Politics

Prime official at Foreign Office referred to as upon to resign over Kabul withdrawal | Civil service


The senior civil servant in command of the Foreign Office ought to take into account his place after presiding over a disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan that betrayed UK allies, put lives at risk, confirmed a complete absence of planning and was chaotically managed, MPs have concluded in a damming report.

The report from the international affairs choose committee mentioned the absence of management – each ministerial and official, together with the everlasting secretary, Sir Philip Barton – when Kabul fell was inexcusable and a grave indictment on these supposedly in cost. It added that Barton failed to present candid proof to the committee, and says consequently it had misplaced confidence in him. The committee additionally accused him of overlaying up political interference within the fast-tracking of some people out of Afghanistan.

The committee mentioned that whereas junior officers on the Foreign Office (FCDO) demonstrated braveness and integrity, chaotic and arbitrary decision-making marked the planning and execution of the evacuation. “Sadly, it may have cost many people the chance to leave Afghanistan, putting lives in danger,” the report mentioned.

It additionally discovered that senior officers have been deliberately evasive and sometimes intentionally deceptive to parliament, noting: “The integrity of the civil service depends on those leading these organisations showing the courage to tell the truth to the British people.”

The report, one of the damning to be issued by a choose committee underneath the Conservative authorities, additionally extends criticism to the then international secretary, Dominic Raab. “It might be convenient to blame FCDO officials or military intelligence for these failures, but ministers should have been driving this policy,” it mentioned.

“The fact that the Foreign Office’s senior leaders were on holiday when Kabul fell marks a fundamental lack of seriousness, grip or leadership at a time of national emergency. At several key stages in the evacuation there seemed to be no clear line of command within the political leadership of the government, as decisions were made on the basis of untraceable and unaccountable political interventions.”

The report discovered there was a “total absence of a plan for evacuating Afghans who had supported the UK mission, without being directly employed by the UK government, despite knowing 18 months before the collapse of Afghanistan that an evacuation might be necessary”. It added: “The hasty effort to select those eligible for evacuation was poorly devised, managed and staffed; and the department failed to perform the most basic crisis-management functions.

“The lack of clarity led to confusion and false hope among our Afghan partners who were desperate for rescue. They, and the many civil servants and soldiers working hard on the evacuation, were utterly let down by deep failures of leadership in government.”

The all-party committee, which is chaired by the Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, mentioned solutions given by senior officers have been “at best intentionally evasive, and often deliberately misleading”. It mentioned: “Those who lead the department should be ashamed that civil servants of great integrity felt compelled to risk their careers to bring to light the appalling mismanagement of the crisis, and the misleading statements to parliament that followed.”

Two whistleblowers who labored within the FCDO resigned their posts to present scathing written proof in regards to the dealing with of the evacuation.

The report additionally discovered there was an optimism bias contained in the Foreign Office that the Biden administration would change the deliberate US withdrawal date from Afghanistan, and that when this proved incorrect, the UK revealed an absence of affect by failing to make Washington change its plans.

Raab did subsequent to nothing to have interaction with regional companions earlier than the autumn of Kabul, the report mentioned. In an indication of the chaos, it discovered: “In the rush, staff failed to remove sensitive documents identifying Afghan job applicants, leaving them to fall into the Taliban’s hands. An internal review of the incident concluded that the FCDO cannot be certain that all other physical and electronic documents containing personal data were removed.”

The report mentioned the Foreign Office acted too late, largely after the autumn of Kabul in August, in making an attempt to plot a particular class of individuals for evacuation reminiscent of journalists, judges and others who had helped the British authorities however had not been immediately employed.

The committee discovered that, consequently, the federal government “failed to deliver the bare minimum that we owed them: a well-considered plan for who would be prioritised for extraction, and clear communications to those seeking help. The lack of clarity led to confusion and false hope, hindering individuals from making the best decision for themselves based on a realistic understanding of their situation.”

Singling out Barton, the committee discovered: “The fact that the department’s top civil servant did not return until the civilian evacuation was over, while staff across the department struggled to implement a poorly planned evacuation process under intense pressure, is difficult to understand and impossible to excuse.”

Barton has already apologised for what he regards as an error, however he has to this point refused to resign. The report criticised the division for failing to “perform the most basic crisis-management functions, such as rostering an adequate number of staff to key teams”. It mentioned: “The political leadership on offer vacillated so much that no clear priorities were set for who should be evacuated and in what order, giving many thousands of vulnerable people, to whom we owed a debt, a hope that could never be met.”

A Foreign Office spokesperson mentioned: “Our staff worked tirelessly to evacuate over 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight. This was the biggest UK mission of its kind in generations and followed months of intensive planning and collaboration between UK government departments.”



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