Raab Says He Was Too Busy Working On The Kabul Airport Evacuation To Phone The Afghan Foreign Minister
Dominic Raab has defended his decision not to phone Afghanistan' Foreign Minister as the Taliban descended on Kabul on Friday, insisting he was focused on other elements of the government response to the crisis in the region.
The under-pressure Foreign Secretary today in a statement defended his role in the UK response to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan amid growing calls for him to quit.
Labour and other opposition parties have said Raab must step down or be sacked by Boris Johnson after The Mail reported that last Friday he failed to make a crucial phone call to Afghanistan's foreign minister Hanif Atmar when advised to do so by Foreign Office officials.
Raab, who was on holiday in Crete at the time, today claimed he did not contact Atmar to discuss evacuating interpreters from Afghanistan because the advice to do so was "quickly overtaken by events."
Instead, Raab claims, he focused on "prioritising security and capacity at the airport on the direct advice of the Director and the Director General overseeing the crisis response."
It has since emerged that the call did not happen even after it was delegated to a junior minister. This was due to the "rapidly deteriorating situation" in Afghanistan, Raab said in his statement.
"The whole of government has been working tirelessly over the last week to help as many people evacuate from Afghanistan as possible. The UK government’s overriding priority has been to secure Kabul airport so that flights can leave," he said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson later gave Raab his full support, saying: "the whole of the government has been working virtually around the clock to do what we can," on the Afghanistan evacuation operation.
Johnson said he disagreed "very strongly" with the suggestion the government lacks interest in helping people be evacuated from Kabul.
"The whole government is working as hard as we can to make sure we not only extract those whom we owe debts of honour and obligation, but we get out the UK-eligible persons,” he said,
Speaking in Downing Street after a Cobra meeting about Afghanistan he said "the situation is getting slightly better and we are a seeing a stabilisation at the airport", adding: "Yesterday we were able to get out about a thousand people, today another thousand people, and a lot of those are obviously UK-eligible persons coming back to this country, and a lot of them are people coming back under the Afghanistan resettlement and assistance programme."
Johnson told reporters "we will continue to work as fast as we can over the next few days" to evacuate people from Afghanistan.
"The operation is becoming faster, but I'm not going to pretend to you that it is easy,” he added.
"As you can imagine the logistical challenges are formidable and they are doing an outstanding job in very difficult circumstances."
Raab's position has come under intense pressure over his handling of the crisis in Afghanistan, with several government officials anonymously lambasting him in Friday's newspapers.
One civil servant told The Guardian that the Foreign Secretary "refused to be contacted on basically anything" while on holiday in Greece as the Taliban swept across Afghanistan.
Raab's colleague James Heappey, the Armed Forced Minister, sought to defend the beleaguered Foreign Secretary this morning, insisting in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the phone call wouldn't have made a difference to the situation in Afghanistan if it had been made.
“I don’t have the details of individual ministers’ call sheets," he told Today.
"What I can say, as my colleague the Secretary of State said yesterday, is the reality is no one phone call would have changed the trajectory of either the speed of the collapse of the Afghan government nor the speed at which we were able to get the airlift up and running.
"I understand why this is of interest to the media in the UK at the moment.
"But frankly my focus, and the focus of my colleagues at the moment, is making sure we can extract as many people as possible from Kabul."
Heappey said he didn't know why the call wasn't made but doubled down on his claim that it wouldn't have sped up the UK's ongoing operation to evacuate people from Kabul.
“I don’t know why the call wasn’t made and I don’t know the detail or who should have made the call and who shouldn’t," he said.
"I am certain that by the time it was recommended that the call should have been made the trajectory was set and the speed of collapse would not have been changed by a single phone call.
"And actually the plans we had in place in order to initiate the airlift would not have been accelerated because there are military physics in how long it would have taken to get those things up and running anyway.”
The minister said the government successfully evacuated 963 people from Kabul yesterday, which was “big acceleration on the day before."
The government is likely to face questions today over why three of the country's most senior civil servants, whose departments are all heavily involved in the UK mission to evacuate people from Afhanistan, are on holiday as the crisis continues to unfold, as reported by The Times.
Home Office Permanent Secretary Matthew. Foreign Office Permanent Secretary Philip Barton, and Ministry of Defence Permanent Secretary David Williams still haven't returned from their holidays.
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