Mon, 26 February 2024

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Government Accused Of “Deliberately Misleading” MPs Over "Chaotic" Afghanistan Withdrawal


3 min read

MPs have described the government’s withdrawal from Afghanistan as a “disaster” and suggested senior officials had been “intentionally evasive” when asked to account for their actions.

In a damning report published today, the Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, said the government had failed to plan for the expected US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which led to the country falling to Taliban control in August 2021, despite having had eighteen months to do so. 

The report identified a series of “systemic failures of intelligence, diplomacy, planning and preparation” in the UK’s response, which it said amounted to “a betrayal of our allies that will damage the UK’s interests for years to come”.

MPs were also heavily critical of senior leadership at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), highlighting that then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was on holiday when the country’s capital of Kabul fell to Taliban control.

“It might be convenient to blame FCDO officials or military intelligence for these failures, but ministers should have been driving this policy,” the report read.

“The fact that the Foreign Office’s senior leaders were on holiday when Kabul fell marks a fundamental lack of seriousness, grip or leadership at a time of national emergency. 

“At several key stages in the evacuation there seemed to be no clear line of command within the political leadership of the Government, as decisions were made on the basis of untraceable and unaccountable political interventions.”

The report accused the government of failing to put in place a plan to evacuate Afghans who had supported UK forces, “despite knowing 18 months before the collapse of Afghanistan that an evacuation might be necessary”.

“The hasty effort to select those eligible for evacuation was poorly devised, managed, and staffed; and the department failed to perform the most basic crisis-management functions,” it continued.

“The lack of clarity led to confusion and false hope among our Afghan partners who were desperate for rescue. They, and the many civil servants and soldiers working hard on the evacuation, were utterly let down by deep failures of leadership in Government.”

They said the case of Pen Farthing's Nowzad animal charity – which attracted controversy after it was able to charter a flight for a large number of dogs at the height of the evacuation – illustrated the “arbitrary and chaotic nature” of the operation.

The report accuses senior officials and ministers of a lack of transparency after nobody was able to identify the “mysterious intervention” that allowed Nowzad staff to join in the evacuation.

“We have yet to be offered a plausible alternative explanation for how it came about,” the report said.

“Meanwhile, the charity’s founder was allowed to use a charter flight to rescue his animals, absorbing significant Government resources in the midst of the biggest military airlift in decades.

It added that ministers had allowed themselves to be “absorbed by media campaigns” and had made “important policy decisions through informal, unaccountable means which were later impossible to trace”.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy said the report highlighted the “government’s incompetence, laziness and mishandling that likely cost lives”.

“It shows how rotten this government is that after skipping the Afghanistan evacuation to sip cocktails on a beach, the Prime Minister rewarded Dominic Raab with the title of Deputy Prime Minister,” he continued. 

“The Conservative government has badly let down Britain’s reputation on the global stage and those responsible for this calamity should be held accountable.”

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