Following the removal of al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, which was achieved shortly after the initial intervention, I opposed the morphing of the mission into one of nation-building from 2006 onwards. I remained a critic of our policy, and argued we have were fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong country. Accordingly, I was the only Conservative MP to vote against the Government’s policy in the 2010 debate, which was the first time Parliament had voted on the matter.

Our Afghan campaign was misguided from the start. We fundamentally underestimated the task at hand, and as a consequence under-resourced. Criticism is not levied against the troops – as an ex-soldier, I know they did everything that was asked of them – but against the US, British and other governments which failed to recognise two fundamentally important distinctions.

The first is that the West failed to distinguish between the key objective of keeping al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan and the wider notions of making Afghanistan a better place. This loss of focus produced mission creep – talk of nation building and concern over human rights are two examples.

The second distinction the Government for many years failed to properly explore were the differences between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. There was no shortage of evidence, as I found out during the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report into Afghanistan in 2011, to suggest that the Taliban would not necessarily let al-Qaeda back in to Afghanistan.

Although there were, and are, different shades of Taliban, there was very little love lost between them and al-Qaeda. Many in the Taliban know ultimately al-Qaeda was responsible for their downfall. And yet the threats from al-Qaeda and the Taliban become conflated.

These two distinctions were important. If the West is trying to build a more ‘stable’ Afghanistan, then the struggle against the Taliban should continue until they are a spent force. If, however, the objective was to prevent al-Qaeda returning, then this may not be the case.

The UK withdrew its combat troops in 2014, with a much smaller contingent remaining to in a training and support role, in common with other countries involved in Afghanistan. The US did finally engage politically with the Taliban, having refused to do so for many years, but withdrew its practical support and its forces in such a way that the Afghan Government collapsed in the face of a resurgent Taliban.

I wrote about these events on Conservative Home, and concluded:

There will always be a role for British forces to play a role on the international stage, but the idea of wholesale ‘regime change’ for altruistic reasons, as we attempted in Afghanistan for too long, has had its day. Time now to focus on greater dangers.