Injured veteran: Our dream of better country has unravelled

A Northern Irish soldier, who lost his legs and eyesight during the conflict in Afghanistan in 2008, said it was painful to watch the mission that he was part of – to build a better and sustainable country – unravel.

By Graeme Cousins
Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 9:44 am
Updated Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 10:54 am
Andy Allen in Afghanistan in 2004
Andy Allen in Afghanistan in 2004

Veteran Andy Allen, now an Ulster Unionist MLA, joined the military in 2006 and went on to serve an operational tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2008.

The Ranger with the Royal Irish Regiment said: “Over recent days as the world has watched how the Taliban has swept across Afghanistan, regaining control of much of the country, many will be rightly asking what it was all about.

“From an ordinary soldier’s perspective, I understood the mission in Afghanistan to be twofold.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Members of Joint Forces Headquarters (JFHQ) deploying to Afghanistan to assist in the draw down of troops from the area

“The first objective was to remove the haven Al-Qaeda had in which to launch their terrorist campaign. This included identifying and destroying their established training camps, much of which was done in the early years of the Afghan war. The second objective was to help deliver a better and sustainable Afghanistan for its people.

“I spent around four months in Afghanistan where I was involved in various roles some of which included the medical emergency response team and latterly as part of the Operational, Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT) which worked to train and support the Afghan National Army.

“My OMLT deployed to Musa Qala with our Afghan National Army counterparts towards the end of June, where unfortunately on July 14, 2008 I was horrifically injured by a Taliban improvised explosive device. The force of the blast tore off my right leg, badly damaged my left leg and my hearing. It also burnt my face and eyes leaving me visually impaired to this day.

“During my time in Musa Qala, my colleagues and I built up a bond with a number of the Afghan National Army soldiers and our interpreter, Waheed – a man I class as a friend.

“I often spent time speaking with Waheed and others about the future for them and their families, to which they always expressed their vision of a better Afghanistan, free from the evil and barbaric clutches of the Taliban.

“As we’ve seen from the various news reports in recent days, that vision of freeing Afghanistan from the clutches of the Taliban has not been achieved, leaving many pondering what was it all about.

“However, despite what we have witnessed, I still believe the soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan helped to give the Afghans the building blocks to create a better and sustainable Afghanistan. That work has, however, been unravelled by a strategic decision that makes little sense, the outworking of this decision being the country now plunged into war and chaos once again.

“In 2014, American and Nato troops formally ended their combat mission, transitioning to a support and training role – a role I feel could have been maintained.

“At this point, there are many unanswered questions which include:

“Did the withdrawal need to happen with such haste especially as it would appear that this was a strategic own goal that emboldened the Taliban?

“Given the speed at which the Taliban regained control did the world leaders have clear evidence the Afghan security forces could go it alone?”

Mr Allen added: “Right now, my thoughts are with those who lost loved ones, those who today still live with the trauma and the Afghan people who were promised a better Afghanistan.”

DUP MP Sammy Wilson described US President Joe Biden’s withdrawal policy as “cruel”.

He said: “My thoughts are with all those who sacrificed so much to allow the seeds of democracy to grow in Afghanistan.

“I particularly think of those from these shores who look at an empty chair or live with a life-altering wound and then watch the pictures of the Taliban taking over as the coalition forces withdraw. My heart breaks for them.

“They will have understandable questions. They gave so much for the freedom of the Afghan people. But they can take hope from the temporary progress that was made in the last 20 years.

“Many people in that country have tasted freedom and no Taliban regime can remove those memories.

“President Biden’s decision to press ahead with the US withdrawal, essentially forcing all the coalition forces to do likewise, has gifted Afghanistan back to the Taliban’s extremist control.

“His policy is now exposed as not only deeply flawed but utterly cruel.

“It has pulled the rug from under tens of thousands of Afghanistan nationals who were loyal to the coalition forces.”

He said he would support Northern Ireland opening its doors to those Afghan people who helped our armed forces fight for democracy and freedom.