Raab under renewed pressure as evacuation situation at Kabul airport worsens

The Foreign Secretary is under renewed pressure after new claims emerged accusing him of failing to engage with foreign counterparts on the Afghanistan situation until the Taliban had reached Kabul.

Dominic Raab has faced calls to resign in recent days over his handling of the Afghanistan crisis.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed Mr Raab on Friday, but that was before claims surfaced in the Daily Mail suggesting Mr Raab did not pick up the phone to other foreign ministers until Sunday, the day the Afghan capital fell to insurgents, as he was on holiday.

The Times reported that witnesses saw the Cabinet minister swimming and using a paddleboard on the last day of his break, which was spent at a beach at a five-star hotel on the Greek island of Crete.

Mr Raab was already in the firing line after it emerged he delegated a call about repatriating Afghan interpreters, while away on August 13, to a junior minister, a decision that resulted in the phone conversation with the Afghan foreign minister not taking place and possibly delaying taking them to safety.

The Foreign Secretary returned to the UK on Monday to begin dealing with the unfolding debacle in person.

Asked about the latest allegations, the Foreign Office highlighted Mr Raab’s statement issued on Friday – comments made before the claims emerged.

Mr Raab earlier this week insisted he had been “talking to foreign counterparts” while out of the country, as well as taking part in emergency Government Cobra meetings remotely and dealing with his team in London on an “hour-by-hour basis”.

Attempts to repatriate British nationals and Afghans who supported UK efforts in the country are continuing against the clock as the situation at Kabul airport appeared to worsen.

The US embassy in Afghanistan is recommending that US citizens avoid travelling to the airfield “because of potential security threats outside the gates”, with reports of violent scenes and overcrowding at the main entrance and at Taliban checkpoints.

Sky News said they had spoken to British troops at the airport who had served in Afghanistan previously, and who said the queues, crushing and desperation of people to get out of the country were the worst scenes they had witnessed during their service.

Time is running out to repatriate people to the UK ahead of US President Joe Biden’s August 31 deadline to withdraw most remaining US troops.

On Friday he did not commit to extending it, in a move that is likely to mean British troops must return home at the same time, as the airport cannot be held without US enforcement.

Reports have suggested the last evacuation flight could be as soon as Tuesday, in order to give British troops enough time to leave safely.

The Prime Minister said 1,000 people had been brought to the UK on both Thursday and Friday, with most of them UK nationals or those who had assisted British efforts in Afghanistan.

Despite claims that the situation in the country is improving, a former Royal Marine-turned charity director in Afghanistan said he cannot get to Kabul airport without putting his life at risk.

Paul Farthing, known as “Pen”, has been trying to get all of his 25 staff from animal welfare charity Nowzad, their families and more than 100 dogs and cats out of the country as the Taliban complete their takeover.

As the chaos at Kabul airport shows no sign of letting up, Mr Farthing said he feels “completely numb at the incompetence” of the Government’s efforts so far.

Dominic Dyer, who has been campaigning for Mr Farthing, told the PA news agency, however, that progress had been made in acquiring visas for all 68 people in his entourage, but said the “main obstacle” is still “getting through the airport” where thousands of people are scrambling to escape.

UK armed forces
UK armed forces are taking part in the evacuation of personnel from Kabul airport (LPhot Ben Shread/MoD/Crown Copyright/PA)

Meanwhile, a head teacher in Nottingham said two of her pupils are expected home from Afghanistan in the “next couple of days” after a terrifying ordeal.

According to the Nottingham Post, Nargas Ziahe flew out to Afghanistan more than six weeks ago following the death of an uncle, but became trapped in Parwan province with her brother Omar, five, and sister Asma, nine, following the lightning Taliban advance.

Amanda Dawson, head of Mellers Primary School which Omar and Asma attend, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “They are safe, they are in the airport and, unless the airport falls of course, they are safe and we are expecting them to be home in the next couple of days.”

With difficult scenes still unfolding, a former chairman of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee has called for its current membership to investigate whether an “intelligence failure” led to the chaotic withdrawal of allied forces.

Dominic Grieve, a former Conservative MP and attorney general, told Sky News: “I think if they had known this was going to happen, would the US withdrawal have proceeded in the way it did?

“It must be an intelligence failure that one should end up with thousands of people crowding into an airport seeking to leave a country when it has been triggered by military decisions by the United States as to how it was going to conduct its withdrawal.”