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Foreign Office accused of having ‘no grasp’ of Afghan crisis and of leaving young soldiers in charge

Dominic Raab admits his ‘rapid deployment team’ yet to arrive – amid claim that ‘18-year-old squaddies’ left to process visa applications

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 17 August 2021 12:34 BST
Tobias Ellwood says the Foreign Office has 'no grasp' of the Afghan crisis

The Foreign Office is accused of having no “grasp” of the crisis in Afghanistan and of quickly evacuating its diplomats while leaving young soldiers in charge.

Labour is demanding answers on claims that Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, has predicted “a reckoning” for Dominic Raab’s department when the immediate emergency is over.

Mr Wallace is reported to have protested that diplomats had been “on the first plane out”, while “18-year-old squaddies” were left to process visa applications in Kabul.

Mr Raab admitted a “rapid deployment team” was yet to arrive in Kabul and that staff had been withdrawn for their own safety, telling Times Radio: “I want to get them back in today.”

Tobias Ellwood, the Tory chair of the Commons defence committee, turned his fire on the Foreign Office, after it said its aim is to exert a “positive and moderating influence” on the new Taliban government.

“I regret having to say this but a grasp of understanding of what is going on in Afghanistan seems to be eluding the Foreign Office at the moment,” Mr Ellwood said.

“The only language the Taliban understood was military might – and we removed that upper hand that we had, or that we gave to the Afghans.”

Earlier, Mr Raab, the under-fire foreign secretary, announced a likely 10 per cent aid increase to Afghanistan – months after a 78 per cent cut, as part of the £4bn-a-year overseas aid reductions.

But there are doubts about the money can be channelled, given Taliban control and the expected withdrawal of aid agencies if the country descends into full-blown civil war.

Mr Elwood, speaking to the BBC, ridiculed the idea that decisions about aid, or sanctions, could now somehow “improve the Taliban”.

Hopes for a peaceful transition in Kabul were dead, Mr Ellwood said, but he insisted there was “still is a window of opportunity” to ease the chaos.

The Guardian reported Mr Wallace’s frustration that Ministry of Defence officials had had to replace Foreign Office officials and process resettlement claims for people trying to flee Kabul.

Up to 4,000 Afghans thought to be eligible for resettlement in the UK, amid frightening scenes at the capital’s international airport, but a much bigger scheme is promised.

Mr Wallace admitted that “some people will not get back”, with the US thought to have given Western allies just two weeks to facilitate departures.

Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, said Mr Raab had “serious questions to answer about his department’s lack of preparedness for the tragic situation now unfolding”.

“The failure to prepare for the safe and swift evacuation of British nationals, support staff and the Afghans who worked alongside us is catastrophic”

“Days after evacuations began, there is still no clear strategy in place. This effort demands tight cross-government coordination, but unbelievably key departments are now at loggerheads.”

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