Dominic Raab Will Visit “Afghanistan Region” After Grilling By MPs On Evacuation Crisis
Dominic Raab faces a grilling for MPs on the crisis in Afghanistan at a special foreign affairs committee hearing (Parliamentlive.TV)
5 min read
The foreign secretary has confirmed he is flying to the Middle East tonight amid growing criticism of his handling of the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan.
Appearing in front of the foreign affairs select committee, Raab told MPs he was leaving “to go to the region” after he finished giving evidence this afternoon.
“We’re always very careful about signalling travel movements because of the security implications,” he said at the start of this afternoon’s hearing.
“But I can tell you I’m leaving after this committee to go to the region.”
Parliament is still in summer recess but the foreign secretary was called to appear at a special session of the foreign affairs committee after accusations the UK was not prepared for the speed at which the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, and a chaotic evacuation of civilians before the deadline for Western troops to leave on 31 August.
Raab has faced personal criticism for not returning to the UK earlier from a holiday in Crete as insurgents closed in on the capital Kabul.
PoliticsHome learned he will be grilled on the evacuation crisis that ensued and the number of individuals eligible for UK protection who have been “left behind”, as well Britain’s relationship with China and Russia.
The foreign secretary will also have to face questions over at what point he became aware Kabul’s fall was imminent, and why the Taliban’s takeover caught the government by surprise.
Dominic Raab has revealed he will travel to the Middle East later today
The foreign secretary also addressed claims he had not been engaged on the issue as it developed, insisting he’d had 40 phone calls on Afghanistan from March to August
He also faces tough questions about how much contact he has had with neighbouring countries since April, and in particular with “key regional governments” such as Pakistan after criticism he ignored the impending refugee problem after it was confirmed the remaining American soldiers would leave by August 31.
Raab was unable to answer a series of queries from committee chair Tom Tugendhat at the start of the meeting about how many foreign officers ministers had visited the region in recent weeks.
But he rejected criticism that he had not had sufficent contact with Afghan counterparts in recent months. “From the period mid-March to August 30 I had over 40 meetings or telephone calls where Afghanistan was on the agenda. So that’s broadly one every four days,” he said.
The foreign secretary said the central assessment of the government, backed up by the Joint Intelligence Committee and the military, was that Kabul was “unlikely” to fall in 2021.
He told MPs: “The most likely, the central proposition, was that given the troop withdrawal by the end of August, you’d see a steady deterioration from that point and it was unlikely Kabul would fall this year.”
Raab stated that this belief was “widely shared by Nato allies”.
“The planning for military withdrawal began in April but the contingency plan was also there for a more rapid deterioration,” he added.
Raab repeatedly refused to offer further details, despite being questioned on the matter by several members of the committee, labelling the questions a “fishing expedition”.
Committee member Chris Bryant, a Labour former minister, asked: “On August 11, the US said the Taliban were likely to seize the whole country, it was just a question of how long it was going to take. Were you already on holiday?”
Raab simply repeated his comments that the central assessment was the “consolidation of power” by the Taliban would take place in the “months following the evacuation”.
Raab said he “would not have gone away, with the benefit of hindsight”.
Downing Street has dismissed suggestions Raab would be moved from the foreign office brief in a Cabinet reshuffle, anticipated early next year. The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said Boris Johnson has “full confidence” in Raab yesterday.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said her counterpart has questions to answer on “much more than the chaos of the last two weeks”.
“This has been the biggest foreign policy failing in a generation,” she told Sky News.
“The foreign secretary had 18 months to prepare but was missing in action.
“As a result, on his watch Britain has become weaker in the world and faces greater risks from terrorism.”
His committee appearance comes as the government revealed UK officials and the Taliban are in talks over evacuating the remaining British nationals in the country and others eligible for resettlement.
Sir Simon Gass, the PM’s special representative for Afghan transition, has travelled to Qatar for meetings “to underline the importance of safe passage out of Afghanistan for British nationals, and those Afghans who have worked with us over the past 20 years”.
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