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Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace cautioned that the Taliban was not a single entity but rather a title that encompassed 'all sorts of different interests.'SIMON DAWSON/Reuters

Afghanistan is spiralling into a failed state and a civil war in which militant groups such as al Qaeda will thrive and likely pose a threat again to the West, Britain’s defence minister said on Friday.

After a 20-year war in Afghanistan, the United States has withdrawn most of its troops, allowing Taliban forces to sweep across the country in what diplomats have cast as a humiliation for Washington.

“I’m absolutely worried that failed states are breeding grounds for those types of people,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky when asked about Afghanistan. “Al Qaeda will probably come back.”

Four more Afghan provincial capitals captured, Taliban now control two-thirds of country

The speed of the Taliban advance has shocked the Afghan government and its Western allies. “I think we are heading toward a civil war,” Wallace told the BBC.

The Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when it was ousted for harbouring al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Wallace said that if the Taliban started to harbour al Qaeda, then “we could be back.”

The Taliban’s 2021 offensive

Afghanistan control, by district

Contested

Government-controlled

Taliban-controlled

Mazar-i-

Sharif

APRIL 13

Herat

Kabul

Kandahar

MAY 11

JUNE 16

JULY 20

AUG. 12

john sopinski/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: FDD’s Long War Journal

The Taliban’s 2021 offensive

Afghanistan control, by district

Contested

Government-controlled

Taliban-controlled

Mazar-i-

Sharif

APRIL 13

Herat

Kabul

Kandahar

MAY 11

JUNE 16

JULY 20

AUG. 12

john sopinski/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: FDD’s Long War Journal

The Taliban’s 2021 offensive

Mazar-i-

Sharif

Afghanistan control, by district

APRIL 13

MAY 11

Contested

Herat

Government-controlled

Taliban-controlled

Kabul

Kandahar

JUNE 16

JULY 20

AUG. 12

john sopinski/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: FDD’s Long War Journal

On Thursday Wallace said Britain will deploy hundreds of military personnel to Afghanistan to help British nationals and local translators get out of the country.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that over the next few days the vast bulk of U.K. Embassy staff and officials will return to Britain.

“And we’ll step up our efforts to bring back those Afghans who have helped us, helped the U.K., helped international forces throughout the last 20 years,” he said.

  • A Taliban fighter stands guard over surrendered Afghan security member forces in the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan.Gulabuddin Amiri/The Associated Press

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