Politics

Government ‘looking carefully’ at whether veteran died by suicide after fall of Kabul


The government is investigating whether or not some veterans from the Afghan war may have taken their own lives because they are distraught by the Taliban takeover, a junior defence minister said on Monday.

During a round of broadcast interviews, armed forces minister James Heappey suggested to Sky News at least one veteran, distraught by the fall of Kabul, had taken their life in recent days.

But the minister later admitted he had been wrong to say a former soldier had died by suicide because of the US-led withdrawal – and said the government was still looking into the possibility.

“We’ve had a number of reports that the thing I was referring to was inaccurate,” Mr Heappey told BBC Breakfast. “We’re looking very, very carefully at whether or not it is true that someone has taken their own life in the last few days.”

He added: “But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that far too many service people have taken their lives in the last 10 years as a consequence of their service in Afghanistan.”

Heappey earlier suggested to Sky News host Kay Burley that at least one British veteran from the Afghan war had taken their own life because they were devastated by the chaotic withdrawal of US-led forces from the country.

But a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Mr Heappey had misspoken, and that it had no confirmed suicide cases among Afghanistan veterans due to the recent withdrawal.

The junior defence minister – who served in Afghanistan during his own time in the British Army – said he is “very worried” about the mental health of veterans since the fall of Kabul, as he called on the public to support military charities.

“I’m very worried about the mental health my friends and former colleagues at his time,” he said. “That’s why the government, the nation, needs to put our arm round our veterans and tell them how proud we are of what they did.”

No 10 said Boris Johnson will announce on Monday an additional £5m to help military charities offering support on mental health issues to veterans with the aim of ensuring “no veteran’s request for help will go unanswered”.

Mr Johnson will also reiterate his pledge to use “every economic, political and diplomatic lever” to help the Afghans left behind by Britain as he defends his handling of the crisis to highly-critical MPs.

The prime minister will make a statement to the House of Commons on Monday afternoon when parliament returns from its summer recess to confront a potential humanitarian disaster in the making.

Mr Johnson will also use the Commons speech to thank the 150,000 British service men and women for their work in Afghanistan over the past two decades.

Mr Heappey, who reached the rank of major before entering politics, said he had heard that the Taliban was now in control of the whole of Afghanistan, but that the situation in Panjshir did not change “the big picture”.

The Taliban said on Monday they have taken control of Panjshir province north of Kabul, the last holdout of anti-Taliban forces in the country and the only province the Taliban had not seized during their blitz across Afghanistan last month.

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