Afghanistan: Questions facing Dominic Raab as foreign secretary grilled by MPs over Kabul chaos

Government’s handling of Afghanistan crisis described as ‘biggest failure of foreign policy in a generation’

Rory Sullivan
Wednesday 01 September 2021 11:38
Government will answer unread emails about trapped Afghans ‘within days’, says Dominic Raab

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab will be grilled by MPs over his handling of the situation in Afghanistan, after Labour called it “the biggest failure of foreign policy in a generation”.

The Tory frontbencher will appear before the crossbench foreign affairs select committee for an hour from 2pm on Wednesday.

The government has been strongly criticised for not anticipating the Taliban’s swift takeover after US and Nato troops started to withdraw from Afghanistan earlier this summer. As recently as July, Boris Johnson told MPs that the hardline Islamist group had “no military path to victory”.

One critic of the government’s response is General Lord Richard Dannatt, a former head of the British army, who toldTimes Radio on Sunday that ministers were “asleep on watch” and “should have done better”.

“It absolutely behoves us to find out why the government didn’t spark up faster,” he added.

Mr Raab has come under particular scrutiny for being on holiday in Crete while Kabul fell and for not starting evacuations of vulnerable Afghans sooner. He has rejected calls for his resignation and the prime minister has spoken out in support of him.

However, big questions remain about the speed of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) response to developments in Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghans who are eligible for resettlement in the UK remain trapped in the Taliban-controlled country after evacuations from Kabul airport ended on Monday.

The government is now in talks with the Taliban about allowing people to leave Afghanistan and is sending 15 crisis response specialists to neighbouring countries to facilitate cross-border evacuations.

At the committee session, the foreign secretary will likely be questioned on the support being given to those left behind in Afghanistan, as well as specifics about the UK’s arrangements with nations in the region.

Mr Raab will undoubtedly be asked about his personal judgement - specifically why he did not return to the UK from holiday as the Taliban approached Kabul. And whether it is true that he considered Afghanistan “yesterday’s war” and was more interested in Brexit, as one unnamed Pakistani official has put it.

MPs will also want to know more about how government intelligence failed to predict the Taliban’s quick rise to power, and how countries such as Russia and China will try to benefit from the absence of western troops in Afghanistan.

In a challenging media round on Tuesday, the foreign secretary gave a taste of how he will respond to MPs on Wednesday, dismissing critics as “backbiting finger-pointing peripheral people involved in buck-passing”.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said Mr Raab “has serious questions to answer” on “much more than the chaos of the last two weeks”.

“The foreign secretary had 18 months to prepare but was missing in action. As a result, on his watch Britain has become weaker in the world and faces greater risks from terrorism.”

Tory backbenchers, including Tom Tugendhat, a former soldier who now chairs the foreign affairs select committee, have also criticised the government.

On Saturday he said that the UK’s evacuation efforts were a “sprint finish after a not exactly sprint start”. He also tweeted on Tuesday: “Ending wars is good. Leaving people defenceless in front of armed gangs is not how you end a war, it’s how you start a new one.”

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