Defence Secretary Says Taliban Are “Letting Through Our People” To Fly Back From Afghanistan
The defence secretary said the Taliban are allowing people to enter the UK's processing centre at Kabul airport (Alamy)
The Taliban are “letting through our people” to fly back to the UK according to defence secretary Ben Wallace, after reports of problems at Kabul airport.
Wallace said people “are getting on the planes” in Afghanistan and Britain is not sending out any empty flights after claims insurgents were preventing refugees from getting through.
Last night Downing Street said that the UK had evacuated approximately 1,200 people from Kabul on military flights, including 300 British nationals.
The Taliban “have allowed our people through, and that is obviously good news for both our Afghan friends but also for any entitled personnel," Wallace told Sky News this morning.
“It is very very difficult for those soldiers, as you've seen in the footage, dealing with some desperate, desperate people, many of whom are just wanting to leave the country," he continued.
"Our soldiers are having to deal with crowd control, which is a different type of threat than an enemy threat or a security threat."
He added that "we're finding our way through" and believed some public order was being maintained.
Wallace said the UK is in “a process that is more mature than some of the other countries” which is why so many people had been brought over already.
“We haven't sent out a single empty plane so far," he said.
“If we have any spare capacity at any stage we make sure we share it with other nations to fly out their key personnel, such as we flew out NATO personnel and some of the NATO interpreter Afghans for them to make sure that not a single seat is wasted.”
Wallace also defended Dominic Raab after it was claimed the foreign secretary was "too busy" on holiday to speak with the Afghan foreign minister as the Taliban closed in on Kabul.
The Daily Mail reported that senior officials asked him to call Hanif Atmar and ask for urgent assistance in evacuating Afghan interpreters who had worked for UK military personnel.
They were said to have emphasised the call was made by the secretary of state himself, rather than a junior minister, but were told Raab was unavailable and instead it was Lord Goldsmith who spoke with Atmar the day after.
It has led to accusations crucial time was lost before insurgents took control of the capital and contributed to the chaotic scenes at the airport as the UK scrambles to evacuate British and Afghan nationals.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: "While the foreign secretary lay on a sun lounger, the Taliban advanced on Kabul and 20 years of progress was allowed to unravel in a matter of hours.
"The foreign secretary should be ashamed and the prime minister has serious questions to answer over why he remains in the job."
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: "Who wouldn't make a phone call if they were told it could save somebody's life?"
But Wallace rejected criticism of Raab's movements over the weekend, telling Sky News "one phone call is not the reason we are where we are” in terms of evacuating people from Kabul.
"I, like you, have read the front of the newspaper today and I have absolutely no idea about what my foreign secretary or anyone else's secretary's call sheet is like," the defence secretary said.
"What I do know is that at no stage have I had a problem with the foreign secretary or anyone else in that department in making sure we should process, get people through.
"The facts are changing rapidly on the ground and, as he said yesterday in Parliament, he has managed to do all his calls when he needed to.
"One phone call is not the reason we are where we are at the moment"
Wallace also rejected suggestions of tension between him and the foreign secretary over how the situation is being dealt with on the ground.
"He has taken my calls," he said. "I have had no problem in dealing with the foreign secretary or the foreign office throughout this process."
Last night a Foreign Office spokesperson said of the call to Atmar: "The foreign secretary was engaged on a range of other calls and this one was delegated to another minister."
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