In the wake of the fall of Kabul and the conclusion of foreign evacuation efforts from Afghanistan’s capital, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab faced MP questioning over his handling of the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Grace Cloughton explains the details.
Yesterday’s committee, led by Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, attempted to uncover answers to continuously asked questions. These included how many people have been left behind in Afghanistan, whether intelligence given was correct and what this meant for the future of Afghanistan and the relationships between the UK, the US and the Taliban.
Raab stated that the Joint Intelligence Committee produced a central assessment, which was “backed up” by a military assessment. It claimed that, after troop withdrawal at the end of August, there would be a ‘steady deterioration from that point’. He goes on to state that it was therefore ‘unlikely that Kabul would fall this year’.
When asked how many British citizens have been left behind in Afghanistan following the end of evacuations earlier this week, Mr Rabb explains that the government cannot confidently give a precise number and that this number depends on eligibility. This rhetoric continued throughout the questioning; he did however reject claims that there could be up to 7,000 eligible Afghans left behind. He also confessed that there was “optimism bias” about the possible actions of the US and that he remained cautious about how the Taliban would behave.
British nationals were at risk. Many people, thousands of people… who stood by us in a difficult time for Afghanistan, were in peril for their lives
Labour’s Chris Bryant then led questions surrounding Raab’s holiday. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the deputy Prime Minister, Mr Raab himself, and the permanent under-secretary, Sir Philip Barton, were on holiday, ‘when’, as Bryant states ‘British nationals were at risk. Many people, thousands of people… who stood by us in a difficult time for Afghanistan, were in peril for their lives.’
Raab is facing calls from opposing parties to resign after it emerged he was on holiday in Crete while the Taliban advanced towards Kabul and delegated a phone call regarding the welfare of Afghan interpreters to a junior minister. Raab has since rejected calls to quit but confesses ‘with hindsight’ he would not have gone on holiday; though he later adds he continued to work while he was away, engaging in ‘all of the cobra meetings’ and with international partners.
Raab responded that ‘he does not agree with the analysis’ that a proper crisis centre was not set up, which was worsened by the vacationing of several key members of the government.
A team of UK officials will head towards neighbouring countries of Afghanistan to secure the rapid and safe passage for its nationals. Raab continues to work with allies at the UN to compel the Taliban to aid this process, though it is important not to grant legitimacy to them during these talks. The UK will instead conduct tests and make judgements on the actions of the Taliban whilst continuing to work closely with the US.
Raab’s responses to the committee’s questions seem largely unfulfilling
After just two hours, yesterday’s committee session ended with Tugendhat concluding that the evacuation of Afghanistan is the “single biggest foreign policy disaster” faced by the UK since the Suez crisis in the 1950’s. Overall, Raab’s responses to the committee’s questions seem largely unfulfilling.
In a time when clarity is of the upmost importance, it appears he exercised the default notions of politics: refusal to answer hard questions, to take any responsibility and attempting to play to the hearts and minds of the people. It really leaves us wondering: when will the lessons that we are told have been learned truly come into fruition?
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