UUP leader and former soldier ‘full of fear’ for people of Afghanistan

Doug Beattie served three tours of duty in Helmand province with the British army

UUP leader Doug Beattie, a former captain with the British army’s Royal Irish Regiment, says the people of Afghanistan have been ‘let down’ by the international community. Photograph: Doug Beattie

UUP leader Doug Beattie, a former captain with the British army’s Royal Irish Regiment, says the people of Afghanistan have been ‘let down’ by the international community. Photograph: Doug Beattie

 

As Doug Beattie watches the chaotic scenes of people trying to flee the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, his thoughts are with the Afghans he met, those he worked alongside and those he saw die.

“I think of the multiple interpreters who I’ve worked with, I’m thinking about the governors I worked with and the police chiefs and the policemen.

“I think about Major Sher Wali, who was killed in 2006, the bravest, noblest man I’ve ever met, who died fighting beside me in Garmsir... I think of the young girl I met in the street, who I gave shoes to. I think of young Shabia, who was killed in the conflict...

“I think of all of these people, and I think of the terrible waste that there was only for us to just give this away now.”

The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and an Assembly member for Upper Bann, Beattie is also a former soldier. A captain with the Royal Irish Regiment, he served three tours of duty with the British army in Helmand province, Afghanistan, between 2006 and 2011, where he was awarded the Military Cross.

Today, he describes a multiplicity of emotions: “A degree of anger that we allowed this to happen, a degree of sadness for all of those people who we went to help, and we did help, but most of all, I’m full of fear.

“I’m full of fear for the people of Afghanistan, who put their faith in us, who listened to our promises, whose expectations we rose and we dashed by our strategic failures.

“I fear for the women, I fear for the young girls who will be airbrushed out of society, who will be enslaved once again, who they will stop from being educated, who they will stop from being able to work, and all of those advances that have [been] made over these last 20 years will suddenly be turned off.”

Barefoot

Beattie recalls the barefoot young girl to whom he gave a pair of “jelly shoes”. The next time he saw the girl and her father she was again barefoot; she and her father had been beaten by the Taliban, and the shoes taken from her.

“In all of these rural areas the Taliban will be taking a brutal revenge, not just on those who worked for us, but those who worked with us, the government officials, the labourers and all of those people.

“All of those people who fought against them and worked against them for the last 20 years will now be either targeted for killing or they will be forced to leave the country,” he says.

The people of Afghanistan have been “let down” by the international community “and they are going to have to pick up the pieces because we cannot let these women, these young girls and that society suffer under this brutal regime.”

“There will be a huge humanitarian issue, and this is where the international community needs to come together to make sure we can get NGOs and other organisations into Afghanistan, to make sure that we can feed and house those refugees.”

Other politicians in Northern Ireland on Monday joined calls for the international community to take action to protect Afghan refugees and to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the country.

‘Duty’

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson told the BBC there was a “duty” to Afghan citizens who “very courageously worked alongside our military” to “see if we can provide them with sanctuary”, and to look at what might happen to the “small Christian minority” in the country.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin said the global community “cannot abandon” the Afghan people and the Irish Government had a “critical role in ensuring that the UN does everything in its power to provide urgently required humanitarian aid, and to offer protection of refugees and civilians now and in the time ahead”.

She also said her party would support a scheme for Afghans similar to that which allowed Syrian refugees to settle in Northern Ireland.

Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry said a “horrific humanitarian disaster” was unfolding with millions of people, particularly women and girls, under threat.

“The UK’s long-term intervention in Afghanistan means it has obligations to this country,” he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the British government had a “duty” to help people fleeing the Taliban and called for “action from the international community to address this crisis”.