Mum of Blackpool soldier killed in Afghanistan war says 'too many lives were lost for nothing' amid Taliban resurgence

As the Taliban continues to surge across Afghanistan, the mum of a South Shore soldier who was killed while serving there has spoken of her grief and dismay as the country ends up "back at square one."

By Rebecca Beardmore
Saturday, 14th August 2021, 4:55 am

It comes as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who is also MP for Wyre and Preston North, denied that the decision to send 600 British troops to Afghanistan was made at the "last-minute."

The decision, announced on Thursday, was "put in place some months ago" in preparation for withdrawal alongside the US by September 11, Mr Wallace argued.

He voiced fears that al Qaida could return to Afghanistan as he laid the blame for the country’s latest turmoil at the door of former US president Donald Trump.

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Afghan security personnel patrol after they took back control of parts of the city of Herat following fighting between Taliban and Afghan security forces on Sunday, August 8. Pic: AP Photo/Hamed Sarfarazi

Britain and the US have agreed to send more troops in as the Taliban’s lightning advance through the country continues – gains that come only weeks before allied forces are due to withdraw.

Taliban insurgents are now estimated to hold more than two-thirds of Afghanistan and continue to press their offensive, having taken the country’s second and third largest cities, Kandahar and Herat, as part of a week-long blitz.

Afghan officials announced on Friday that the Taliban had captured Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern Helmand province.

Diane Whiteside from South Shore lost her son Trooper Christoper Whiteside, 20, when he was killed in the Helmand province by an improvised explosive device while serving in the Light Dragoons Battle Group in Afghanistan.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who is also MP for Wyre and Preston North, denied that the decision to send 600 British troops to Afghanistan was made at the "last-minute."

He died in July 2009, after joining the Army in July 2005 as an Infanteer in The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment (QLR).

Diane said she and her partner Malcolm felt strongly that no British soldier should ever be sent to Afghanistan again, and no other families should have to endure the turmoil of losing a loved one there.

She said: "We can't watch the news at the moment, it's too much to the core for us. I do think Christopher's death was in vain, because when you think that nothing has been achieved, and we're back to square one, it's absolutely devastating.

"That wasn't a clean war - it was a dirty war. I think they'll end up going in again - and then there will be more families who will have to go through this.

The military funeral of Blackpool soldier Christopher Whiteside took place at Holy Trinity Church, South Shore. Pic: Rob Lock

"I personally think, and Malcolm agrees with me, that they shouldn't go back for a war. It's not our war. I have had to carry on for my youngest son Daniel, he was 16 when Chris died. I've had to stay strong.

"There have been too many lives lost for nothing."

UK forces were deployed to Afghanistan in support of the UN-authorised, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission and as part of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

As of July 2015, a total of 454 British soldiers or MOD civilians died while serving in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001.

Trooper Christopher Whiteside was killed in 2009 by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Pic: Diane Whiteside

Of these, 405 were killed as a result of hostile action, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Some 49 are known to have died either as a result of illness, non-combat injuries or accidents, or have not yet officially been assigned a cause of death pending the outcome of an investigation.

Following a helicopter crash on October 11 2015, two further UK personnel died while serving in Afghanistan, taking the total number of military deaths to 456.

As well as Trooper Whiteside, a number of other local soldiers died in the war, including Fusilier Sam Flint-Broughton, 21, from Poulton, Sgt Nigel Coupe, 33, from St Annes, and Private Tomas Dale, 21, who moved to Australia from Blackpool aged 14.

Marine Darren “Daz” Smith from Fleetwood was also killed by a Taliban bullet in 2009 while serving in Afghanistan.

The short-term deployment of 600 British troops comes as the US vowed to send 3,000 of its troops to Afghanistan to support diplomacy, help citizens leave the country and support the relocation of former Afghan staff as the Taliban continues to make in-roads.

Mr Wallace – who refused to rule out further ground attacks or air strikes if the situation worsens – admitted he is concerned that multi-national terror network al Qaida, the group behind atrocities such as the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, could “come back” as Afghanistan de-stabilises once again.

He told Sky News: “Of course I am worried, it is why I said I felt this was not the right time or decision to make because, of course, al Qaida will probably come back, certainly would like that type of breeding ground.

“That is what we see – failed states around the world lead to instability, lead to a security threat to us and our interests.”

The Defence Secretary said he thinks the deal signed between then-White House incumbent Mr Trump and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020 to withdraw from Afghanistan was a “mistake” – but argued the UK had no choice but to follow.

Since the deal was signed, Mr Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, has continued with the withdrawal timetable.

Mr Wallace said: “I was public about it that at the time of the Trump deal – with obviously the Taliban – I felt that that was a mistake to have done it that way, that we will all, as an international community, pay the consequences of that.

“But when the United States, as the framework nation ,took that decision, the way we were all configured, the way we had gone in meant that we had to leave as well.”

But former defence minister and Afghanistan veteran Johnny Mercer contested the idea that the UK cannot act alone in the central Asian country.

The Conservative MP said it is “deeply humiliating” to watch the situation unfold in Afghanistan, with US officials stating that the capital, Kabul, could fall within weeks.

He told BBC Breakfast: “Biden has made a huge mistake here, but also we have a role.

“This idea we cannot act unilaterally and support the Afghan security forces is simply not true.

“The political will to see through enduring support to Afghanistan has not been there and a lot of people are going to die because of that, and for me that is extremely humiliating.

“It’s a world tragedy and we are going to reap the repercussions of this over many years to come.”

Military charity Help for Heroes said it would continue to highlight the need for support for those who live with injuries or illnesses as a result of serving in Afghanistan.

Phil Hall, complex case manager at Help for Heroes, who worked at field hospitals in Afghanistan, said: "For many who served in Afghanistan, the battle isn’t over. I’m proud to be here for those who have served in the British Armed Forces who need our support, as well as some of the local interpreters who served alongside us now living in the UK.

"But we know there are others who have yet to reach out, years later, and I want them to know that we’re here for them. As a charity, we are here to support veterans, and their families, to live independent, fulfilling lives. We work closely with other agencies and organisations to do this and will continue to do so for as long as they need us."