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World News

08 Dec 2021

Afghanistan: Politics was priority during Kabul exit - official

BBC:

A Foreign Office official with decades of experience has described the government's handling of the Kabul evacuation as "unforgivable".

The civil servant, who requested anonymity, told BBC Two's Newsnight that "trauma and suffering" was caused by the way it was managed.

She claimed ministers were more focused on media coverage and "the political fallout" than saving lives.

The UK government said staff worked tirelessly to evacuate 15,000 people.

The Foreign Office official said she had struggled to explain what the situation was like "because it was too upsetting, but also because people wouldn't believe it. It's unforgivable - that's how I'd describe it".

She said: "The entire operation was to manage the political fallout of what was happening, rather than to actually manage the crisis and that, for me, was the most upsetting and most difficult aspect of it".

The new testimony comes after ex-official Raphael Marshall told MPs that hundreds of thousands of emails went unread during the evacuation of Britons and Afghan allies in August after the Taliban declared victory in Afghanistan.

The civil servant speaking to Newsnight corroborated Mr Marshall's account of unread emails.

"You had dozens of people reading harrowing horrific bits of information in emails and knowing full well that nothing was going to be done with any of it, other than a report at the end of the day to say the email had been read", she said.

The highly-experienced official described the evacuation as the worst operation she had ever witnessed in her career.

"I can certainly say that huge amounts of trauma and suffering were either caused directly because of the way it was handled and most probably lives also lost," she said.

In response to Mr Marshall's account, the Foreign Office's most-senior civil servant, Sir Philip Barton, told the Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee there had been challenges, but the Civil Service code had not been broken.

But Labour MP Chris Bryant said the evidence heard by the committee suggested the Foreign Office "collaborated in making sure that ministers could say that 'we've ticked every single box'".

Sir Philip also said he regretted not returning early from a 17-day holiday in August, as Kabul fell to the Taliban and the evacuation gathered pace.

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