Dominic Raab Reportedly Let Junior Minister Call Shots on Afghan Rescue as He Holidayed on the Beach
Dominic Raab earlier faced calls to quit after it was reported he'd failed to speak by phone to his Afghan counterpart Hanif Atmar to request assistance in the removal of translators who'd worked with the British military. He had ostensibly handed over the matter to a junior minister in the days leading up to the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab
had delegated the mission of deciding matters pertaining to the rescue of Afghans who had worked for British forces to a junior minister while he continued to enjoy his holiday, reported the Daily Mail.
As the Taliban* Islamist group’s swift offensive sped them towards the capital, Kabul, in a submission drafted in the evening of August 13 diplomats had reportedly sought ministerial sign-off on the details of how to apply eligibility criteria to the Afghans hoping to flee the country and relocate to the UK.
Despite Raab’s claim that during his stay at the luxurious Amirandes beach resort in Crete he was “working tirelessly”, the following morning the paper was redirected to Foreign Office minister responsible for the Pacific, Lord Goldsmith.
Accordingly, it fell to the Labour Life peer, who is also Minister for the Environment at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) to give orders about the evacuation from Afghanistan. The minister, who received the submission at around 9am, was able to issue his instructions five hours later, on August 14, writes the outlet.
Raab Under Fire
A defensive Raab has insisted it was “nonsense” that he “was lounging on a beach or paddleboarding in the ocean” on the final day of his holiday.
“The sea wasn’t open because it was a red flag, so no one was paddleboarding,” said the minister on BBC Breakfast.
The Foreign Secretary has also claimed he was engaging with international partners throughout the days leading up to the Taliban’s seizure of the capital
. However, according to the outlet, the Foreign Office has not provided details of any such calls.
Raab has also dismissed reports he was requested to fly back to the UK on Friday 13 August, rather than continuing his holiday until 15 August. That Sunday, the Taliban completed their takeover of the country, seizing Kabul, causing the government to collapse and President Ashraf Ghani to flee.
Raab added on BBC Breakfast:
"With hindsight, of course, I would have wanted to be back earlier."
Dominic Raab finally flew back after Kabul fell, arriving in the UK in the early hours of 16 August.
Last month it was reported that while on holiday, Raab had been advised by senior officials to contact his Afghan counterpart on the urgent matter of facilitating evacuation of Afghan translators who worked for British troops. However, at the time the call was delegated to Lord Goldsmith and eventually failed to take place.
Questions have been raised over Raab’s handling of the situation as it was revealed he had gone on holiday after his department had warned that Afghanistan was on the brink of being overrun by Taliban.
Warnings that “rapid advances” by extremists could lead to “the fall of cities, collapse of security forces [and] the Taliban returned to power” were contained in an assessment dated 22 July, obtained by the Commons foreign affairs committee and cited by the publication.
Raab continues to insist
the speed of the Taliban takeover "clearly caught us unawares", telling MPs in Westminster the central assessment was that with a US withdrawal there would be a deterioration on the ground from August and it was unlikely that Kabul would fall this year. However these remarks are in glaring contrast to statements made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had said on Thursday that it had been “clear for many months” that the situation could rapidly change.
After grilling Raab earlier in the week, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee has announced it will hold an inquiry on UK policy towards Afghanistan.
Committee Chair, Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, said that "big questions remain" regarding the UK's withdrawal from the country and its future policy in the region.
"The true extent of the damage done will only become clear in the coming months and years. However, it is already clear that the world has become more dangerous and unstable," he added.
Meanwhile, a Foreign Office spokesman responded to the report that Raab had left it to a junior minister to call the shots over evacuation of Afghan translators, saying:
“This was a straightforward decision which did not require Foreign Secretary approval and was therefore handled in line with the well used system across Whitehall of duty ministers, with a decision taken in under five hours.”
The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) was announced
on 29 December 2020 by the Defence Secretary and Home Secretary. The scheme offered relocation or other assistance to current and former Locally Employed Staff in Afghanistan to reflect the changing situation in Afghanistan.
Under the programme, launched on 1 April 2021, any current or former Locally Employed Staff directly employed by the government and determined to be at serious risk were eligible to apply for relocation regardless of their employment status, rank or role, or length of time served.
To date, the UK has evacuated over 15,000 people from Afghanistan, including more than 5,000 British nationals, with the last RAF plane taking off from Hamid Karzai International Airport on Saturday and arriving at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire early on Sunday morning. However, there are fears that thousands of people eligible for relocation, including Afghans who worked for the British and their families, have been left behind.
Dominic Raab has been on a visit to the volatile region to shore up a coalition with neighbouring countries to "exert the maximum moderating influence" on the Taliban.
After talks in Qatar on Thursday, the foreign secretary said evacuations may be able to resume
from Kabul airport "in the near future", as the Afghan capital's airport is out of action following the wrapped up withdrawal of US troops. During his visit to Pakistan Raab met the country's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, before holding talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan.
At a joint press conference with Qureshi, Dominic Raab said the UK would be "supporting those countries who face greatest demands from those who may be displaced in the weeks ahead".
Out of the £30mln in aid being promised to neighbouring countries, £10mln, according to Raab, would be made available immediately to humanitarian organisations entrusted with getting supplies to Afghanistan's borders.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has estimated there might be over 500,000 refugees fleeing Afghanistan to Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in the coming months.
*A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.