UK govt facing new pressure over ‘chaotic’ Afghanistan exit

UK govt facing new pressure over ‘chaotic’ Afghanistan exit
Members of the British armed forces walk to the air terminal after disembarking a Royal Airforce Voyager aircraft at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 12 December 2021

UK govt facing new pressure over ‘chaotic’ Afghanistan exit

UK govt facing new pressure over ‘chaotic’ Afghanistan exit
  • Inquiry hears from senior figures after damning whistleblower testimony

LONDON: A UK Parliament inquiry has heard fresh evidence of the government’s mishandling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, The Observer has reported.

The new information, which was obtained from various departments and agencies, has reinforced critical testimony from a UK Foreign Office source, whose allegations that incompetence “left people to die at the hands of the Taliban” have dealt a serious blow to the government.

Thousands of emails concerning Afghans in serious danger were left unread amid the Taliban takeover, The Observer reported in August. Critical messages from senior MPs and government ministers were also effectively ignored.

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the inquiry, told the newspaper that senior figures had come forward to detail their accounts of the events.

He recounted information gathered last week from three Foreign Office officials who worked under permanent secretary Sir Philip Barton, who previously admitted to staying on holiday for 11 days after Afghanistan had fallen to the Taliban, which Tugendhat labeled as “completely extraordinary.”

The MP said he is now “more convinced” of the testimony of Raphael Marshall, the junior official whose description of events led to criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis.

“There’s nothing I’ve heard that leads me to believe he is mistaken. He and many like him deserve more than an apology,” said Tugendhat.

“They have demonstrated quite clearly the integrity and the ethical standards we should expect from senior government employees, but are finding those standards in the junior ranks, not the senior ones.”

The inquiry is now examining the new evidence, he added. “Since the hearing on Tuesday, I’ve been approached by individuals from other government departments and, indeed, other agencies offering their own perspectives on the events in the run-up to August and the aftermath,” he said.

“We’re in discussion as to how their evidence may be presented. There is a very wide feeling that this goes to the heart of something that is simply not acceptable, and that Britain deserves better.”

In response to the development in the inquiry, a UK government spokesperson said in a statement: “Government staff worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight.

“This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations and the second largest evacuation carried out by any country. We are still working to help others leave.

“The scale of the evacuation and the challenging circumstances meant decisions on prioritization had to be made quickly to ensure we could help as many people as possible.

“Regrettably we were not able to evacuate all those we wanted to, but our commitment to them is enduring.

“Since the end of the operation we’ve helped more than 3,000 individuals leave Afghanistan.”

Tugendhat said the committee would also discuss the military side of the withdrawal with UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.

“We’re very keen to speak to the defense secretary, who has agreed to come,” he added. “We want to hear the military perspective on this. We’re very keen to speak to others who may have been involved in different areas. And we need to sit down and go through a lot of evidence.”

Tugendhat said he wants to build a final report on the events before blaming individuals or departments for specific failures.

But he labeled the scenario a “whole government failure” that includes the Foreign Office, Home Office and Ministry of Defense. Allies of Britain in Afghanistan had been abandoned as a result of the events, he warned.

“There are many people on the ground in Afghanistan today who are guilty of nothing more than hoping and wishing for a better future,” he added.

“Yet today, the Taliban victory means that what we’re likely to see is a very serious degradation in the life chances of individuals.

“In many ways we’re already seeing it. We’re seeing girls denied education and we’re seeing women excluded from work. These are very serious attacks on civil liberties.”

Questions also remain over the high-profile evacuation of almost 200 dogs and cats from the war-torn country, Tugendhat said.

Some figures have alleged that the animals were chosen for evacuation in place of people, taking up critical space on aircraft flying out of Kabul.

The animal rescue efforts were led by Pen Farthing, a former Royal Marine who heads the Nowzad Dogs charity.

Marshall, the whistleblower who described the “chaotic” events, alleged that critical resources in Kabul were redirected to the charity at the expense of Afghans, many of whom had worked for years with British forces in the country.

Tugendhat said: “The Foreign Office officials made it clear that there was absolutely no diversion of resources. They also made it clear that the military opened the gates and took time to get those animals in. How those two statements are compatible, I don’t understand.”