The UK’s foreign secretary has issued a statement rejecting calls for his resignation over his failure to intervene on behalf of people fleeing Kabul late last week.
Dominic Raab said he did not call his Afghan counterpart to discuss evacuations from Afghanistan because his priority was security and capacity at Kabul’s airport.
The calls to resign came after it emerged that a phone call to Hanif Atmar on evacuating Afghan interpreters was delegated to a junior minister last Friday.
That phone call never happened because of the rapidly deteriorating security situation as the Taliban swept through Afghanistan. At the time, Mr Raab was on holiday in Crete.
“On Friday afternoon, August 13, advice was put to my private office (around 6pm Afghan time) recommending a call to the Afghan Foreign Minister,” said Mr Raab, who has rejected calls to resign, in a statement.
“This was quickly overtaken by events. The call was delegated to a Minister of State because I was prioritising security and capacity at the airport on the direct advice of the Director and the Director General overseeing the crisis response.
“In any event, the Afghan Foreign Minister agreed to take the call, but was unable to because of the rapidly deteriorating situation,” he said.
The Taliban has reportedly been searching for anyone believed to have worked with Nato forces in Afghanistan. Afghans eligible for evacuation flights have also faced difficulties getting to Kabul airport and passing through Taliban checkpoints.
Mr Raab said the UK government’s “overriding priority has been to secure Kabul airport so that flights can leave.”
“The Government’s approach to prioritise security at the airport was the right one,” he said.
“As a result, 204 UK nationals and their families, Afghan staff and other countries citizens were evacuated on the morning of Monday August 16. Since then, 1,635 have been evacuated.”
Lisa Nandy, the Labour Party’s spokeswoman for foreign affairs, has been among the most vocal critics of Mr Raab’s conduct.
“The foreign secretary should be ashamed and the prime minister has serious questions to answer over why he remains in the job,” she said earlier this week.
“What could possibly have been more important than safeguarding the legacy of two decades of sacrifice and hard-won victories in Afghanistan? While the Foreign Secretary lay on a sun lounger, the Taliban advanced on Kabul and 20 years of progress was allowed to unravel in a matter of hours.”
Mr Raab chaired a call with G7 foreign ministers on Thursday to discuss the crisis in Afghanistan.
He said the “G7 are continuing efforts to do everything possible to evacuate vulnerable persons from Kabul airport and call on all parties to continue to facilitate that".