Revealed: UK’s Ambassador in Kabul Sir Laurie Bristow ‘was ORDERED by Foreign Office to stay in Afghanistan to help British nationals’ as it emerges Dominic Raab defied call to cut holiday short TWO DAYS before he returned
- UK Ambassador to Kabul ‘ordered to stay in Afghanistan to process applications from British nationals’
- Sir Laurie Bristow ‘told to remain in Middle Eastern country while Dominic Raab was on holiday in Crete’
- A Whitehall source told the Sunday Times: ‘It was pretty late. There was a flight preparing to take off’
- Foreign Secretary is accused of refusing order by Downing Street on Friday, August 13 to return to London
- Instead Mr Raab allegedly delayed his homecoming to deal with the Afghanistan crisis by two days
- Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul has been the focal point for thousands trying to flee the Taliban
The British Ambassador to Kabul was ordered to stay in Afghanistan to process thousands of applications from British nationals while under-fire Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was still on holiday in the Mediterranean, according to reports.
Sir Laurie Bristow, London’s man in Afghanistan, has been widely praised for helping thousands of UK citizens evacuate the Middle Eastern country after it was taken over by the Taliban following the terror group’s astonishing seizure of Kabul last Sunday.
But a report by the Sunday Times alleges that all Embassy staff – including the Ambassador – were due to leave Afghanistan on Saturday night, but that a senior Foreign Office mandarin phoned Sir Laurie and ordered him to remain in Kabul to help British nationals.
A Whitehall source told the paper: ‘It was pretty late. There was a flight preparing to take off.’
The report suggests that Sir Laurie was forced to stay in Afghanistan while Mr Raab was on holiday in Crete. The Foreign Secretary is accused of refusing an order by Downing Street on Friday, August 13 to return to London immediately as the situation in Kabul deteriorated and had instead delayed his homecoming until the early hours of Monday morning.
MailOnline has contacted the Foreign Office for comment.
The Cabinet Minister has faced a torrent of criticism for staying on holiday as Kabul fell into the extremists’ hands, and for omitting to call the Afghan foreign minister to seek help for translators stranded in the country. The claim is strongly denied by friends of Mr Raab, who insist that he was assured by Boris Johnson that he could stay with his family until the end of the weekend.
The saga has led to sniping at Mr Raab from within his own party and calls from Labour for him to resign, although Mr Johnson has said that he ‘absolutely’ has full confidence in his Foreign Secretary. It has, however, undoubtedly strained relations between No10 and the FCO.
A source told the Mail on Sunday: ‘There is no doubt that Raab was told to come back on that Friday. There was then a significant amount of surprise when he appeared on the Cobra on the Sunday down the line from Crete. He must have nobbled Boris and asked for permission to finish his holiday’.
Last night, Mr Raab told the Mail on Sunday that he had enjoyed a ‘wave of support’, and denied that there was pressure from within his party to resign.
Mr Raab said: ‘I’ve not heard any of my Conservative colleagues call for me to resign, but I have had a wave of support. There is no doubt that, like all countries, there is a measure of surprise at the rapidity of the Taliban takeover.
‘But as the Foreign Secretary travelling around the world, whether I am on leave or I’m travelling for work purposes, I am always set up to be able to grip things’.
A close ally of Mr Raab insisted that No10 had not ‘ordered’ him to return on the Friday. The ally said: ‘The suggestion was that he should make plans to come back. They said that if things get worse then he needed to be ready to come back at a moment’s notice. He then talked it through with the PM and it was agreed that he would came back on Sunday’.
The ally strongly denied reports that Mr Raab had spent most of last Sunday on the beach: ‘That is just not true. He based his family on the beach in a gazebo precisely so that he could go back and work at the hotel, while checking in on them every now and again’.
Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul has been the focal point for thousands trying to flee the Taliban, who seized power after sweeping into the capital a week ago following their astonishing lightning advance across the Middle Eastern country.
The MoD confirmed that the Operation Pitting evacuation mission is being supported by 1,000 British troops – including Paras from 16 Air Assault Brigade – with nearly 4,000 people repatriated from Afghanistan since August 13.
It comes as the Defence Secretary, in what is likely to be read as a plea to Washington, said ‘no nation will be able to get everyone out’ of the Taliban-controlled country, with the US president’s August 31 target date making the rescue mission even more time pressured.
