“Right the way through to the evacuation we’ve done everything we can to stand up an excellent emergency response team in the FCDO.”

Dominic Raab, BBC Breakfast

August 31, 2021

Facts

In December 2021, a whistleblower gave a devastating account of the FCDO’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan. Raphael Marshall, a desk officer who told MPs on the foreign affairs select committee that he worked in the Foreign Office’s Afghanistan crisis response team, said he witnessed turmoil, incompetence and irrationality with potentially deadly consequences for those Afghans who begged the FCDO for help.

He described how junior staff with no experience or knowledge of Afghanistan were asked to make life-or-death decisions.

He also claimed that, in the final days of the evacuation effort, with extremely limited capacity for removals, Raab was asked to personally approve exceptional cases - but apparently took “hours to engage”. According to Marshall, Raab then returned the files, asking for them to be submitted in a different spreadsheet format.

Speaking at the Committee, he said: “There was very little time left for anyone to enter the airport, therefore the foreign secretary’s choice to cause a delay suggests he did not understand the desperate situation at Kabul airport.

He added: “In the circumstances, it is hard to explain why he reserved the decision for himself but failed to make it immediately.”

Marshall said he believed the delay meant some never made it to the airport.

Marshall also claimed that dogs were prioritised over people in the evacuation. 

In his evidence, Mr Marshall said the Foreign Office "received an instruction from the Prime Minister" to use "considerable capacity" to help animals leave the country that was being cared for by Nowzad, run by Paul "Pen" Farthing.

He added: "There was a direct trade-off between transporting Nowzad's animals and evacuating British nationals and Afghans evacuees, including Afghans who had served with British soldiers.” 

According to an Open Democracy investigation, between August 22 and August 31 the helpline received approximately three million calls of which government officials answered 28,000, less than 1%. 

For a portion of time a “technical glitch” resulted in calls to the helpline being redirected to a washing-machine repair shop in Coventry.

According to openDemocracy the average wait time for those whose calls were answered was more than 17 minutes, with others waiting for more than four hours.

FCDO permanent secretary Sir Philip Barton was on holiday for an 11-day period spent after Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, fell to Taliban control on 15 August.

Verdict 

Marshall’s allegations called into question Raab’s claim to TV viewers that “Right the way through to the evacuation we’ve done everything we can to stand up an excellent emergency response team in the FCDO.” Raab may have believed what he was saying. But his statement was tragically untrue. 

We sent this analysis to Dominic Raab’s office to give him an opportunity to respond, but received no acknowledgement or response.

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