Foreign Office chaotic during Kabul evacuation – whistleblower

Foreign Office chaotic during Kabul evacuation - whistleblower
3 Min Read

Dialy US Times: The UK Foreign Office’s handling of the Afghan evacuation after the Taliban seized Kabul was “dysfunctional” and “chaotic”, a whistleblower has said.

Raphael Marshall said the process of choosing who could get a flight out was “arbitrary” and thousands of emails with pleas for help went unread.

The then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was slow to make decisions, he added.

A government spokesperson said staff had “worked tirelessly” on the “biggest mission of its kind in generations”.

And a source close to Mr Raab said verifying identity and securing safe passage had been the major practical challenge – not the speed of decision making.

The UK airlifted 15,000 people out of Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the capital, Kabul. This included 5,000 British nationals, 8,000 Afghans and 2,000 children.

In written evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Marshall said up to 150,000 Afghans who were at risk because of their links to Britain applied to be evacuated – but fewer than 5% received any assistance.

“It is clear that some of those left behind have since been murdered by the Taliban,” he added.

Mr Marshall, who was a senior desk officer at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) until he resigned in September, said there was “inadequate staffing” at the department’s crisis centre.

There was also a “lack of expertise” and a “lack of co-ordination” between the department and the Ministry of Defence, he added.

Mr Marshall also said Mr Raab took hours to answer emails and “did not fully understand the situation”.

As the Taliban approached Kabul in August, there was one government scheme to evacuate those Afghans who had worked directly for the British government, and another to identify and help those who were at risk because of their broader links to the UK.

Mr Marshall worked for the team of officials handling a group known as “Afghan Special Cases”.

These included Afghan soldiers, politicians, journalists, civil servants, activists, aid workers, judges – and guards who had worked indirectly for the UK government via subcontractors.

In the desperate days at the end of August as the Taliban advanced on Kabul many of these people were emailing the FCDO to get permission for a flight out of the country.

Mr Marshall said there were “usually 5,000 unread emails in the inbox at any given moment” and “in thousands of cases emails were not even read”, including cases from MPs.

He said the process of prioritising the applicants was “arbitrary and dysfunctional”. The criteria used by the government were “unhelpful” and “ambiguous”, leading to confusion.

‘Chaotic system’

Staff in the crisis centre who previously worked for the Department for International Development could not access FCDO computers because “the DFID and FCO IT systems are not yet integrated. They were visibly appalled by our chaotic system”.

Mr Marshall described how soldiers were brought in to help but many had not used the computer systems before and so mistakes were made.

The computers had to be shared because FCDO IT had not issued passwords to unlock them. At one point eight soldiers shared one computer.

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