In other dramatic developments:
- Tony Blair branded the ‘abandonment of Afghanistan and its people’ as ‘tragic and dangerous’;
- Sources claimed that the Prime Minister felt ‘betrayed’ by Joe Biden over the Afghan withdrawal – although No 10 denied there are any tensions between the two;
- One source even claimed the President, 78, was ‘a bit doolally’;
- Taliban leaders Mullah Baradar and Siraj Haqqani arrived in Kabul to form a new government;
- UK hate preacher Anjem Choudary urged the Taliban to restore full Islamic justice, including stoning adulterers;
- The Home Office was scrambling to make the Taliban a proscribed group in an attempt to dissuade British jihadis from heading to Afghanistan;
- Britons in Kabul said the city was running out of food and money;
- Britain’s heroic ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, called the crisis the ‘greatest challenge’ of his 30-year career;
- Thousands rallied in London in protest at the Government’s handling of the crisis;
- The Minister with responsibility for Afghanistan, Lord Ahmad, was reported to be on holiday when the Taliban seized Kabul.
The British Ambassador to Kabul was ordered to stay in Afghanistan to process thousands of applications from British nationals while under-fire Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was still on holiday in the Mediterranean, according to reports
British Ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow (left) with Government staff in Kabul
A general view shows the British Embassy in Kabul
Members of the British and US (left) military engaged in the evacuation of people out of Kabul
Hundreds of Afghans desperately trying to flee the Taliban are pictured outside Kabul airport
In a powerfully emotive article for The Mail on Sunday, Mr Wallace warns that time is ‘ticking along, impossible to stop’ towards the imminent end of the UK’s mission to rescue thousands of Afghans entitled to come to the UK. Pictured: Afghans attempt to get into Kabul airport yesterday
A baby is handed over to the American army over the perimeter wall of the airport for it to be evacuated, in Kabul
An evacuee holds up a peace sign after being manifested for a flight at Hamid Karzai International Airport
A Pakistani paramilitary soldier indicates direction to Afghan nationals at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan
The 19th century struggle for power in Afghanistan between the UK and Tsarist Russia was called the Great Game. As the US and the UK pull its troops and the Taliban retake control by force, who will Afghanistan’s new leaders cosy-up with? Turkey, the only Muslim-majority member of Nato, could benefit, partly because it can control the flow of Afghan refugees into Europe. The mullahs in Iran are delighted by the departure of the US and will recognise the new Kabul regime. Russia will also be pleased to see the US leave, but has its own concerns about Islamic extremism. China and Pakistan have also made early noises of support, while Qatar hosted Taliban leaders in its capital Doha since 2013. However India is dismayed by the Taliban’s victory. Here Michael Burleigh looks at where each countries vested interests lie, and which countries will be happy and who will be angry at the Taliban takeover
Boris Johnson’s feelings about America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan have been variously described by sources as ‘furious’, ‘a betrayal’ and ‘let down’.
Downing Street dismisses the claims – it is in neither country’s interests to stoke tensions when the future of Afghanistan hangs in the balance – but there is little question that the UK has been left exposed by the speed of Washington’s pull-out.
Britain is tied to America’s cut-off date of August 31 for the end of evacuation flights, which was agreed without consultation, meaning that if Joe Biden fails to extend the date, the UK will have to stop flights within days – to allow time to also remove the 900 British troops in the country.
No 10 also denies claims that the Prime Minister was disappointed by Mr Biden’s victory in the Presidential elections and had declared that it would have been ‘better’ if Donald Trump had won a second term, and say it is ‘categorically untrue’ that Mr Johnson employs the President’s derogatory nickname of Sleepy Joe during jocular conversations.
Writing for the Mail on Sunday, Ben Wallace said: ‘If the US timetable remains, we have no time to lose to get the majority of the people waiting out. Perhaps the Americans will be permitted to stay longer, and they will have our complete support if they do.’
Relations between Britain and the US are strained, with Tony Blair – who was in Downing Street when London sent troops into Afghanistan 20 years ago in the wake of 9/11 – accusing Mr Biden of deciding to pull out with ‘little or no consultation’, branding the move ‘imbecilic’.
The 900 British troops cannot remain without the logistical support of the 6,000 US soldiers in Kabul and will have to finish the evacuation before that point to allow enough time to secure their own safe exit.
Mr Wallace confirmed there were ‘too many people in the airport’ on Saturday, forcing the US side of the operation to suspend access. A MoD spokeswoman stressed that neither UK flights nor processing were affected by the pause, however.
US citizens were yesterday warned not to go to the airport amid fears that they might be hijacked en route by militants. The State Department said the US side of the airport would close for 48 hours. The British section remained open.
According to the MoD, 3,821 British and Afghan nationals have been evacuated from Kabul, where 1,000 British troops are based. About 3,500 people are still waiting to be airlifted.
