A former Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office official said that chaos, failure to allocate resources, fatal delays at critical times, and a lack of communication in Whitehall severely damaged the British government’s Afghan evacuation operation.
Raphael Marshall, who worked as a desk officer during the crisis, described how for one afternoon in the middle of the airlift he found himself as the only one monitoring the Afghan Special Cases Inbox when thousands of requests for help, from government ministers, MPs and charities, as well as Afghans, were pouring in.
Their pleas for help from those under threat went unanswered in a system incapable of handling the situation, said Mr. Marshall. Some of those who were abandoned were subsequently murdered by the Taliban and other Islamist groups.
Giving evidence to an inquiry into the Afghan evacuation by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Marshall claimed Dominic Raab, then foreign secretary, took several hours to deal with cases which needed his approval as the window for the airlift was coming to a close.
Mr. Raab, he says, then stipulated through his private office that he needed “all the cases set out in a well-presented table to make decisions”. The foreign secretary’s “choice to cause a delay” when time was running out for people to get to Kabul airport “suggests he did not understand the desperate situation”, Mr. Marshall said.
His testimony will add to the controversy surrounding the Afghan evacuation and lead to further questions about a process which has already come under scrutiny. Mr. Raab’s departure from the Foreign Office came after criticism of his performance, including that he continued with his holiday in Cyprus as the Taliban advanced on the Afghan capital.
The whistleblower’s evidence comes a day after western states acknowledged the Taliban had been carrying out targeted killings of former members of Afghan security forces. It follow a report by Human Rights Watch which documented, in just one investigation, more than 100 killings of ex- government and military officials.
Mr. Marshall estimated that between 75,000 and 150,000 people, including dependents, applied for evacuation. “Fewer than 5% of those received any assistance” with the consequence that “it is clear that some of those left behind have since been murdered by the Taliban”.
Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “These allegations are serious and go to the heart of the failures of leadership around the Afghan disaster, which we have seen throughout this inquiry.”
The Special Cases team was set up to look after Afghans who were under threat from the Taliban because of their links with the UK, but did not work directly for the government in London. These included members of the armed forces, activists, politicians, judges, civil servants, aid workers as well as those who worked through subcontractors.
The Special Cases programme worked alongside Arap (Afghanistan Relocations and Assistance Policy) which was for those Afghans who worked directly for the British government.
The eligibility on Special Cases was often unclear, according to Mr Marshall.
“Therefore guards who had protected the British Embassy and, also I believe, the guards of a [UK] National Crime Agency compound in Kabul were not prioritised for evacuation,” he said.
Mr. Marshall claimed the UK’s ambassador to Kabul, Sir Laurie Bristow, had made a personal promise to the guards that he would secure their evacuation if they got to the airport on 26 August.
But the whistleblower said the Foreign Office crisis centre in London “was frustrated with Sir Laurie for making this promise because capacity at the airport was so limited. This was due to a concern that the 130 guards and their families would ‘swamp’ the limited available capacity”.
“The Crisis Centre attempted to insist Sir Laurie reverse his promise due to limited capacity. I believe he refused to do this,” he said.
The guards attempted to get to the airport on 26 August, but were prevented by the bombing by Isis on that day which killed 183 people, including 170 Afghans and 13 members of the US military.
Mr. Marshall said in his evidence that none of the Special Cases team had “studied Afghanistan, worked on Afghanistan previously, or had a detailed knowledge of Afghanistan”. His own knowledge of the country came from reading a book by the former minister Rory Stewart.
Junior officials were “scared by being asked to make hundreds of life and death decisions about which they knew nothing”, according to Mr. Marshall. On one occasion, he says, “they initially essentially declined to do the task. I persuaded them that unless they accepted the task the emails would not be read at all which would be worse”. (Source: Independent UK)