MPs launch inquiry into government’s Afghanistan policy after ‘catastrophic’ withdrawal

‘Big questions remain’ about handling of crisis, says committee chief

Adam Forrest
Friday 03 September 2021 18:56

Related video: Dominic Raab asked to consider his position after going on holiday during Afghanistan crisis

A parliamentary committee has launched an inquiry into Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan after the “catastrophic” fall of Kabul.

A cross-party group of MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee will grill ministers and top officials on evacuation efforts and planning carried out for the Taliban takeover.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has come under pressure over his recent holiday in Crete, and an intelligence warning from July which suggested the Taliban could advance rapidly across Afghanistan.

Committee chair Tom Tugendhat thanked Mr Raab for his appearance in parliament earlier this week, but said “big questions remain” about the government’s handling of the crisis.

“The fall of Kabul is a catastrophe for the Afghan people and for the reputation of those nations that were committed to its success – our hasty withdrawal leaves a country in an acute humanitarian and human rights crisis,” said the Conservative MP.

Mr Tugendhat added: “While I thank the foreign secretary for appearing in front of the committee at late notice, big questions remain, and this inquiry hopes to provide some much-needed clarity. Lessons need to be learnt and the decisions the UK makes in the coming months will be crucial.”

The parliamentary inquiry – expected to last for several months – will scrutinise the nature of the government’s engagement with the Taliban and what ministers are doing to stop the country becoming a safe haven for terrorist groups.

MPs will also examine the human rights impact of the Taliban takeover, probing ministers on plans to support those most at risk inside Afghanistan – particularly women and girls.

As part of our Refugees Welcome campaign, The Independent has launched a petition urging the UK government to be more ambitious in its plans to take in Afghan refugees.

Influential Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the defence select committee, has called for a full public inquiry in Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan – saying the time was right to examine the entire mission as well as “what went wrong” with the withdrawal.

Stewart McDonald, the SNP’s defence spokesperson, backed Mr Ellwood’s call for an inquiry along the lines of the one carried by John Chilcot into Britain’s role in Iraq. “If we are all committed to getting this right, that’s the kind of thing that surely needs to happen,” he said.

Grilled by MPs on the committee on Wednesday, Mr Raab said UK intelligence predicted a “steady deterioration” after the troop withdrawal – but the assessment was that it was “unlikely” Kabul would fall this year.

But Mr Tugendhat pointed to a 22 July document from Mr Raab’s own department called a principal risk register – which appeared to warn Afghanistan could fall to the Taliban much sooner than the UK had previously predicted.

The Foreign Office said it was “wrong and misleading” to suggest the document was “at odds with our detailed assessments of the situation in Afghanistan or our public position throughout the crisis”.

The foreign secretary also claimed on Friday that the speed at which the Afghan government fell “surprised” the Taliban. Speaking in Pakistan, Mr Raab said: “I suspect the Taliban and ordinary Afghans were taken by surprise. I think there was a common widespread surprise.”

Meanwhile, Mr Tugendhat has warned that the end of the evacuation operation in Afghanistan was “only the beginning of a new stage of chaos” which could see the US and China drawn into conflict.

He said Beijing could use the American withdrawal as an opportunity to “flex its muscles” militarily, leading to the danger of confrontation in a flashpoint like Taiwan and the South China Sea.

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