24 May 22. The UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan last year was a “disaster” and a “betrayal” that will damage the nation’s interests for years, an inquiry by members of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee have concluded, In what I can only describe as a very damming but necessary report from MP’s the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said there had been “systemic failures” of intelligence, diplomacy, and planning, mismanagement of the evacuation as the Taliban quickly took over the country, and that likely cost lives.
I doubt that many will be surprised to see that the Foreign Affairs Committee has all but dismissed evidence provided by a top civil servant Sir Philip Barton and urged him to reconsider his position. Select Committees can often be pretty damming but to go as far as to suggest that the then on holiday senior foreign affairs official should perhaps think about clearing his desk is unusual. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab were all away on holiday as the Taliban made its last advance to take the capital Kabul.
I note on the BBC website Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy is quoted as having said that “the Select Committee Report highlights the scale of the governments incompetence, laziness, and mishandling of the withdrawal”. I am inclined to agree but that is not to suggest that I consider that Labour might have handled a very fast-moving situation better.
It is was very clear from the start of the withdrawal exercise that the UK lacked any well thought through and workable plan should a withdrawal of our troops be necessary. There was a serious lack of coordination, decision making process and lack of accountability the chair of the committee Tom Tugendhat said.
I would add that there was there was little if any coordination between the UK armed forces. The then Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter appeared to talk in riddles on some media interviews and rather than give the responsibility of full Force Protection at Kabul Airport during the massive withdrawal process he gave responsibility of this to the Army and who are not even trained to do that job.
The Key Findings of the report are as follows:
On the planning for withdrawal:
The government “failed effectively to shape or respond to” the US’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, which was known since February 2020
The FCDO “failed to make the necessary preparations for withdrawal” by laying the groundwork for an evacuation with third countries
There was a “total absence of a plan for evacuating Afghans who supported the UK mission, without being directly employed by the UK government”
On the Evacuation:
This “mismanagement” of the evacuation in a crucial period “likely cost hundreds of people their chance to leave the country, and as a result likely cost lives”
The fact that the FCDO’s top civil servant did not return from leave until the civilian evacuation was over “is difficult to understand and impossible to excuse”
The FCDO gave the committee answers that were “often deliberately misleading” in response to questions about the decision to evacuate animals that were being looked after by the charity Nowzad.
On the future relationship with Afghanistan:
Attempts to isolate the Taliban “may only worsen the situation for the Afghan people, reduce the UK’s influence, and leave a vacuum to be filled by powers such as China.
The primary UK policy goal in Afghanistan “should be to reduce the impact of the humanitarian disaster unleashed by the international withdrawal”
The withdrawal has “serious implications for British security and has “heightened the terror threat” from Afghanistan.
In summing up, the Army did a brilliant job as it always does despite the concerns, I have already expressed over the lack of trained Force Protection sent out to Afghanistan. So too did the Royal Air Force which despatched Brize Norton based Lockheed Martin C-130J aircraft to Kabul for special forces and for other highly specialist missions and the excellent Boeing C-17 Globemaster. Together, these aircraft airlifted close to 15,000 Afghan and British nationals were airlifted out, some with other allied force members but sadly. because the UK Government had not got its ducks in a row, it left behind many interpreters and their families and who risked their lives over many years in order to work with our armed fo4rces.and who without any doubt deserved to be treated better by the UK Government.
I am in no mood to believe that we will learn any lessons from this excellent work done by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Why? Because part of the problem is that following years of major cuts to numbers of civil servants in the Foreign Office, MOD and Home Office we no longer have a sufficient number of trained senior civil service personnel to handle a fast moving situation such as the withdrawal from Kabul Now we are informed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson want to cut another 91,000 civil service jobs of which I estimate that probably 30,000 would come from the above mentioned government departments.
CHW (London – 24th May 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785