‘Bad Policy, Badly Implemented’: UK, Allies Afghanistan Exit Blasted as ‘Crassly-Handled Surrender’
05:37 GMT 03.09.2021 (Updated: 15:15 GMT 28.05.2023)
Britain has been under fire for reportedly leaving behind scores of Britons, as well as Afghans eligible for relocation, as it completed its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan on Saturday. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab acknowledged earlier that it would be a "challenge" for those left behind to find a route to the UK.
As the RAF’s last civilian airlift left Kabul airport on Saturday ahead of the 31 August deadline for a full withdrawal
of foreign forces from Afghanistan, Britain
and its allies have been lambasted for a “bad policy, badly implemented.”
“This is, in my view, a bad policy, badly implemented. It is an act of strategic self-harm… The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan will undoubtedly fuel extremism and terrorism worldwide, whether or not it is directed from there,” said Mark Sedwill, a former ambassador to Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010.
Weighing in on the departure of western forces from Afghanistan at a Policy Exchange thinktank debate, the former NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan conceded that the US decision to exit Afghanistan after 20 years had triggered a spate of important consequences.
Now, coherent and concerted action was called for from the UK and the west, according to Sedwill.
“First, there will need to be a major humanitarian effort in and around Afghanistan. We will be very lucky indeed if there is not a really significant refugee crisis,” said Sedwill.
The UK wrapped up its troop withdrawal from the now Taliban*-controlled
country on Saturday, evacuating 15,000 people in two weeks since the Islamist group seized the capital, Kabul. However, thousands of Afghans who aided British forces in the South Asian nation and other vulnerable civilians are believed to have been left behind.
The senior civil servant who served as Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service to ex-Prime Minister Theresa May and current PM Boris Johnson said that “overall, we do not yet have a coherent policy and plan in place to deal with refugee flows out of Afghanistan.”
Commenting warnings issued
by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which believes that some 500,000 Afghans may attempt to cross the border into neighbouring countries, Sedwill said:
“The neighbours really can’t absorb more.”
He also added that there were hopes that the Taliban would establish an “wholly different government” from when they previously ruled Afghanistan before the 2001 invasion by western forces.
“Unless the Taliban really mean what they say – and can really demonstrate that they are going to run an inclusive and wholly-different government to the kind of government that they have run in the past and with action with which they have inspired their followers – then there is going to be a really significant refugee flow.”
These sentiments were echoed by other participants of the hour-long debate. NATO ex-Secretary-General Lord George Robertson riled at the US-led retreat as a “hasty, crassly-handled surrender to the very people we fought and defeated 20 years ago”.
“My sense of pride is being replaced by shame, by dismay and with a lot of sadness,” said the former UK Labour Defence Secretary.
Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee said:
“I am very concerned not just for the sacrifice of our efforts and that of many of our partners, but for the instability that this injects into the global commons, and to the dangers this poses to British people.”
Hopes for Further Evacuations
This comes as Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Thursday that evacuations might be able to resume from Kabul airport “in the near future”, underscoring a need for direct engagement with the Taliban. Qatar is hoping to help reopen the airport shortly, starting with internal flights. A Downing Street spokesperson said on Tuesday that Boris Johnson’s special representative for Afghan transition, Simon Gass, had travelled to Doha and to meet with senior Taliban representatives to “underline the importance of safe passage out of Afghanistan for British nationals, and those Afghans who have worked with us over the past 20 years."
Raab said at a press conference in Doha that the UK will not recognise the Taliban in the “foreseeable future” but there is an “important scope for engagement and dialogue”.
According to him, he had “good conversations” with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani about the “workability” of evacuations resuming from the airport for Britons and Afghans who worked with UK forces.
Raab earlier acknowledged in an interview with Sky News that it would be a "challenge" for Britons remaining in Afghanistan to find a viable route to the UK. He added that "most of those are difficult cases where it's not clear around eligibility because they're undocumented".
"We've now put in place the arrangements with third countries, or we're putting them in place. I've spoken to some of the key third countries, so have other ministers, to make sure we can have a workable route through for those outstanding cases," said Raab.
Raab also said the British government would hold the Taliban to its "explicit assurances" that it "must allow safe passage not just for our nationals but other Afghans, particularly vulnerable ones, who wish to leave".
While he claimed that the number of UK nationals who had not been airlifted was in the "low hundreds", Defence Secretary Ben Wallace earlier suggested the number might be approximately 250.
Amid concerns that Afghans who cross the border to a third country might not be eligible to come to the UK, Wallace said at an MP briefing on Monday that the people seeking to flee Afghanistan should “use their judgement” as to whether to cross the border.
On Thursday night, the UK Foreign Office vowed that £10 mln in aid would be channelled to the UNHCR to help provide shelters, sanitation facilities and emergency supplies to border refugee camps. Border countries that may have to tackle a significant influx in refugees, such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, would be promised another £20 mln.
As UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the UK airlift efforts
while visiting paratroopers in Colchester, he acknowledged he did not have a clear picture of the number of people yet to be evacuated.
“The answer is there are some – and we care for them very much, we’re thinking about them, we’re doing everything we can to help.”
*The Taliban is banned as a terrorist organisation in a number of countries, including Russia.