UK govt blasted over Afghan exit as hundreds left behind

Published August 30, 2021
Military personnel arrive at a base of the British air force in Oxfordshire after evacuation from Afghanistan.—Reuters
Military personnel arrive at a base of the British air force in Oxfordshire after evacuation from Afghanistan.—Reuters

LONDON: The UK government on Sunday faced a torrent of criticism after its hurried withdrawal from Afghanistan ended, leaving hundreds eligible for relocation behind.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed a mission “unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes” after the UK airlifted over 15,000 people in the last two weeks.

Troops landed back at Brize Norton airbase in southern England on Sunday after Britain was forced to withdraw following the decision of its ally the United States to end its 20-year presence.

Johnson praised the evacuation efforts in “harrowing conditions” and assured the military that decades of deployment “were not in vain” after the Taliban retook control.

But current and former officials slammed government failings, suggesting many more Afghans could have been rescued.

The Observer leftwing broadsheet cited a whistleblower as saying thousands of emails from MPs and charities to the foreign ministry highlighting specific Afgh­ans at risk from the Taliban takeover went unopened.

Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has already been strongly criticised for not immediately leaving a beach holiday when the Taliban took control.

The Observer said it saw evidence that an official email account set up by the Foreign Office to receive such pleas regularly had 5,000 unopened emails last week.

It said these included messages from ministers’ offices and the leader of the opposition Labour party, Keir Starmer.

“They cannot possibly know (how many people have been left behind) because they haven’t even read the emails,” the whistleblower was quoted as saying.

The Foreign Office responded that its crisis team worked 24/7 “to triage incoming emails and calls”.

Officials have given varying estimates of how many eligible Afghans did not board evacuation flights, the last of which left Saturday, with the head of the UK armed forces General Sir Nick Carter putting this “in the high hundreds”.

The Sunday Times right-wing broadsheet quoted an unnamed minister as saying: “I suspect we could have taken out 800 to 1,000 more people”. The same minister slammed Raab, claiming he “did nothing” to build ties with third countries from which Afghans might enter the UK.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2021

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