The UK is not the one to blame for the collapse of Afghanistan (that dishonour goes to Trump and Biden), but this doesn’t mean that the UK is entirely blameless for the humanitarian disaster in the troubled Central Asian country.
The UK’s response to the Taliban coup and the subsequent rescue efforts have been lacklustre. Much of this blame can be pinned on the UK’s Foreign Secretary Domonic Raab, who refused to cut short his luxury holiday to respond to the worsening crises in Afghanistan.
When Kabul fell to the Taliban, Raab relaxed on a beach in Cyprus in a hotel that costs between £36K to £43K per week. Raab would have known about the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in advance, so he should not have taken time off at such a crucial time.
Even though Biden did not give the UK government many details regarding the US withdrawal, the timetable was available. The British government would have been aware that US troops were pulling out of Afghanistan that week. Even if the government thought the Taliban would not have taken over (Johnson has provided conflicting statements on this to parliament), it would have been obvious that there would be an insurgency.
The Times reported that Downing Street ordered Raab to return to the UK on Friday 13th by didn’t come back until the following Monday. Raab did not just ignore the order but was permitted by Johnson to dismiss the instructions given by his own office. The Times report says that Raab personally complained to Johnson, saying he didn’t want to come back to work, and Johnson gave in to Raab’s whining.
Other officials on holiday
The holiday fiasco gets even worse as it was not just the Foreign Secretary on holiday, but the Prime Minister also went on yet another holiday at the same time. Because Raab is effectively the Deputy Prime Minister, the UK was essentially left without a head of government during a major international crisis.
But it somehow gets even worse than that because it turns out that pretty much everyone who would have been vital in helping with the rescue efforts was on holiday.
The third person to be off was the Minister for Afghanistan, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon. His entire job is to focus on Afghanistan. However, when the nation was about to be plunged into its most significant geopolitical change in two decades, he decided to have a staycation.
Fourthly, the permanent undersecretary of the Foreign Office was also away. He is in charge of the Foreign Offices’ administration, so he would have been instrumental in organising the UK’s response to this unfolding disaster.
Lastly, important figures in both the Minister of Defence and the Home Office – both departments heavily involved in rescue operations and refugee processing – were also on holiday.
This means when Afghanistan was undergoing its most important transition in 20 years, the pollical head of the Foreign Office, the administrative head of the Foreign Office, the head of the Afghanistan section, the Prime Minister, and other key officials were all on holiday at the same time.
YouTube commentator A Different Bias summarises the government ministers and state officials who all decided to take time off during the Afghan crisis.
David Davis has claimed that Raab is a workaholic. However, this seems to be an out-and-out fabrication as 1) workaholics are notoriously difficult to get on holiday, 2) his refusal to even pick up the phone while on holiday, and 3) he only reads 20% of briefs he is given and didn’t even bother reading the Good Friday Agreement which is only 35 pages long when he was the Brexit Secretary.
Raab told Sky News,
“the stuff about me being lounging around on the beach all day is just nonsense. The stuff about me paddle-boarding, nonsense, the sea was closed, it was a red notice”.
The sea might have been “closed”, but one thing Raab certainly wasn’t doing on holiday was making any phone calls (other than asking Boris if he could stay in Crete until Monday).
Raab was asked to make a phone call to Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, Hanif Atmar, to organise the urgent evacuation of Afghan interpreters before the Taliban took control of the government palace. Instead, Raab reportedly passed the duty down to a junior minister. However, this call never happened.
Raab’s negligence in regards to Afghanistan is nothing new as he did not make a single phone call to either the Afghan or Pakistani Foreign Ministers in the six months leading up to the Taliban coup and that Raab thought “Afghanistan was yesterday’s war and the Government was focused on Brexit”.
Should Raab resign?
When it was revealed that Matt Hancock broke his Covid restrictions to have an affair with his PA, he resigned. However, what Raab did, openly refusing to do his job as Foreign Secretary and putting thousands of lives at risk, is much more severe than what Hancock did. As a result, opposition MPs are raising calls for Raab’s resignation.
The impact of Raab’s holiday
The real victims of the laissez-faire attitude of Raab et al. are the Afghans left in the country. A report in the Daily Mail (if the Tory and Brexit supporting Mail is criticising a high-ranking Tory Brexiteer, you know they messed up big time) suggest that up to 1000 extra people could have been rescued if Raab cut his holiday short. People who have been left behind include British allies such as interpreters and even a former British soldier.
Both Cabinet Ministers and Whitehall officials have accused the Foreign Office of negligence in preparing escape routes out of war-torn Afghanistan and claimed that up to 9,000 people who could have been eligible for evacuation would be left trapped there.
The slowness of the evaluations, caused in large part by a critical official being on holiday, could see the UK facing the biggest hostage crisis it has ever seen with up to 1000 Afghans who are eligible for UK asylum being left in the country.
The Taliban are a brutal terrorist group responsible for countless horrific acts of violence. It is likely that those who aided western forces only to be abandoned by those same countries are at risk of being targeted. Raab could have saved more than 1000 people (about the same number saved by Oscar Schindler during the Holocaust) by simply coming home when he asked.
I hope the few extra days of paddleboarding was worth it, Mr Raab.