Kumasi, 7th December (Futball Surgery)
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United Kingdom MPs will be told that up to 150,000 people applied for evacuation to the Afghan Special Cases team and that “fewer than 5%” have received any assistance.
Dominic Raab has said the government did “everything we could” to get vulnerable Afghans out of Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover – and denied that ministers prioritised the evacuation of animals over humans.
It comes as damning claims from a whistleblower about failures during Britain’s evacuation from Afghanistan will be presented to MPs today Tuesday 7th December, 2021.
The government is accused of being unprepared for a huge number of cries for help from Afghans at risk because of their links with the UK.
Some of those Afghans have since been murdered, it is alleged.
The foreign secretary at the time, Mr Raab, is accused of responding too slowly and inadequately to the crisis.
The claims will be made in written evidence by a desk officer at the Foreign Office, Raphael Marshall.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Raab said the government did “everything we could” to get vulnerable Afghans out of Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover – and denied that ministers prioritised the evacuation of animals over humans.
“That’s just not accurate. We did not put the welfare of animals above individuals,” he told Kay Burley.
Mr Raab added: “In two weeks we pulled off the evacuation of 15,000 people. That is the biggest evacuation in living memory, the only country that got more people out was the United States.
“It took an absolutely heroic and herculean effort to achieve that, under incredibly difficult conditions.”
Mr Raab said he did not recognise figures from Mr Marshall suggesting that just 5% of Afghan nationals who applied for help under one UK scheme got assistance and rejected claims that junior officials were left to make life or death decisions on evacuations.
‘Not one British soldier was used’
In his evidence, Mr Marshall said the Foreign Office “received an instruction from the prime minister” to use “considerable capacity” to help animals leave the country that were being cared for by Nowzad, run by Paul “Pen” Farthing.
“There was a direct trade-off between transporting Nowzad’s animals and evacuating British nationals and Afghans evacuees, including Afghans who had served with British soldiers,” he said.
This morning, Dominic Raab has strongly defended his leadership of the Foreign Office during the summer crisis in Kabul, as you would expect him to.
But the damning claims made by a former colleague in his old department, add grist to the conclusion that Afghan lives were lost because of Whitehall incompetence.
The whistleblower’s claims certainly endorse a popular view that the evacuation was chaotic and mismanaged in London, but they are ultimately the allegations of one man, and a relatively junior official at that.
That is not to say Raphael Marshall’s version of events is incorrect, but without exact evidence it is now his word against Dominic Raab’s.
It should also be noted that Mr Marshal doesn’t point the finger exclusively at Mr Raab, at times his criticism seems to be aimed at the Civil Service too – that could incentivise senior mandarins to rally around the former foreign secretary in collective support.
Some of his allegations should be relatively easy to establish, such as the claim that no member of the team “studied Afghanistan, worked on Afghanistan previously, or had a detailed knowledge of Afghanistan”.
But others will be harder to prove, such as his allegation that emails were opened but not read properly, so that the PM and foreign secretary could claim no email went unread.
Mr Marshall’s evidence will need interrogating every bit as much as the senior diplomats in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee this afternoon.
If he is telling the truth, then Mr Raab will not only have presided over “the largest evacuation in living memory” (his words), but also an episode of shambolic incompetence that almost certainly led to people dying.
Mr Farthing hit back at this criticism, saying in a tweet that “not one single British soldier was used to get me or the
@Nowzad #dogs & #cats into #Kabul airport”.
He added: “#nowzad supporters paid for cargo flight not the useless British government #operationark.”
Speaking before the hearing, chair of the foreign affairs select committee Tom Tugendhat said that the allegations undermined government claims about the period.
“The evacuation has been described as a success by some, but these allegations point to a very different story – one of lack of interest, and bureaucracy over humanity,” he said.
Mr Marshall claims that at the height of the evacuation effort, for one afternoon, he was “the only person monitoring and processing emails in the Afghan Special Cases inbox”.
How many people were evacuated from Afghanistan?
The special cases included Afghan soldiers, politicians, journalists, civil servants, activists, aid workers, and judges, who did not work directly for the British but were vulnerable because of their links to UK forces.
In the evidence, Mr Marshall estimates “between 75,000 and 150,000 people (including dependants) applied for evacuation” to the Afghan Special Cases team and that “fewer than 5% of these people have received any assistance”.
In the written evidence he states: “It is clear that some of those left behind have since been murdered by the Taliban.”
‘Woeful lack of knowledge of Afghanistan’
The team handling the cases had a woeful lack of knowledge of Afghanistan, the evidence will claim.
None of its members had “studied Afghanistan, worked on Afghanistan previously, or had a detailed knowledge of Afghanistan”.
And yet junior officials were “being asked to make hundreds of life and death decisions about which they knew nothing”, according to the evidence.
Mr Marshall alleges that it took “several hours for the foreign secretary to engage with notes about exceptional cases of people urgently needing evacuation”.
Instead Mr Raab is alleged to have said he needed “all the cases set out in a well-presented table to make decisions”.
Emails from desperate people were given a cursory reading but their details were not recorded, it is claimed.
“We never returned to these emails due to lack of time,” Mr Marshall said. “They were therefore de facto eliminated from the evacuation process.”
For one week “emails were processed by marking them with a flag once read but were not entered into a spreadsheet”.
The whistleblower claims that “the purpose of this system was to allow the prime minister and the then foreign secretary to inform MPs that there were no unread emails”.
Military ‘working with one computer shared between eight people’
The military were drafted in to the Foreign Office to help process the pleas for evacuation.
But they were working with one computer shared between eight people, it is claimed, and were not experienced in the software being used.
The allegations add to claims the evacuation was handled inadequately and dysfunctionally by a government department woefully understaffed for the challenge, with many senior figures on holiday.
Sir Philip Barton, permanent undersecretary to the foreign office, and Sir Lawrie Bristow, former ambassador to Afghanistan, can expect to be questioned about the evidence when they meet MPs later.
‘Our commitment to them is enduring’
A government spokesperson defended its record on the evacuation.
“UK 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.
“More than 1,000 FCDO staff worked to help British nationals and eligible Afghans leave during Op Pitting. The scale of the evacuation and the challenging circumstances meant decisions on prioritisation 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, and since the end of the operation we have helped more than 3,000 individuals leave Afghanistan.”
CREDIT: Sky News (UK)