As the UK prepares to leave Afghanistan, military charities that assist veterans with their mental health after tours will be awarded additional support by the government.
According to the armed forces minister James Heappey, soldiers serving in Afghanistan have committed suicide due to the UK’s withdrawal in the last week. However, he later clarified that this has yet to be validated.
After soldiers, including one who served with him on his last tour of Afghanistan, took their life this week, Heappey, a former army major, said he “knows how much veterans are hurting.”
He told Kay Burley on Sky News: “I know, unfortunately, there have been soldiers who’ve served in Afghanistan, indeed a soldier who served with me on my last tour of Afghanistan, who’ve taken their lives in the last week or so because of the feelings they’ve had over what’s happened in Afghanistan.
“That’s hugely concerning and upsetting for people like me who are now in government and who served there and I know how much the veterans’ community is hurting.”
Heappey then told Sky News security and defense editor Deborah Haynes, that his remarks were based on a suicide note reportedly written by an Afghan veteran with whom he served in 2009 and which mentioned his last tour.
But within the hour, Heappey corrected himself on air while being interviewed on BBC Breakfast:
When asked about the report of the veteran’s death, he said: “Since I mentioned that to your colleague Kay Burley on Sky only 20 minutes ago, we’ve had a number of reports that actually the thing I was referring to was inaccurate.
“We’re looking very, very carefully at whether or not it is true that someone has taken their life in the last few days, but actually that shouldn’t take away that far too many service people have taken their own lives in the last 10 years as a consequence of their service in Afghanistan.”
And he then tweeted an apology to a Sky journalist, saying: “I’m sorry to have said something that might not be true. The note referred very accurately to my last tour of Afghanistan with 2 RIFLES in 2009 and I’ve spent weekend fearing colleague had taken their life. However, MoD aren’t certain that note is real so wanted to clarify.”
Mr. Heappey, a former army major who served in Afghanistan, said his “main message” was that too many veterans struggled with mental illness and took their own lives.
In the previous interview with Sky News, Heappey said that soldiers who served in Afghanistan over the last 20 years should be proud of what they accomplished. Instead, what is occurring today is merely “a political judgement, but it doesn’t in any way invalidate or diminish their achievements during their tours.”
The minister added: “The sad reality is that throughout the last decade, as those who served in Helmand have grappled with the awful things they saw, far too many have taken their lives.
Debbie, I’m sorry to have said something that might not be true. The note referred very accurately to my last tour of Afghanistan with 2 RIFLES in 2009 & I’ve spent weekend fearing colleague had taken their life. However, MoD aren’t certain that note is real so wanted to clarify.— James Heappey MP (@JSHeappey) September 6, 2021
“But yes, in the last couple of days there have been people who have taken their lives, and a person who took their life who did so because of their feelings, as a consequence of withdrawal, and that makes me sick to the bottom of my stomach and fearful for friends who I know are still struggling with what they saw on those tours of Afghanistan.
“That’s why the government, the nation, needs to put our arm around our veterans and tell them how proud we are of what they did and make sure we separate whatever anger people feel about the political decisions taken this year, both in London and Washington and Paris and Berlin and everywhere else, from our deep enduring pride and gratitude for those who served in Afghanistan during those extraordinarily difficult years.”
Last month, a veterans’ charity said that calls to its helpline had doubled since the Taliban took power.
Last month, in an emotional speech, Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, who served in Afghanistan, said many people are dealing with resentment, grief, and rage due to the withdrawal.
There have also been calls for expanded mental health services.
During a Commons address later today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce an additional £5 million to aid military charities.
The way the West withdrew has been widely criticized, with doubts raised about how the Taliban could capture control of the country so quickly.
There are concerns Afghans who are entitled to come to the UK—many of whom worked for the British military or administration—have been turned away.
At the end of August, the final British and American forces left Afghanistan, ending a 20-year military engagement.