The Defence Secretary is considering whether to award medals to military personnel involved in the withdrawal and evacuation from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.
Ben Wallace said he was reflecting on the efforts of Operation Pitting in Kabul, and whether the British military’s performance warranted “medallic recognition specifically”, alongside any separate honours for bravery.
The Cabinet minister, speaking at a Policy Exchange fringe event at the Conservative Party conference, said the armed forces had shown they could perform in a “high-stress environment” as they presided over the evacuation of British nationals and those Afghans who had supported UK efforts there.
“We will reflect on whether there is medallic recognition specifically for it,” he said on Tuesday in Manchester.
“Remember, there is always medallic recognition for the gallantry and organisational skills that are demonstrated in whatever conflict that is for our service personnel, so that is a separate programme.
“But we will obviously reflect on that.”
Mr Wallace said any medals had to “reflect the modern world” in that “much more is done from the UK” on such operations than in the past.
He added: “We often say the brave are less forward sometimes, held back, so how do we recognise all those people who are contributing to that? It is an ongoing debate but we will look at it.”
The Defence Secretary predicted the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan would afford opportunities for China and Islamist terror groups, such as al-Shabaab.
His comments came as the Government confirmed UK officials had held talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan with the aim of preventing the country from becoming “an incubator for terrorism”.
Mr Wallace said: “Who popped up immediately as the US and Nato were leaving, but China, offering to invest in Afghanistan?
“It is all connected. The ripples of another superpower being portrayed as defeated by Islamic terrorism will be felt across the world.”
He warned that Britain was likely to be “tested” on the global stage in the coming years, with this year’s defence and foreign policy integrated review designed to prepare security forces for future confrontations.
“I think we are going to be tested, tested in the Ukraine, tested in the Pacific, tested in our values and our culture, tested in our economy, and it is only by sticking with our friends and our alliances that we are going to be able to deliver that,” he told the audience.
He also sought to calm anger in France over the decision by the UK to form a defence pact with the US and Australia, dubbed Aukus, which will see Canberra supplied with nuclear-powered submarines.
The decision, announced last month, saw Australia rip up its contract with France to provide it with diesel-electric submarines, with French president Emmanuel Macron recalling his ambassadors from Washington and Canberra in retaliation.
Mr Wallace, who compared deciding to join the alliance with choosing to get married, said: “It is perfectly logical that the partners they (Australia) were going to choose were going to come within the Five Eyes (the security alliance between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and US).
“Of course it was. France shouldn’t take this personally.
“Once they made the decision to change from a diesel-electric submarine capability to nuclear in order to remain undetected and below the surface for very long periods of time, it was inevitable that Five Eyes were the partners they would come and seek, and that’s just, I’m afraid, the way it is.”
Mr Wallace said the “ambition” was to have the submarines ready by the “late 2030s, 2040s”, adding: “We have time, I believe we will be able to do it.”
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