Politics

Ministers ‘missing in action’ over Afghanistan evacuation chaos, Labour claims

Labour has accused government ministers of being “missing in action” over the crisis in Afghanistan following reports that thousands of people who were eligible for evacuation from Kabul were left behind this week.

As the UK’s involvement in the 20-year military campaign comes to an end, it has been reported that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is being blamed over a lack of escape routes from the country.

The Sunday Times reported claims that up to 9,000 people who may have been eligible to escape – such as women, journalists, and aid workers – were not able to leave Afghanistan.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace previously suggested that there were between 800 and 1,100 Afghans eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme who would be left behind, while around 100 and 150 UK nationals will remain in Afghanistan.

However, MPs have questioned that figure, arguing that the true number appears to be far higher judging by their correspondence.

Meanwhile, The Observer reported on Sunday that thousands of emails from MPs and charities highlighting potentially eligible cases went unread by the FCDO.

A whistleblower with access to Foreign Office email accounts told the newspaper an inbox used to receive potential Afghan evacuation cases from MPs and others regularly had an unread backlog of 5,000 emails, with messages from government ministers going unopened.

“The complacency and incompetence of this government has been exposed yet again and with tragic consequences,” Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said, in response to the reports.

“We’ve known for 18 months that this moment was coming. It is unconscionable that there was no strategy in place to get all the British nationals and Afghans we owed a debt to out.”

He added: “I pay tribute to all the FCDO staff and military personnel who have, as ever, stepped up when their leaders have failed them.

“The fact that so many emails have simply gone unopened is not the fault of civil servants but of government ministers who have been missing in action during this whole crisis.

“MPs and their staff have been hearing harrowing stories from so many people we should have taken care of but who have been abandoned to the Taliban.”

In a statement to The Observer, the FCDO said it had been “working tirelessly to evacuate over 15,000 people” from Afghanistan over the past two weeks.

“We deployed a 24/7 cross-Whitehall team based in our crisis hub to triage incoming emails and calls from British nationals, Arap applicants, and other vulnerable Afghans,” a FCDO spokesperson said.

“We always cautioned that the nature of the security situation in Afghanistan meant that we would not be able to evacuate everyone we wanted to.”

The UK government said on Saturday night that the final British troops and diplomatic staff had been airlifted from Kabul, with the last RAF plane taking off from Hamid Karzai International Airport at 9.25pm.

More than 1,000 military personnel, diplomats and officials had been dispatched to Afghanistan to rescue UK nationals and Afghan allies following the Taliban’s takeover of the country earlier this month.

The evacuation mission, known as Operation Pitting, is understood to be the largest since the Second World War.

Additional reporting by PA

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