Dominic Raab believed it was unlikely Kabul would fall this year, ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports
Dominic Raab has admitted the government thought Kabul was "unlikely" to fall to the Taliban this year, highlighting a failure of intelligence regarding the Islamist group's takeover of Afghanistan.
The foreign secretary, facing a grilling from MPs at the Foreign Affairs Committee, said he would be travelling to the Middle East region today after coming under intense scrutiny over his response to the Afghanistan crisis.
It is understood his diplomatic efforts will centre on how to get Afghans and any remaining British nationals out of the region through third countries. This indicates that talks are likely to include Pakistan.
Mr Raab said the number of British nationals left in Afghanistan was down to the "low hundreds" but added that he can’t say “with precision” exactly how many are stranded in the country.
Grilled on the subject in the Commons, he said: "I can't give you a definitive answer."
Asked to confirm the PM's assertion that the "overwhelming majority of people who worked for us are out", he said: "I'm not confident with precision to be able to give you a set number, but I am confident that the prime minister is right, that we've got the overwhelming number out."
He said ministers had been given intelligence which suggested the Taliban would gradually takeover Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Western forces at the end of August - what actually happened was the group overthrew the Afghan government on August 15.
A security document called the principal risk register published on July 22 suggested the collapse of Afghanistan could happen rapidly, ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana explains
He told MPs: "The central assessment that we were operating to, and it was certainly backed up by the JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee) and the military, is that the most likely, the central proposition, was that given the troop withdrawal by the end of August, you'd see a steady deterioration from that point and it was unlikely Kabul would fall this year."
Mr Raab blamed an "optimism bias" surrounding intelligence when asked by Bob Seely, a Tory MP who served in Afghanistan, why the UK got it so "badly wrong".
Dominic Raab: 'We were told Kabul was unlikely to fall this year...'
The senior Cabinet minister was roundly criticised last month for remaining on holiday as the Taliban completed its swift insurgency in Afghanistan when the Islamist group recaptured the country's capital Kabul by storming the presidential palace.
Mr Raab has repeatedly defended himself for remaining in Crete as fighters swept across Afghanistan, insisting he was in meetings discussing how to evacuate people, before flying home on the day the Taliban overthrew the government.
At the committee he refused to offer further details, when pressed, about the timing of his holiday, labelling the questions a "fishing expedition".
Mr Raab repeated he "would not have gone away, with the benefit of hindsight", adding: "I am not going to start adding to, frankly, the fishing expedition beyond the facts that I have articulated and the fulsome statement and having answered questions on this continuously."
Asked if he considered resigning as foreign secretary amid the furore over his holiday, Mr Raab said: "No. I considered getting on with the job."
He said that the UK started planning for a possible evacuation of Afghanistan in June.
"We started planning in June for the contingency of an evacuation and therefore a full drawdown of the embassy," the minister told MPs.
MP Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the part played by the UK in the Afghanistan crisis represents the "biggest foreign policy failure since Suez".
Western forces, particularly the US but also the UK, have been blamed for allowing the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, by withdrawing a final contingent of soldiers from the country which had kept the Islamist group at bay whilst stationed there.
Mr Tugendhat, an Army veteran who served in the country during Britain's occupation, said: "I stand by the view that this is the single biggest foreign policy disaster the UK has faced since Suez in the sense that is has exposed a weakness in our alliances and in our stance."
Mr Raab agreed to return and added: "I am afraid I struggle with the Suez analogy but I understand what you are really searching for is to learn the lessons and even more generally find a path forward for Afghanistan."