New measures brought in to ensure flaws in Afghanistan evacuation are not repeated

The move came amid severe criticism of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) handling of the emergency airlift

<p>Foreign secretary Liz Truss </p>

Foreign secretary Liz Truss

New measures have been brought in by the government to ensure that the deep flaws exposed in the Afghan evacuation process are not repeated.

The move came amid severe criticism of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) handling of the emergency airlift and devastating claims from a whistleblower of chaotic conditions which led to thousands of desperate appeals for help from Afghans not being answered.

Outlining the new measures on Wednesday, foreign secretary Liz Truss acknowledged that “clearly there are lessons to be learned”, adding that there was a need for processes to be put in place “to address any future issues”.

The processes include better risk monitoring, a better emergency response system and a better way of deploying staff in a crisis, she said.

The commons foreign affairs committee has this week condemned the “lack of leadership, urgency and adequate resourcing” during the evacuation earlier this year, adding: “It is deeply painful how badly we have left Afghanistan down.”

The committee heard on Tuesday how Sir Philip Barton, permanent-under secretary at the FCDO, remained on holiday for 11 days after the fall of Kabul. Former foreign secretary Dominic Raab had also continued with his vacation as the Taliban swept through the country.

Sir Philip told MPs: “I have reflected a lot. If I had my time again I would have come back from my leave earlier than I did”.

Later in the hearing, he admitted he did “regret the fact that I didn’t decide to come back to support” colleagues, but that he did not think his decision “affected the outcome” of the evacuation.

The whistleblower, Raphael Marshall, estimated that only five per cent of people who applied for evacuation under the Special Cases scheme were brought out to safety. Working as a desk officer, he described how for one afternoon he found himself as the only one monitoring the inbox when thousands of requests for help, from government ministers, MPs and charities, as well as Afghans, were pouring in.

Speaking at Chatham House on Wednesday, Ms Truss said: “Clearly there are lessons to be learned. The permanent secretary is clear that he should have returned from holiday earlier, as was my predecessor.

“What I’ve done, since I’ve become foreign secretary, is make sure that we have processes in place to address any future issues.”

Ms Truss added: “I’m absolutely confident that we now have those processes in place in the event - in the unfortunate event - of a similar situation.”

Meanwhile, Ms Truss also insisted at the event that Britain will pay £400 million owed to Iran over a sales agreement for Chieftain tanks which were never delivered, accepting that it was a “legitimate debt”.

It is believed that the payment of the debt would influence the Iranian authorities over the release of charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other British-Iranian dual nationals who are detained in Tehran.

“We do want to pay this debt, we recognise it’s a legitimate debt. But of course, there are lots of issues,” said Ms Truss. “It is not simple, for various reasons. I’m also pressing for the return of our unfairly detained British nationals, including Nazanin.”

The foreign secretary also said she is meeting her Ukrainian counterpart on Wednesday to discuss “closer strategic co-operation”.

Ms Truss said that it would be a “strategic mistake” for Russia to attack Ukraine. Referring to a call between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, she said that the US president “told Putin directly that if Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States and our European allies would respond with strong economic measures”.

She added: “Together we will send a clear message that any incursion by Russia into Ukraine would be a strategic mistake. As president Biden said, there would be ‘very real costs’ to pay.”

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