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Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab has defended his record at the Foreign Office during the withdrawal from Afghanistan over the summer after a whistleblower has claimed the system for evacuating Afghans as the Taliban advanced was chaotic and badly managed.
“I think anyone would expect us to conduct the basic checks” on identity and validity of claims, Raab, who was foreign secretary at the time of the Afghan withdrawal, told Sky News.
“The real challenge in the evacuation was the operational situation on the ground to get people to the airport that was extremely difficult,” Raab said on Tuesday. “And secondly checking identity to make sure that . . . we’re not, through generosity of spirit, lifting anyone that might harm the UK.”
While the then-foreign minister has claimed the UK’s evacuation efforts were second only to those of the US, Raphael Marshall, a former desk officer at the Foreign Office, has claimed that thousands of evacuation requests were left unread, that there was no consistent system for prioritising evacuees and the operation was chronically understaffed.
He estimated that, of the 150,000 applications received, only about 5 per cent received assistance, the rest were left behind as the Taliban advanced.
“The real questions that need answering are: ‘Where was everybody?’” said Tom Tugendhat, chair of parliament’s foreign affairs select committee, said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Marshall, the Foreign Office employee turned whistleblower, claimed that at various points he was alone dealing with a huge case of emails in “a Foreign Office that was effectively a Marie Celeste”, Tugendhat said. “If that is true, that is very concerning,” adding that this was “clearly a situation in which all hands needed to be on deck.”
Tugendhat added: “You wouldn’t expect people to be away from their posts where they could deal with this situation as quickly as possible. By the backlog it strongly suggests that whatever the working arrangements were, they weren’t working,” he added.