Whistle-blower accuses Britain of wasting time during Kabul airlift

People waiting at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the hope of fleeing the country after the Taliban's military takeover, on Aug 20, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - A whistle-blower who worked on Britain's response to the Afghanistan crisis has laid bare what the young diplomat says were serious shortcomings in how then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab - and even the ministry itself - handled the evacuation of vulnerable people from Kabul.

Mr Raphael Marshall, a junior officer in the British Foreign Service, told a parliamentary committee that at times he was the only person processing e-mail messages sent to the government's Afghan Special Cases inbox in August, when the United States left the war-torn country in chaos and the Taliban took over.

The special cases team handled the files of Afghan journalists, aid workers and civil servants who were at risk because of their British ties.

As many as 150,000 people applied for evacuation but fewer than 5 per cent received any assistance, according to Mr Marshall. They were responding to a new programme that sought to resettle as many as 20,000 Afghans at risk from the Islamist fundamentalists.

"These allegations are serious and go to the heart of the failures of leadership around the Afghan disaster," said Mr Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which is probing Britain's response.

In one of the most stinging accusations, Mr Marshall said Mr Raab took several hours to respond to case notes, only to then ask for them to be laid out "in a well-presented table to make decisions".

Mr Marshall said: "For the foreign secretary to make this request suggests he did not fully understand the situation."

A government spokesman said Britain regretted not being able to get as many people out of Afghanistan as it wanted.

A person close to Mr Raab said the major practical challenge at the time was verifying identity and securing safe passage to the airport, not the speed of decision-making.

Mr Raab was eventually demoted from his job.

As Western allies scrambled to get out of Afghanistan, his decision not to return to London from his vacation on the Greek island of Crete in August caused public outcry. He defended his delayed return and insisted that the fall of the capital came as a surprise to all.

Mr Marshall also said that for a week during the evacuation, e-mail messages were opened and marked with a flag but not entered into a spreadsheet. He added that in his opinion, "the purpose of this system was to allow the prime minister and the then Foreign Secretary to inform MPs that there were no unread e-mail".

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