UK's withdrawal from Afghanistan a 'disaster' marked by a 'fundamental lack of leadership', MPs say

ITV News Global Affairs Editor Rageh Omaar hears from an Afghan interpreter who asks 'why' he helped the British - only to not be offered sanctuary now

The withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan and the evacuation of locals was a "disaster", with UK soldiers and Afghan allies “utterly let down by deep failures of leadership”, MPs have said, as they demanded the resignation of the Foreign Office’s top civil servant.

Then-foreign secretary Dominic Raab and Sir Philip Barton’s failures to return from holiday as Kabul fell in August last year marked a “fundamental lack of seriousness, grip or leadership”, the cross-party Foreign Affairs Committee said following an inquiry.

Leaders at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) were told to be “ashamed” that civil servants had to risk their careers by blowing the whistle to unearth the “appalling mismanagement of the crisis” as the Taliban swept to power.

A scathing report published on Tuesday called for Sir Philip to consider his position over a “determination to avoid unearthing the facts”.

As the Taliban swept to power, people were so desperate to leave Afghanistan they tried to cling onto the side of a US military plane as it took off from Kabul

This video contains distressing images

ITV News heard from one Afghan man who worked with the British army. He's now living illegally in a neighbouring country after escaping Afghanistan.

"I have 100% tried to come to the UK. I sacrificed my blood, myself, my wounds for the British people.

"I got bullets in my hand, bullets on my shoulder - I got stabbed. Why? I have just one message: 'Please help me'."

MPs on the committee also said they are yet to hear a “plausible alternative explanation” to Prime Minister Boris Johnson approving the controversial evacuation for the Nowzad animal charity.

The committee said the withdrawal was a “disaster” and a “betrayal” of British allies that will damage the UK’s interest for years to come.

Ministers were accused of having a “total absence of a plan” for Afghans who supported the British mission, despite knowing for 18 months that the evacuations may be necessary if the US withdrew its troops.

The hasty efforts to select individuals for airlift was “poorly devised, managed and staffed”, with a lack of clarity causing “confusion and false hope among our Afghan partners who were desperate for rescue”.

“They, and the many civil servants and soldiers working hard on the evacuation, were utterly let down by deep failures of leadership in government,” the committee said.

The FCDO was accused of giving “intentionally evasive, and often deliberately misleading” responses to the committee’s investigations.

Sir Philip “displayed a worrying lack of knowledge of the department he leads” and a determination to avoid unearthing the facts, the MPs said.

Sir Philip Barton said he wished more people could have been evacuated Credit: House of Commons/PA

Mr Raab was moved to be deputy prime minister and justice secretary after the crisis, but the committee singled out permanent secretary Sir Philip for a failure to record the department’s decisions.

“This would be a serious failure at any time, but during the withdrawal from Afghanistan may have led to the loss of life,” the MPs concluded.

“The committee has lost confidence in the permanent under-secretary, who should consider his position.”

There were desperate scenes at Kabul's international airports as people tried to escape Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control of the presidential palace

Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the committee, said: “The UK’s part in this tragedy exposes a lack of seriousness in achieving coordination, a lack of clear decision-making, a lack of leadership and a lack of accountability.

“While junior officials demonstrated courage and integrity, chaotic and arbitrary decision-making runs through this inquiry.

“Sadly, it may have cost many people the chance to leave Afghanistan, putting lives in danger.”

Thousands of Afghans try to flee the country after the Taliban seize control

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said the government had “badly let down Britain’s reputation”, adding that the individuals responsible “for this calamity should be held accountable”.

“This utterly damning report highlights the scale of the government’s incompetence, laziness and mishandling that likely cost lives and has badly damaged the UK’s international standing,” the Labour MP said.

“It shows how rotten this government is that after skipping the Afghanistan evacuation to sip cocktails on a beach, the prime minister rewarded Dominic Raab with the title of deputy prime minister.”

Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace. Credit: AP

The government issued a statement defending staff working “tirelessly” to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan in a fortnight.

“This was the biggest UK mission of its kind in generations and followed months of intensive planning and collaboration between UK government departments,” a spokesperson said.

“We carried out a thorough review to learn lessons from our withdrawal from Afghanistan and have drawn on many of the findings in our response to the conflict in Ukraine, including introducing new systems for managing correspondence and increasing senior oversight of our operational and diplomatic response.”

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