Boris Johnson Denies U.K. Was Slow to Respond to Taliban Advance on Kabul
(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the U.K.’s response to the collapse of the Afghan government and said British evacuation efforts in Kabul were long planned in anticipation of the Taliban takeover.
“It’s been clear for many months that the situation could go very fast and that’s been part of the intelligence briefing,” Johnson told broadcasters during a visit to a military base in Essex, east of London, on Thursday. The U.K.’s response was not “spur-of-the moment,” he said.
Johnson’s government is embroiled in a major political row over the U.K.’s rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, with the country back in the hands of the regime Britain and its allies went in to overthrow, and crucially leaving behind many Afghans who helped the U.K., and who now risk reprisals from the Taliban.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has borne the brunt of the criticism after it emerged he was on holiday when Kabul fell to the Taliban, with opposition parties calling for him to resign or be sacked.
During a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday, House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat read from an official document he said showed Raab was warned in July about the imminent threat of rapid Taliban advances.
Asked Thursday why Raab had still been allowed to go on holiday, Johnson said planning for evacuations began months before the document was published and “the whole government has been working continuously to make sure that we did what we could to extract people from Kabul.”
The Foreign Office also said the document cited by Tugendhat did not contain intelligence assessments, and that its “central planning assumption at the time was that the peace process in Afghanistan would run for up to a further six months.”
Officials have conceded that the speed of the Taliban’s takeover took the government by surprise, and Raab told Parliament the U.K.’s central assessment was that Kabul was unlikely to fall to the group this year.
Johnson has “full confidence” in Raab, the premier’s spokesman said Tuesday.
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