Dominic Raab Says Intel Predicted Kabul Was 'Unlikely to Fall This Year' After NATO Troop Withdrawal
13:39 GMT 01.09.2021 (Updated: 14:49 GMT 01.09.2021)
The British foreign secretary has been under pressure in light of the Taliban's* takeover of Kabul and the dubious response of officials. On 26 August, a huge bomb went off near Abbey Gate, the main entrance to Kabul Airport, killing 13 US service personnel and 163 Afghans.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs on Wednesday a secret security assessment had forecast there would be a "steady deterioration" of the situation in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of NATO troops but Kabul was "unlikely to fall this year".
He said the Joint Intelligence Committee had made the assessment and there had been contingency planning in case Kabul fell much sooner than December and the number of British Embassy staff had been reduced from 150 to 75 in May.
Raab, who has been urged to resign because of his and the Foreign Office's response to the crisis in Afghanistan, said they began planning for the possible evacuation of British nationals and Afghan interpreters and support staff as early as June.
The foreign secretary, who was on holiday in Greece when the Taliban suddenly advanced and took Kabul, has been criticised for not calling the Afghan or Pakistani foreign ministers in the six months before the fall of the Afghan capital.
On Wednesday, 1 September, Raab told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee he had 40 meetings where "Afghanistan was on the agenda" in the run up to the fall of the capital.
The foreign secretary said he was "not confident" the estimate of "low hundreds" left behind was accurate.
"We got something like 500 out between April and 15 August and 7,000 out during the period between 15 and 29 August", Raab said.
The chairman of the committee, Conservative MP and former British Army officer Tom Tugendhat, said: "Why was it the French evacuated everyone they were responsible for and we were scrabbling around?"
Raab replied: "I don't think you are comparing like with like."
At one point was asked if it was a good idea to go on holiday at the same time as the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
Raab said: "I wouldn't have gone on holiday with the benefit of hindsight."
SNP MP Stewart McDonald repeatedly asked Raab when he had gone on holiday but the foreign secretary refused to answer the question.
Mr McDonald then asked him whether he had ever considered resigning over the Kabul fiasco.
"No. I was focused on getting on with the Herculean task of getting 17,000 people out and getting the remaining people out," Raab replied.
Labour MP Claudia Webbe said he had been "missing in action" and asked him again if he would resign.
He responded by accusing her of playing party politics and said he was not going anywhere.
The foreign secretary defended his actions and said Britain had managed to evacuate 17,000 people - including 5,000 British citizens - since April, with only "the low hundreds" left behind.
Raab earlier said he would be leaving to "visit the region" later today, but it is not clear if he will visit Pakistan or Turkmenistan, both of which border Afghanistan.
He also said there had been some "wishful thinking" the Biden administration would change President Trump's policy of withdrawing from Afghanistan.
Labour MP Neil Coyle asked him what had gone "so badly wrong" that the British Embassy had been abandoned so quickly a portrait of the Queen had been left on the wall.
Raab said he understood the plan was for the portrait to be destroyed, rather than falling into the hands of the Taliban, although it is not clear if that happened.
Mr Coyle said: "Is our Queen and our country less safe now that the Taliban have taken over?"
Raab, in his reply, pointed out that the West had not been subjected to an attack by al-Qaeda - the Taliban's allies - for 20 years.
Raab was asked by Tory MP Royston Smith how his government would engage with the Taliban.
He replied: "We will not recognise the Taliban. Most like-minded countries will do the same. But we will judge them by how they respond."
Did UK Embassy Send Afghans to Ill-Fated Kabul Airport Gate?
Earlier it was reported
British officials had told Afghans to wait at the main Abbey Gate entrance to Kabul Airport only hours before last week's suicide bombing.
said it had seen emails suggesting the British Embassy told people to "use the Abbey Gate (near) to the Baron Hotel" despite UK and US military and intelligence knowing there was a severe threat from extremists.
One Afghan interpreter told the BBC if he had followed the British Embassy's advice to go to Abbey Gate he would have been dead.
He said: "If I had followed their advice, I would be no more. I said I won't because I don't feel safe as the situation was getting worse. It would be madness to go there and that saved my life. It was our own judgment that saved our lives".
Labour MP Chris Bryant asked Raab about the BBC report during his Foreign Affairs Select Committee meeting.
Raab replied: "We changed our travel advice just after 10pm on the Wednesday. We stopped asking Afghans to come to the airport and we shifted our civilian team from the Baron Hotel to inside the airport perimeter."
But he said of the reports that some Afghans had been told on Thursday to go to the Abbey Gate: "I need to investigate it."
Also this week, a report on the US website Politico claimed the American forces guarding the airport kept Abbey Gate open longer than they wanted because the British wanted more time to get evacuees out.
*The Taliban is a terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries.