Further evidence alleging that the government severely abused the withdrawal from Afghanistan has been handed over to a parliamentary inquiry investigating the operation. Observer has been told.
Details from several government departments and agencies are believed to support the cursing testimony of a Foreign Ministry whistleblower who has claimed that bureaucratic chaos, ministerial intervention and lack of planning and resources led to “people being left to die at the hands of the Taliban”.
That Observer revealed in August that thousands of emails about acute cases of Afghans in danger were left unread for days at the height of the crisis, with messages from senior MPs among them not to be opened. Even government ministers had emails that had not been addressed.
In an interview with ObserverTom Tugendhat, the Conservative chairman of the select foreign affairs committee that is investigating the allegations, said others had been in touch to reveal concerns. He described evidence from three senior Foreign Ministry officials last Tuesday in which its Permanent Secretary Sir Philip Barton admitted that he remained on holiday for 11 days after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban as “absolutely extraordinary”. He said he was now more convinced of the condemnatory testimony his committee received from Raphael Marshall, a junior official who worked in the Afghan special case team.
“There’s nothing I’ve heard that makes me think he’s wrong,” Tugendhat said. “He and many like him deserve more than an apology. They have quite clearly demonstrated the integrity and ethical standards we should expect from senior government officials, but find these standards in the younger ranks, not the seniors.”
Tugendhat said his committee was now reviewing further evidence. “Since the hearing on Tuesday, I have been approached by individuals from other government departments and indeed other agencies offering their own perspectives on the events leading up to August and the aftermath,” he said. “We’re discussing how their evidence can be presented. There’s a very broad sense that this goes into the heart of something that is simply not acceptable and that Britain deserves better.”
He said the committee would talk to Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace about the military elements of the withdrawal. “We are very keen to talk to the Minister of Defense, who has agreed to come,” he said. “We want to hear the military perspective on this. We are very keen to talk to others who may have been involved in various areas. And we have to sit down and go through a lot of evidence. “
Tugendhat said he wanted to wait for a final report on the crisis before concluding where responsibility for any mistakes should fall. He said, however, that it was a “whole government” failure, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense all involved in the operation. He said the failure had seen allies in Afghanistan abandoned.
“There are many people on earth in Afghanistan today who are guilty of nothing but hoping and wishing for a better future,” he said. “Yet the Taliban victory today means that what we are likely to see is a very serious deterioration in individuals’ life chances. In many ways, we are already seeing it. We are seeing girls being denied education, we are seeing women excluded from work. are very serious attacks on citizens’ freedoms. “
He said there were still questions about the evacuation of nearly 200 dogs and cats from Kabul. Pen Farthing, a former British Royal Marine who ran the animal charity Nowzad, flew with the animals in a chartered plane. Marshall said, however, that limited resources on the ground had to be deployed to ensure the animals reached the plane. “Foreign Ministry officials made it clear that there was absolutely no diversion of resources,” Tugendhat said. “They also made it clear that the military opened the gates and took time to get these animals in. I do not understand how the two statements are compatible.”
A government spokesman said: “The British government staff worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within fourteen days. This was the largest mission of its kind in generations and the second largest evacuation carried out by any country. We are still working to help others get going.
“Over 1,000 FCDO employees worked to help British nationals and eligible Afghans leave during Operation Pitting. The scale of the evacuation and the challenging circumstances meant that priority decisions had to be made quickly to ensure we could help as many people as possible. “Unfortunately, we were not able to evacuate all those we wanted, but our commitment to them is ongoing, and since the end of the operation, we have helped more than 3,000 people leave Afghanistan.”