UK’s Kabul evacuation effort risked Afghan lives: Whistleblower

A tiny fraction of Afghans who needed help received support and some were left to die at the Taliban’s hands, civil service staffer says.

People gather at the entrance gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport a day after US troops withdrew, in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 31, 2021 [Reuters]

Just five per cent of Afghan nationals who applied for help to flee the country under one UK scheme after the Taliban swept to power received help – with some left behind having been killed since the collapse of Kabul, a whistleblower has claimed.

In evidence published by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday, Raphael Marshall – who worked for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) during the evacuation effort – told how at one point he was the only person monitoring an inbox where pleas for help were directed.

The government’s public statements over hopes the Taliban had changed did not tally with the information he was receiving.

Marshall’s written evidence is due to be published by the committee on Tuesday, and its chairman, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, said the “failures betrayed our friends and allies and squandered decades of British and NATO effort.”

He said it painted the evacuation as “one of lack of interest, and bureaucracy over humanity.”

Marshall worked in the Afghan Special Cases team, which handled the cases of Afghans who were at risk because of their links with the UK, but who did not work directly for the UK government.

He estimated that “between 75,000 and 150,000 people (including dependants) applied for evacuation” to the team under the leave outside the rules (LOTR) category.

He estimated that “fewer than 5 percent of these people have received any assistance” and states that “it is clear that some of those left behind have since been murdered by the Taliban.”

He said that no member of the team working on these cases had “studied Afghanistan, worked on Afghanistan previously, or had a detailed knowledge of Afghanistan.”

Marshall added that junior officials were “scared by being asked to make hundreds of life and death decisions about which they knew nothing.”

His remarks come as officials from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the ambassador to Afghanistan, Laurie Bristow, are due to give evidence to the committee on Tuesday.

Marshall alleged that then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab “did not fully understand the situation.”

Emails were opened but no action was taken, as Raab felt “the purpose of this system was to allow the prime minister and the-then foreign secretary to inform MPs that there were no unread emails,” Marshall charged.

He said: “These emails were desperate and urgent. I was struck by many titles including phrases such as ‘please save my children’.”

“The contrast between Her Majesty’s Government’s statements about a changed Taliban and the large number of highly credible allegations of very grave human rights abuses HMG has received by email is striking,” he added.

Tugendhat said: “These allegations are serious and go to the heart of the failures of leadership around the Afghan disaster, which we have seen throughout this inquiry.”

“This evidence raises serious questions about the leadership of the Foreign Office, and I look forward to putting these to officials, including former Afghanistan Ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow.”

A government spokesperson pointed out that “UK government staff worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight.”

“This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations and the second-largest evacuation carried out by any country. We are still working to help others leave.”

Raab, now deputy prime minister, told the BBC broadcaster: “It’s inaccurate in certain respects, the suggestion that junior desk officers were making decisions is just not correct.

“There’s a difference between processing and deciding, so I’m afraid I don’t accept that characterisation.”

Source: DPA