Whistle-Blower Says U.K. Wasted Time During Kabul Airlift
(Bloomberg) -- A whistle-blower who worked on the U.K.’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.
Raphael Marshall, a junior officer in the British foreign service, told a parliamentary committee that at times he was the only person processing emails sent to the government’s Afghan Special Cases inbox in August, when the U.S. 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 U.K. ties. As many as 150,000 people applied for evacuation but fewer than 5% received any assistance, according to Marshall. They were responding to a new program that sought to resettle as many as 20,000 Afghans at risk from the Islamic fundamentalists.
“These allegations are serious and go to the heart of the failures of leadership around the Afghan disaster,” said Tom Tugendhat, chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which is probing the U.K.’s response.
In one of the most stinging accusations, Marshall said 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.”
“For the foreign secretary to make this request suggests he did not fully understand the situation,” Marshall said.
“I understand why if you’re a relatively junior desk officer it would have felt like you’re under a lot of pressure,” Raab told Sky News on Tuesday, rejecting Marshall’s allegations. “The inherent challenge that we had was the situation on the ground.”
Raab was eventually demoted from his job. As Western allies scramble 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 the fall of the capital came as surprise to all.
“The only country that got more people out was the United States and it took an absolutely heroic and Herculean effort to achieve that,” Raab said.
Marshall also said that for a week during the evacuation, emails 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 emails.”
“I can’t vouch for every action of every email but certainly I never asked for emails to be ticked as read,” Raab said.
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