Raab Defends Handling of Afghanistan Pullout as Criticism Grows
(Bloomberg) -- Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab defended his performance over the U.K.’s evacuation efforts in Afghanistan, and said he never considered resigning from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet.
In a testy session of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Raab said that while there are “lessons to be learned about how we were caught by the speed and the scale of the fall of Kabul,” bringing 17,000 Britons and Afghans to the U.K. represents a significant achievement.
Yet Raab’s answers are unlikely to put to rest questions about his position, after he stayed on holiday in Crete as the Afghan government fell and the Taliban seized the capital. All major opposition parties have called for his resignation, and the U.K. press has been filled with speculation that he may be sacked the next time Johnson shuffles his senior ministers.
Johnson’s spokesman on Tuesday said the prime minister has “full confidence” in Raab.
Last month’s Afghanistan pullout has undermined Johnson’s post-Brexit vision of a “global Britain” that punches above its weight, and the prime minister is struggling to overcome the narrative that a cornerstone of British foreign policy for two decades has ended in failure.
Britain failed to persuade NATO allies to beef up their presence to replace the departing Americans, and Johnson was unable to persuade President Joe Biden to extend the deadline for the withdrawal beyond Aug. 31. Ministers also conceded that with the Americans in control of Kabul’s international airport during the evacuation, the U.K. had to follow its lead.
There are mounting questions about the government’s preparations. Raab said Wednesday the U.K.’s core assessment was that Kabul wouldn’t fall to the Taliban this year, and that in hindsight, he wouldn’t have gone on vacation.
As he prepares to fly to the region “tonight” to help with evacuation efforts from countries neighboring Afghanistan, Raab conceded he doesn’t know exactly how many Britons and Afghans are still looking to get out.
“Any number that we haven’t got out because of the evacuation and the situation is too many,” he said.
The foreign secretary said he’d ordered a full review of the closing of the embassy in Kabul after documents left behind gave details of Afghans who had helped the British.
The U.K. has sent Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee Simon Gass to Doha to speak with senior members of the Taliban to stress the importance of safe passage, containing terrorism and respecting human rights.
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