Johnson Backs Foreign Secretary Over Handling of Afghan Evacuation
(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed his embattled foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, over his handling of the evacuation of Britons and their Afghan staff from Kabul as the Taliban swept to power last week.
Raab has come under increasing pressure to resign, after he stayed on holiday at a Greek resort as the Taliban advance gathered pace. Earlier on Friday, he released a statement acknowledging he had delegated a call on Aug. 13 seeking help from Afghan Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar to a junior minister -- and also said the call had ultimately never happened.
Johnson’s government has been struggling to contain the political fallout, including within his Conservative Party, over his decision to follow the U.S. in pulling out of Afghanistan and the events that followed.
Raab has been a focal point for much of the anger, with all of the U.K.’s major opposition parties calling for him to resign or be removed from his position in the past few days. Yet asked in a pooled interview Friday if he still had confidence in Raab, Johnson replied: “Absolutely.”
“The whole of the government has been working virtually around the clock, hitting the phones to do what we can to sort it out,” Johnson told broadcasters after a meeting of his government’s emergency committee.
Johnson rejected the idea that Raab’s failure to make the call had hampered evacuation efforts, and said that the U.K. on Thursday managed to evacuate about 1,000 British nationals and Afghans who have helped the U.K. over the past two decades, with another 1,000 following on Friday.
“The situation is precarious, be in no doubt: everyone can see the logistical difficulties, the crowd management difficulties at Hamid Karzai International Airport, but the work will go on as fast as we can,” he said.
The government is working “to deal with a situation that has been long in gestation and to make sure that we get as many people back as possible,” Johnson said. “Our political and diplomatic efforts to find a solution for Afghanistan -- working with the Taliban of course, if necessary -- will go on.”
Losing Raab would be a significant blow for Johnson, coming less than two months after Health Secretary Matt Hancock was forced to resign following revelations he had broken coronavirus rules while having an affair with a senior aide. It would likely trigger a wider reshuffle of his cabinet.
Raab hit back at his critics Friday, saying he had delegated the call “because I was prioritizing security and capacity at the airport on the direct advice of the director and the director general overseeing the crisis response.”
Raab also said that Atmar had “agreed to take the call, but was unable to because of the rapidly deteriorating situation.”
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