Last night, an MoD source said the announcement about the refugee centres was intended to display ‘honesty’ about the thousands of British allies likely to be left behind.
While acknowledging that ‘no nation will be able to get everyone out’, Mr Wallace also announces that a series of ‘processing hubs’ will be set up in countries neighbouring Afghanistan for refugees who manage to escape. If they can establish their right to come to the UK, they will be flown to Britain.
The MoD is looking at establishing hubs in countries such as Pakistan and Turkey – but, startlingly, is also exploring whether the Taliban might allow the UK to retain a ‘presence’ in Kabul after the Americans have gone.
There were further worrying reports about the treatment of Britons and Afghans who supported the 20-year intervention who are trying to escape.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy shared a letter on social media that she had sent Mr Raab about the ‘crisis’ facing evacuees, as she sought additional assistance for those on the ground.
The senior Opposition figure said Labour MPs had been hearing of people being ‘shot at, beaten and raped’ while they wait to be called forward at the airport, while the Baron Hotel in the city, where many British nationals are being told to travel to for processing, is being blockaded by the Taliban.
Ms Nandy asked whether NATO allies could put in place a ‘military policing operation’ at the gates of Kabul airport or within the internal processing zone to protect those waiting.
Ex-Royal Marine who refused to flee Kabul without the Afghan staff from his animal welfare charity says he is now ‘in talks’ with the Foreign Office
Paul ‘Pen Farthing’, 52, says he is ‘in talks’ with the Foreign Office about getting 68 local workers from his Kabul-based Nowzad charity and their families processed by UK officials
A former Royal Marine running an animal welfare charity in Afghanistan says he has begun talks with the UK Government in the hope of getting his staff to safety.
Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing, 52, says he is now ‘in talks’ with the Foreign Office about getting 68 local workers from his Kabul-based Nowzad charity and their families processed by UK officials.
The ex-Royal Marine Commando says he is ‘hopeful’ they will be relocated to the UK.
Pen, whose charity has been backed by celebrities including Ricky Gervais and Judi Dench, said it was an ‘absolute result’.
‘We’re just waiting for that process to finish. Hopefully, I’ve been told, it shouldn’t take too long,’ he told the BBC.
Yesterday the Foreign Office confirmed to the BBC that it had been in contact with Mr Farthing. A spokeswoman told the broadcaster it was ‘working closely with the Home Office to offer assistance’.
Serviceman-turned-charity boss, Pen, served in Helmand at the height of the Afghanistan conflict and saw two of his comrades killed fighting the Taliban.
He remained in Kabul as the extremist group stormed the Afghan capital and took control.
Pen was separated from his wife Kaisa during the takeover, though, as reported by the Daily Mail yesterday, she has since been flown to safety.
Speaking last week as panic-stricken Westerners fled, the veteran spoke of his anger towards Britain and America for abandoning the Afghan people to the ‘medieval’ regime.
And, after turning down the offer of a repatriation flight, he vowed to stay in Kabul until he can secure his British visas for his Afghan staff.
Sir Laurie Bristow, the British ambassador to Afghanistan who has stayed in the capital to help process applications, said the rescue effort was ‘without a doubt the biggest international challenge I have worked on as a diplomat’.
In his article today, Mr Wallace says that the collapse of Afghanistan has been ‘an exhausting, worrying and demanding time’, and warns that ‘the distressing exit of the West will have consequences for us all for years to come’.
He says: ‘The Parachute Regiment at the airport are dealing with unimaginable challenges. Public order, overcrowding, searing heat and desperate people. Soldiers trained for war are instead holding babies and co-ordinating crowds.’
The Minister adds: ‘Too many people in the airport has meant a suspension of access. I am confident that too will be fixed or mitigated but until it is, the crowds will get bigger.
‘And ticking along, impossible to stop, is time. I have said all along that no nation will be able to get everyone out.
‘It is a source of deep sadness for many of us across Nato and no one wanted 20 years of sacrifice to end this way. We will do our best to the very last moment. But it isn’t the end.
‘The Home Secretary and I have been planning the next stage… we will establish a series of processing hubs across the region outside of Afghanistan for those Afghans we have an obligation to bring to this country.’
Meanwhile, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Home Secretary Priti Patel is scrambling to proscribe the Taliban as a terrorist group amid fears that hundreds of British jihadis will head to Afghanistan to join and live under the Islamist regime.
The Home Office is now looking urgently to ban the group which has avoided proscription so far, even though the Taliban has harboured terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and killed 456 British troops in Afghanistan over the past two decades.
