This will upset the racists and Islamophobes.
Foreign Secretary (by the skin of his teeth) Dominic Raab was interrogated on the fall of Afghanistan by Parliament’s Foreign Affairs committee yesterday (September 1) – and said information provided by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) had told him the Taliban were unlikely to take control of Kabul at all in 2021, even after international forces including those from the UK had left.
Well, they got that badly wrong, didn’t they!
The JIC is a civil service body comprising senior officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence and United Kingdom Armed Forces, Home Office, Department for International Development, HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office.
It oversees the work of the Secret Intelligence Service, the Security Service, GCHQ and Defence Intelligence.
Are we to take it from Raab that none of these organisations were intelligent enough to notice that there were real problems with the Afghan government and military that UK forces were leaving behind?
Is he really saying that the UK’s entire intelligence community was outsmarted by a gang of desert-dwelling bandits?
The plan was to leave Afghanistan defended by its own National Army – but we have discovered that this organisation was badly-trained (by organisations including the British Army, it seems) and riddled with corruption. Was Raab telling us that nobody knew?
After the United States broke the Doha Agreement’s May 1 deadline for leaving the country, the Taliban simply walked into Kabul and took over. Yes, This Writer is oversimplifying, but the amount of resistance provided by the Afghan National Army was minimal – and UK intelligence should have known.
Indeed, it is unbelievable that our intelligence agencies did not.
Still, there it is: Raab said the “central assessment” provided to ministers was that Afghan security was likely to suffer “steady deterioration” after US troops pulled out last month, but Kabul was “unlikely” to fall this year.
That assessment was wrong, and now we need to know who made it, what information they used to make it, and what information they ignored. Then we’ll need to see evidence of reforms to the JIC, to make it more intelligent.
If Raab is going to blame other government organisations for the incompetence we have seen over Afghanistan, then we need to see him make improvements – or we’ll face more humiliations, possibly involving large-scale loss of life, in the near future.
As it is, the message has gone out to foreign powers and terrorists: the United Kingdom is vulnerable because it is run by fools who believed fairy tales rather than facts and who went on holiday when they were needed.
Worse, Raab admitted that the UK did not start planning for the end of military operations until April. This is even though he knew the Doha Agreement of February 2020 meant US troops had until May 1 to leave.
He went on to say planning for a possible evacuation did not begin until June – by which time the Taliban were already making deep inroads towards Kabul. He added that this was in line with the UK’s Nato allies but that is neither here nor there; the UK is not responsible for other nations’ actions. Evacuation plans should have been made from February 2020 onwards.
Raab was challenged on his claims by committee chair Tom Tugendhat, a former member of the armed forces who served in Afghanistan. He pointed out that a “key risk report” from late July had warned of a rapid Taliban advance that could lead to them returning to power in Kabul.
Raab seemed to know nothing about it and asked for the source of this information – to which Tugendhat responded, bluntly, “It’s your principle risk report.”
So it seems Boris Johnson isn’t the only imbecile in the Tory government who can’t be bothered with the details.
The failure of intelligence extends to the number of UK nationals who were left behind after the panicked, everyone-for-themselves evacuation. Raab told the committee he thought “hundreds, possibly the mid to low hundreds” were standed after the last plane left.
But this is contradicted by the evidence of the government’s own email account that was created to take applications for help to leave Afghanistan, so that a list of those who genuinely needed to be taken out could be created.
It was ignored. News reports over the last few days have shown that messages – including information from senior Tory government ministers – went unread while Raab and his colleagues were running around like headless chickens.
Some reports have suggested that the number of people left behind is more likely to stand at several thousand.
Raab also made the – fair – point that the precise number of people who deserve to be brought to the UK depends on eligibility, and this is hard to work out because of a lack of documentation. Is that because the relevant documents were left – unshredded, even – on the floor of the UK’s former embassy in Kabul?
Personal details of UK-linked Afghans were found by a Times journalist there, and Raab was reminded of this. He said three families were subsequently evacuated but evaded the question when asked if they were owed an apology. Weren’t they? What about details that were not discovered?
Raab contradicted himself by saying applications for Afghans who helped the UK to apply for resettlement here were sped up from April onwards. But why so late? Remember, the deadline for the US to leave was May 1, and it was unreasonable to believe that the Taliban would not advance from then onwards. And the UK had been aware of the situation since February 2020.
The BBC’s running analysis of the meeting reported: “The lack of specific numbers … will further fuel concerns from backbench MPs that the figures have been vastly underestimated and that there could be as many as 7,000 eligible Afghan applicants left behind – a claim Dominic Raab has previously rejected.”
The impression we get of Raab is of a man who has been very far out of his depth throughout this crisis – and, considering he had fair warning of it from February 2020 onwards, this means he has never been capable of handling his responsibilities as Foreign Secretary.
Important information was ignored in favour of mindless optimism; evacuation plans were delayed until too late and vital information was left behind for the Taliban, creating a danger to the lives of allies.
And Raab refuses to resign. Is this because he wants to find out whether he can cock up future crisis even more badly than this?
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