UK denies pushing to leave Kabul airport gate open before blast

A media report had suggested the US kept Abbey Gate open longer than they wanted to, to allow the UK to evacuate more personnel.

A Taliban fighter guards a street leading to the Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul days after the August 26 attack [Stringer/Reuters]
A Taliban fighter guards a street leading to the Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul days after the August 26 attack [Stringer/Reuters]

The United Kingdom coordinated closely with the United States and did not push to keep a gate open at Kabul airport where a suicide bomber killed 13 US troops and an estimated 170 Afghan civilians, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said.

“We got our civilian staff out of the processing centre by Abbey Gate, but it’s just not true to suggest that, other than securing our civilian staff inside the airport, that we were pushing to leave the gate open,” Raab told Sky News on Tuesday.

A Politico report on Monday regarding the August 26 attack said American forces decided to keep the Abbey Gate open longer than they wanted to, to allow the UK to continue evacuating personnel.

He said the UK had taken mitigating action, including warning people not to come to the airport.

“We also shifted the civilian team that we had in the Baron Hotel to the airport, because [being] a stone’s throw away from where the terrorist attack took place, it clearly wasn’t safe, but none of that would have required or necessitated Abbey Gate to be left open,” he told BBC News.

The Pentagon had complained to Politico about its report, saying the story was based on “the unlawful disclosure of classified information and internal deliberations of a sensitive nature”.

“We condemn the unlawful disclosure of classified information and oppose the publication of a story based on it while a dangerous operation is ongoing,” it said.

Meanwhile, Raab has defended his response to the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan, dismissing reports he failed to do enough to prepare.

Raab, who was on holiday as the Taliban swept through Afghanistan, did not call the Afghan or Pakistani foreign ministers in the six months before the crisis, the Sunday Times reported.

“Politics is a rough game,” he said. “Anyone taking out time during a crisis to give a totally inaccurate, skewed set of reporting, I am afraid lacks any credibility and is probably involved in buck-passing themselves.”

He said the UK had secured safe passage for 17,000 people, including approximately 5,000 British nationals since April, with the numbers remaining in Afghanistan in the “low hundreds”.

In a separate development on Tuesday, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it is too early to decide if, and how, the government will work with the Taliban on tackling ISIL (ISIS) in Afghanistan.

The spokesman said this will partly depend on whether the Taliban upholds pledges on issues such as respecting human rights.

“At this stage, it is too early to dictate if and how we would work with the Taliban going forward,” the spokesman said. “A lot will depend on their actions from now. As we have said throughout, we intend to put pressure on them to uphold these standards and claims.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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