If an organisation is on the Government’s list of proscribed groups, it becomes a criminal offence for anyone in Britain to join or even support it, punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
If the situation remains as it is, Ministers fear that British jihadis could join and train under the regime then escape prosecution on their return to Britain.
Sources have told the MoS that Ms Patel is ‘livid’ that the Taliban in Afghanistan has not been banned already. A source said last night: ‘The fault doesn’t lie with Priti. It goes far back, as no previous Home Secretary has bothered to ban it.’
A Government source told the MoS that MI5 and counter-terrorism units are preparing for the possibility of British jihadis travelling to Afghanistan.
‘Some will go and train under the Taliban and may come back to launch attacks,’ said the source.
‘Others may take their families with them and live under the Taliban’s Islamic government.’
Britain has promised to evacuate about 6,000 UK citizens and Afghan staff from the country, but that is looking increasingly unlikely.
Yesterday, amid chaotic scenes, Britons were told to either go to Kabul airport or the nearby Baron Hotel, where their papers could be processed. But some found their path blocked by makeshift Taliban checkpoints.
Last night, a Briton and his wife told how they came under fire from Taliban militants at a checkpoint as they headed to the hotel. Their driver was injured in the shooting.
As the British man tried to explain to the militants that he was a foreign national he was beaten and threatened.
He told ITV News: ‘My wife came out of the car, she was trying to save me and then they start beating my wife as well. They are warning me that if they see me next to that checkpoint they will kill us.’
While acknowledging that ‘no nation will be able to get everyone out’, Mr Wallace also announces that a series of ‘processing hubs’ will be set up in countries neighbouring Afghanistan for refugees who manage to escape. If they can establish their right to come to the UK, they will be flown to Britain. Pictured: British and US troops help Afghans in Kabul
The MoD is looking at establishing hubs in countries such as Pakistan and Turkey – but, startlingly, is also exploring whether the Taliban might allow the UK to retain a ‘presence’ in Kabul after the Americans have gone. Pictured: A British evacuation flight with 265 people on board
A U.S. Airman with the Joint Task Force-Crisis Response speaks with families who await processing during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport
A Pakistani paramilitary soldier, front, and Taliban fighters, stand guard on their respective sides while a truck moves to cross at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan
Shocking footage shows injured Afghans bleeding as they desperately try and make their way into the airport
British soldiers desperately shouted for medics and stretchers, as unconscious people were carried away, many being pronounced dead and covered in white sheets
Taliban fighters stand guard on their side at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Torkham, in Khyber district, Pakistan
A Pakistani paramilitary soldier, right, and Taliban fighter stand guard on their respective sides at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan
It comes as yesterday the US Embassy told citizens not to travel to the Kabul airport without ‘individual instructions from a US government representative,’ citing potential security threats outside its gates.
And yet crowds remained outside its concrete barriers, clutching documents and sometimes stunned-looking children, blocked from flight by coils of razor wire.
Footage has since emerged of pandemonium and violence outside the airport, with US officials reporting that Americans have been beaten by the Taliban as they’ve tried to reach safety. The White House earlier confirmed that three military helicopters were used to rescue 169 Americans who were trapped at a hotel near the airport.
Meanwhile, Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar arrived in the Afghan capital yesterday for talks with militant commanders, former government leaders and religious scholars.
Nato yesterday begged Mr Biden not to leave Kabul and urged the US troops to stay at the airport to get as many people out as possible.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: ‘The US has stated that the timeline ends on August 31, but several of our allies raised… the need to potentially extend that to be able to get more people out.’
Meanwhile, pressure continues to grow on Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab after new claims emerged accusing him of failing to engage with foreign counterparts on the Afghanistan situation until the Taliban had reached Kabul.
Witnesses told the Times that the Cabinet minister was swimming and using a paddleboard on the last day of his break, which was spent at a beach at a five-star hotel on the Greek island of Crete, as the crisis began to unfold.
Mr Raab was already in the firing line after it emerged he delegated a call about repatriating Afghan interpreters, while away on August 13, to a junior minister, a decision that resulted in the phone conversation with the Afghan foreign minister not taking place and possibly delaying taking them to safety.
Nato yesterday begged Mr Biden not to leave Kabul and urged the US troops to stay at the airport to get as many people out as possible. Pictured: Medical support personnel help an Afghan mother with her family off a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport aircraft moments after she delivered a child aboard the aircraft upon landing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: ‘The US has stated that the timeline ends on August 31, but several of our allies raised… the need to potentially extend that to be able to get more people out.’ Pictured: British troops in Kabul yesterday
A Pakistani paramilitary soldier, right, and Taliban fighter, stand guard on their respective sides while a truck moves to cross at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Torkham, in Khyber district
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