Slow Raab, Email Backlog & Staff Shortage: Whistleblower Reveals UK Foreign Office's Afghan Failures
06:32 GMT 07.12.2021 (Updated: 11:03 GMT 07.12.2021)
Britain wrapped up the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan on 29 August. This was followed by then-UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab being ousted in a Cabinet reshuffle after he came under fire over his department's response to the Taliban's* rapid takeover of the Afghan capital Kabul.
The UK's handling of the Afghan evacuation
following the fall of Kabul was "chaotic" and then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was slow in terms of decision-making, a diplomat-turned- whistleblower has revealed.
In written evidence to the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee seen by the Daily Mail, Raphael Marshall described how turmoil in the Foreign Office prevented tens of thousands of Afghans from accessing UK assistance after the Taliban established control over Afghanistan.
In September, 25-year-old Marshall resigned as a senior desk officer with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
According to the Daily Mail, Marshall, who handled requests from Afghans seeking mercy flights out of Kabul in August, estimates that less than 5 percent of the between 75,000 and 150,000 people who turned to the "Special Cases" team for help managed to receive assistance.
"It is clear that some of those left behind have since been murdered by the Taliban", he argues in the 39-page dossier.
The 25-year-old insists that about 5,000 emails to the "Special Cases" inbox were unread, with many of those pleading for help mentioning "grave human rights abuses" by the Taliban, including "murders, rapes, and burning of homes".
"These emails were desperate and urgent. I was struck by many titles including phrases such as 'please save my children'", the whistleblower claimed, adding that "at the height of the crisis on the afternoon of Saturday 21 August, I was the only person monitoring and processing emails […]".
He also pointed to a staffing crisis in the Foreign Office that was aggravated by civil servants working from home, including team leaders.
"In my opinion, staffing shortages were exacerbated by some staff working from home, which hampered communication. This was on occasion significant in a context where policy was poorly defined and the situation unclear", according to Marshall.
He went on to claim that "despite the urgency of the situation, the default expectation remained that FCDO staff would only work eight hours a day, five days a week".
Marshall pointed to the "dysfunctional" IT system, with soldiers working with "one computer shared between roughly eight people", something that Marshall stressed "obviously considerably reduced their efficiency and speed".
17 August 2021, 10:49 GMT
The 25-year-old also noted the vague criteria for evacuation, given that cooks and cleaners who had worked for the BBC were rescued, which was not the case for some interpreters who served alongside British soldiers.
"Some decisions made are likely impossible to justify. For example, I understand that we evacuated the BBC's Afghan cooking and cleaning staff. Although I wish these people the best, it is impossible to justify why they were prioritised above interpreters or others at much greater risk and had performed much greater services to the UK", the whistleblower stated.
Separately, Marshall testified that then-British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was slow to make decisions on difficult cases regarding the Afghan evacuation and that the minister "did not fully understand the situation".
According to the whistleblower, Raab said at the time that he needed "all the cases set out in a well-presented table to make decisions". "It is hard to explain why he reserved the decision for himself but failed to make it immediately", Marshall noted.
Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat has, meanwhile, claimed that Marshall's allegations "are serious and go to the heart of the failures of leadership around the Afghan disaster".
A Downing Street spokesperson, in turn, responded by claiming that the "UK government staff worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight".
23 August 2021, 10:10 GMT
"This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations and the second largest evacuation carried out by any country. We are still working to help others leave", the spokesperson added.
Raab Rejects Marshall's Claims
Raab has, meanwhile, dismissed Marshall's claims, criticising US President Joe Biden for not providing a "longer time window" before withdrawing troops.
In an interview with Sky News, the justice secretary underscored that Britain could be "proud" of pulling out 15,000 people in two weeks, adding, "I know I did everything I possibly could".
When asked whether he concurs with the whistleblower about the figures, Raab said that he does not, adding, "what is certainly true is that we had a lot of people rushing to get out of Afghanistan for all sorts of reasons".
"And I think it's right that we had a process in place to check two things: One, that we were helping those at genuine risk of persecution, or British nationals or people who had worked for the British government. And secondly, making sure that we didn't allow anyone to come into the UK who might present a threat to the UK. And it was important to have a process to make those decisions swiftly but also accurately", the justice secretary stated.
The UK airlifted about 15,000 people out of Afghanistan after the Taliban captured the capital Kabul
in mid-August. They included 5,000 British nationals, 8,000 Afghans, and 2,000 children.
*The Taliban is an organisation currently under UN sanctions over terrorist activity.