Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Afghanistan
7 December 2021

Tens of thousands of Afghans have been betrayed by our callous, brazen and shamelessly incompetent government

While it is too much to hope that Boris Johnson will resign, Dominic Raab would undoubtedly do so if he had a scrap of honour left.

By Martin Fletcher

It was bad enough that Britain cut and ran from Afghanistan last August, abandoning that country to the tender mercies of the Taliban. And that Dominic Raab, then foreign secretary, chose to remain on holiday in Crete as those Islamofascists proceeded to seize Kabul. And that nobody in Boris Johnson’s shameless government had the decency to apologise, resign or order a public inquiry into a national humiliation that left tens of thousands of Afghans who had helped us over the previous 20 years, and their families, in mortal danger.

On top of all that, a courageous young whistleblower named Raphael Marshall has now exposed the Foreign Office’s shockingly inadequate response to that crisis.

[See also: The 40-page written testimony from the Foreign Office whistleblower directly blames Dominic Raab’s lack of grip]

As Raab sunned himself in Crete, a tiny team of junior, inexperienced and wholly unqualified Foreign Office staffers was deluged by a tsunami of emailed appeals for evacuation from desperate Afghans. They were being asked to make “hundreds of life and death decisions” about who could board those few precious flights out, but they knew nothing about Afghanistan, could speak no Afghan languages, couldn’t log on to computers and couldn’t get any additional support because thousands of colleagues were working from home. They had no way of prioritising the applications. One afternoon, incredibly, 25-year-old Marshall was the only person processing thousands of emails from Afghan politicians, civil servants and soldiers deemed to be a particular risk.

It gets worse. According to Marshall, a system was established to suggest – falsely – that urgent emails had been opened and read, simply “to allow the Prime Minister and the then foreign secretary to inform MPs that there were no unread emails”. At Johnson’s insistence, moreover, rescuing dogs from a sanctuary run by a former marine, Pen Farthing, were given priority over processing humans on to evacuation flights.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

[See also: The row over Afghan pets shows the UK’s animal obsession has gone too far]

In all, Marshall estimates that fewer than 5 per cent of the 75,000-150,000 vulnerable Afghans who sought Britain’s help to escape the Taliban received any. “It is clear that some of those left behind have since been murdered by the Taliban,” Marshall concluded.

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

Not surprisingly, the UK government’s response to Marshall’s allegations has been a mixture of lies, obfuscation and some distinctly unsavoury trashing of the whistleblower.

Raab sought to dismiss Marshall as a “relatively junior desk officer” and his testimony as “inaccurate”. Johnson said it was “complete nonsense” to claim he had given Farthing’s animals priority over humans, and called the rescue operation “one of the outstanding military achievements of the last 50 years or more”. Both men cited the fact that 15,000 Brits and Afghans were evacuated, but conveniently ignored the fact that many thousands more were left behind.

Well, I’ve met Marshall and I know his parents. They are good people, and I would take his word over Johnson’s any day.

Our Prime Minister is such a serial liar that he can’t even come clean over whether there was a No 10 Christmas party last December, or who paid for his flat’s refurbishment. That Johnson ordered the rescue of Farthing’s animals after the tabloids embraced their cause would be entirely true to form for a populist Prime Minister obsessed by the next day’s headlines.

Prior to Britain’s withdrawal, Johnson had shown such minimal interest in Afghanistan that he had visited the country just once – and that was for a single day, as foreign secretary, to avoid an awkward Commons vote on a third Heathrow runway that he had promised his constituents he would oppose.

In the wake of Britain’s precipitate withdrawal, he promised to “use all the diplomatic and humanitarian tools at our disposal to preserve the gains of the last 20 years and give the Afghan people the future they deserve”. Exactly what the government has done to redeem that promise is not clear, but the latest reports from Afghanistan are all of desperate food shortages, parents being forced to sell their daughters to survive, and the Taliban killing scores of former Afghan security force members.

The resettlement scheme that Johnson promised, and which was supposed to relocate a further 20,000 Afghans, is still in the design stage. Meanwhile, he and his government choose to demonise, not welcome, the desperate Afghan asylum seekers who are risking their lives by crossing the Channel in flimsy boats having fled their homeland.

Last weekend, residents of the street where I live in London donated more than 70 warm winter coats for those refugees, showing a compassion and concern this government has never done.

We as a country deserve better than this Prime Minister. So, emphatically, do the thousands of Afghans that he has so brazenly and callously betrayed. Marshall should be applauded for his courage, and while it is too much to hope that Johnson will resign, our disgraceful Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister – Dominic Raab – would undoubtedly do so if he had a scrap of honour left.

[Watch: “We’re going to see death on a large scale”: Afghanistan under the Taliban this winter, with John Simpson]

Topics in this article: , ,