No10 hails 'achievements' in Afghan withdrawal as MPs blast 'shambles'
24th May 2022

No10 insists there were ‘significant achievements’ in Afghan withdrawal last summer despite MPs condemning shambles with Dominic Raab and top civil servants away on holiday

  • Dominic Raab was condemned for lack of leadership when Kabul fell to Taliban
  • MPs the withdrawal from Afghanistan was ‘a disaster and a betrayal of our allies’
  • They said the incompetence by Mr Raab and senior officials may have cost lives

Downing Street defended its handling of the hurried withdrawal from Afghanistan today after ministers and senior officials were blasted for a lack of leadership as the country fell to the Taliban. 

In a damning report, MPs said a fundamental lack of planning and preparation by then foreign secretary Dominic Mr Raab and senior officials led to ‘a disaster and a betrayal of our allies’. 

They said the incompetence may have cost lives and demanded the resignation of the Foreign Office’s top mandarin, Sir Philip Barton.

Both Mr Raab and Sir Philip remained on holiday as the chaos developed in Kabul last summer. 

In a long-awaited and damning report into the farce,  MPs also raised the suggestion that senior figures may not be ‘telling the truth’ about the airlift of animals from a shelter run by former Royal Marine Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing.

Boris Johnson has been accused of intervening to help the Nowzad charity after it lobbied his wife Carrie for assistance. 

The Commons foreign affairs committee said there had been an ‘appalling mismanagement’ of the situation in Afghanistan last summer with ‘systemic failures of intelligence, diplomacy, planning and preparation’.

Ahead of the fall of Kabul, they found the UK Government did ‘too little to lay the groundwork’ with countries surrounding Afghanistan to secure their help for an evacuation effort.

But Mr Johnson’s official spokesman today said the were ‘significant achievements’ in an evacuation that got 15,000 people out of the country as the Islamist hardliners took over. 

He told reporters: ‘We don’t agree with all of the conclusions that the committee has drawn on this.’ 

In a damning report, MPs said a fundamental lack of planning and preparation by Mr Raab and senior officials meant the withdrawal from Afghanistan was ‘a disaster and a betrayal of our allies’. They said the incompetence may have cost lives. Pictured: A full flight of 265 people are evacuated out of Kabul by the UK Armed Forces on August 21, 2021

British armed forces work with the U.S. military to evacuate eligible civilians and their families out of the country on August 21, 2021

Dominic Raab was condemned yesterday for his lack of leadership when Kabul fell to Taliban forces

A US Air Force aircraft is pictured taking off from the airport in Kabul today as the US deployment in the country comes to an end

The UK completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, with the US due to complete its exit by Joe Biden’s deadline of August 31

British military personnel returning to RAF Brize Norton, August 29, 2021 

MPs point finger at Johnson over help for animal charity

MPs have pointed the finger at Boris Johnson for a ‘mysterious intervention’ in an effort to evacuate staff from the Nowzad animal welfare charity from Afghanistan.

In their scathing report, a cross-party committee said the situation around Nowzad’s animals and staff highlighted the ‘arbitrary and chaotic’ nature of the Foreign Office’s role in the evacuation process.

Downing Street has denied the Prime Minister played any role in prioritising the evacuation of Nowzad’s staff but the Foreign Affairs Committee said ‘multiple senior officials’ believed he had and ‘we have yet to be offered a plausible alternative explanation’.

Mr Johnson personally dismissed as ‘total rhubarb’ claims he was involved in prioritising the evacuation of animals over people.

And today Downing Street insisted Boris Johnson did not approve the evacuation of the Nowzad animal charity when asked for a plausible alternative explanation. 

Nowzad was set up by former Royal Marine Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing, who launched a high-profile campaign to get his staff and animals out of Kabul as the Taliban swept across Afghanistan.

Despite the intervention, Nowzad’s staff eventually fled Afghanistan to Pakistan rather than on a plane from Kabul, but the charity’s animals were able to leave on a charter flight with Mr Farthing, which the MPs said absorbed ‘significant’ resources during the chaotic period.

