure.

Conservative voters are more likely to have a view than Labour voters over the withdrawal. Approaching half of Tories (48%) think the withdrawal is wrong, compared to 40% of Labour voters. Another one in three Conservatives (33%) say it was right, compared to 25% of Labour supporters.

Was it right to intervene in the first place?  

The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was prompted by the refusal of the ruling Taliban government to extradite Osama bin Laden after the September 11th terror attacks.

In 2001, YouGov research for the Guardian and Observer found 68% of the public in favour of deploying British troops to the country – but now the public is split on whether intervention in Afghanistan was the right thing to do.

Some three in ten (31%) think the intervention of western nations was right, while 32% aren’t sure, and 36% think it was the wrong thing to do.

Conservative voters (40%) are more likely than Labour supporters (25%) to say the intervention was right, with nearly 40% and 39% respectively thinking it was the wrong thing to do. Labour voters are much more likely to be unsure (35% versus 21% of Conservatives).

What has it achieved?

Afghanistan now ceases to be, with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan that was defeated in 2001 reinstated following the victory of the Taliban.

The majority of Britons (53%) think that two decades of war in the country did not ultimately achieve anything - including over half of both Labour (56%) and Conservative (59%) voters.

As well as thinking the war has achieved nothing, Britons tend to think the war has not improved the lives of people living in Afghanistan. A third (35%) say the war has not made life any better or worse for people there, while 27% think it has made life worse for them. Only 15% think conditions in the country have improved following the involvement of the western allies.

Ultimately, the British people tend to consider the outcome of the conflict as a loss for the Western nations involved (46%). Among older Britons, who no doubt remember the start of the invasion, the conflict is seen as a loss, including half of 50-64 year olds (53%) and six in ten (60%) of those 65 and over.

Despite the rapid resurgence of the Taliban, a third of Britons (36%) think that we neither lost nor won the conflict.

See full results here