The chairman of the House of Commons defence select committee, Tobias Ellwood, has admitted he “got it wrong” and has deleted a video filmed in Afghanistan, in which he praised the Taliban.
On Monday night Mr. Ellwood posted the video on Twitter and wrote: “Hold your breath—but this is a country transformed. Security vastly improved. Corruption reduced. Opium trade ended.”
He added: “Shouting from afar will not improve women’s rights. We need to re-engage. We need to re-open the British embassy.”
The Taliban’s chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid praised Mr. Ellwood’s “positive” report from Helmand province, but Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he would “look into” the circumstances in which the video was filmed.
After being heavily criticised by fellow Tory MPs Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Mark Francois in Parliament on Tuesday, Mr. Ellwood, a former soldier and defence minister, has backtracked.
The MP for Bournemouth East, who has chaired the defence select committee since January 2020, told TalkTV’s “Piers Morgan Uncensored”: “It’s important to put your hand up and acknowledge errors, however well-intentioned.”
“I stand up, I speak my mind. I try and find solutions, especially on the international stage, and I’m very, very sorry that my reflection of my visit could have been much better worded and have been taken out of context,” Mr. Ellwood added.
Ellwood Speaks of ‘Miserable’ Days
Mr Ellwood said: “I’ll be very clear the past couple of days have probably been the most miserable as a member of Parliament. I got it wrong.”
The British embassy in Kabul closed in August 2021 after the Taliban retook the Afghan capital following several days of chaos.
The then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was later criticised for staying on holiday on the Greek island of Crete during the fall of Kabul as embassy staff tried to help evacuate hundreds of British nationals and residents who were stranded in the country following the sudden collapse of the Afghan National Army.
Mr. Ellwood visited Afghanistan as a guest of the Halo Trust—set up in 1988, and supported by the late Princess Diana—which is removing thousands of landmines left behind by decades of civil war in the country.
But his promotional video, which praised the “peace” and “stability” which he said the Taliban had restored to Afghanistan, has drawn criticism from critics of the extreme Islamist group, who support Sharia law and give only minimal rights to women and girls.
Mr. Duncan Smith, the former leader of the Conservative Party, highlighted the video during a debate in Parliament on Tuesday, and spoke of the reaction to Mr. Ellwood’s video: “I saw that an Afghan woman who remained nameless promptly wrote on his Twitter ‘shocked,’ she said, ‘Afghan women have been thrown to the wolves and that is referred to as peace.’”
Mr. Duncan Smith said women had been persecuted by the Taliban in Afghanistan and the video was not welcome.
Mr. Francois said of Mr. Ellwood: “He posted an utterly bizarre video lauding the Taliban’s management of the country, something which was described by a fellow member of the defence committee to me barely an hour ago as a ‘wish-you-were-here video.’”
Government’s Position on Taliban ‘Unchanged’
Junior defence minister Johnny Mercer said: “The government’s position remains unchanged. The fall of Afghanistan was a tragedy, the Taliban, we fought them for many years, 457 British service personnel lost their lives in Afghanistan in pursuit of freedom and peace and women’s rights that are all not in Afghanistan today.”
In an opinion piece in The Telegraph on Monday, Mr. Ellwood called for a more “pragmatic strategy” on Afghanistan.
He wrote: “Afghanistan’s future could be war again or life as a Chinese vassal. The middle way I saw—however queasy we feel about it—needs us to re-think and re-engage.”
Mr. Ellwood, a former soldier, was elected as chairman of the defence select committee in January 2020 and will remain in the position until after the next general election, unless he chooses to resign.
PA Media contributed to this report.