 

Boris Johnson retains full confidence in Sir Philip Barton, he added. He praised staff’s efforts during the evacuation effort and said there was ‘significant pre-planning before that’.

Asked if Mr Johnson retains confidence in Sir Philip, the spokesman said: ‘Yes’. The spokesman insisted it was not impossible to get fired from Government.

Pressed why Sir Philip is the right person for the job, the spokesman said: ‘He has significant experience in that field and a number of changes have already been made.’

The spokesman also said Mr Johnson does not regret making Dominic Raab Deputy Prime Minister after the evacuation.

In the eight months leading to the Taliban’s takeover, Mr Raab, who was foreign secretary at the time, made just one call on the subject to a neighbouring country. ‘Though the UK Government saw a rapid collapse in Afghanistan as a plausible scenario, the Foreign Office failed properly to prepare for it,’ the MPs said.

‘As the situation deteriorated, the Foreign Secretary should have taken the lead on contact with third countries, making intensive efforts to put in place evacuation routes. Instead, he delegated meetings to junior ministers, only stepping into action once Kabul had fallen.’

The MPs said that as soon as the US announced in February 2020 it was withdrawing from Afghanistan, ministers should have ‘immediately taken steps’ to develop a ‘clear and coherent policy on who it would prioritise for evacuation’. Both Mr Raab and Sir Philip Barton, the head of the diplomatic service, were away on holiday when the Taliban seized control of Kabul on August 15.

The report said their absence demonstrated ‘a fundamental lack of seriousness, grip or leadership at a time of national emergency’ and was a ‘grave indictment of the attitudes of the Government’.

Mr Raab, who had been at a luxury beach resort in Crete, arrived back in London the next day, but Sir Philip returned to his desk only eleven days later once the civilian evacuation was over. The MPs said his decision not to come back ‘while staff struggled to implement a poorly-planned evacuation process under intense pressure’ was ‘difficult to understand and impossible to excuse’.

The committee said that Afghans who worked for the British Government were put at risk by the failure to destroy sensitive documents held by the embassy.

The MPs also said they had yet to hear a ‘plausible alternative explanation’ for claims that Boris Johnson approved the controversial evacuation for the Nowzad animal charity.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly denied that he intervened to approve the rescue of 170 dogs and cats from the shelter run by Mr Farthing.

The Foreign Office was accused of giving ‘intentionally evasive, and often deliberately misleading’ responses to the committee’s investigations.

Sir Philip ‘displayed a worrying lack of knowledge of the department he leads’ and a determination to avoid unearthing the facts, the MPs said. They also accused him of failing to ensure a record was kept of decisions.

‘This would be a serious failure at any time, but during the withdrawal from Afghanistan may have led to the loss of life,’ the MPs concluded. ‘The committee has lost confidence in the permanent under-secretary, who should consider his position.’

Mr Raab was ousted from the Foreign Office and shunted to the Ministry of Justice in the wake of the crisis. He faced an extraordinary backlash over his failure to make a crucial phone call to seek urgent help in airlifting translators out of Afghanistan.

The rapid advance of Taliban fighters surprised the U.S. military and intelligence community. However, in his report the inspector general said the collapse of the Afghan armed forces should have been predicted once U.S. support was withdrawn

Taliban fighters from the Fateh Zwak unit celebrated before storming into the Kabul International Airport after U.S. troops had left, securing their hold on the country

Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman the committee, said: ‘The UK’s part in this tragedy exposes a lack of seriousness in achieving coordination, a lack of clear decision-making, a lack of leadership and a lack of accountability.

‘While junior officials demonstrated courage and integrity, chaotic and arbitrary decision-making runs through this inquiry.

‘Sadly, it may have cost many people the chance to leave Afghanistan, putting lives in danger.’

A Government spokesman said: ‘Our staff worked tirelessly to evacuate over 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight.

‘This was the biggest UK mission of its kind in generations and followed months of intensive planning and collaboration between UK Government departments.’ 

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