Twenty years ago, in 2001, the United States suffered the most catastrophic attack on its people since the Second World War, in which 67 British citizens also lost their lives, at the hands of murderous terrorist groups incubated in Afghanistan. In response, NATO invoked Article V of its Treaty, for the first and only time in its history, and the UK, amongst others, joined the US in going into Afghanistan in order to destroy Al Qaeda's presence there. As the Prime Minister said in the House, the UK succeeded in that core mission.
The UK can be extremely proud of what has been done in Afghanistan over the last 20 years and we owe an immense debt of gratitude to the 150,000 British personnel who fought in Afghanistan, in particular the 457 who sadly lost their lives as well as those who sustained life-changing injuries, in service of this mission. These men and women saved lives, denying terrorists a safe haven to launch attacks against the UK and our allies. Because of their actions, the UK has conferred benefits that are lasting and ineradicable on millions of people in one of the poorest countries on earth and provided vital protection for two decades to this country and the world.
Their service and sacrifice enabled development that has improved millions of lives and transformed Afghan society. Twenty years ago in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, for instance, no girls attended school and women were excluded from all governance. Today, millions of girls have been to school and women have occupied prominent positions in the Afghan politics, media and civil society for two decades.
We should not lose sight of these gains. At the same time, at this uncertain juncture in Afghanistan's history, we must ensure they are not lost; that Afghanistan does not once again become a breeding ground for terror, and that the hard-won rights of Afghans are not taken away. I am assured that HM Government, using every political and diplomatic means at its disposable, is urgently engaged upon this task.