Minister defends Afghanistan evacuation efforts amid anger over those left behind

30 August 2021, 09:05 | Updated: 30 August 2021, 10:22

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly has defended British evacuation efforts in Afghanistan amid anger that as many as 5,000 people eligible to come to the UK may have been abandoned to the Taliban.

LBC’s Andrew Pierce pointed out that the Government says between 800 and 1,100 eligible Afghans have been left behind, while the Labour Party puts the figure closer to 5,000.

The final British troops left Afghanistan on Saturday, ending a 20-year campaign there.

READ MORE: UK seeks safe passage assurances after last troops leave Afghanistan

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Speaking to Mr Cleverly on Monday morning, Andrew asked: “How did we get quite so badly wrong?”

The Middle East and North Africa minister insisted that "we have done a herculean task in the most incredibly difficult, challenging and unpredictable circumstances".

He also dismissed speculation that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who has been heavily criticised for his handling of the situation, was "toast" at the next cabinet reshuffle.

Mr Cleverly said "over 15,000 people" have been "evacuated or repatriated" in the last few weeks, including "a number of thousand people prior to the Taliban getting to Kabul".

He added: "We have extended in a very honourable and generous way the hand of refuge to those Afghans who whether they be perusing women's rights or girls' education or whether they were a religious minority or gay for example, and are now at risk from reprisals from the Taliban."

When pressed on the hundreds of Afghan interpreters who worked with the British military who remain in Afghanistan, some of whom have been murdered by the Taliban, the minister said: "Obviously we would have loved to have been in a position where we could have protected everybody that worked with or worked for us."

He said: "Of course it is heartbreaking to know not all of them were able to get out and some of them have been killed and are still at risk from the Taliban but we have not stopped our evacuation efforts and even though we don’t have access to Kabul airport anymore we’re still negotiating with other countries to look at other routes whereby those who were not able to get to Kabul can perhaps get out of the country by other means."

He added: "It was always going to be an incredibly difficult task getting absolutely everybody out that needed to get out when Afghanistan fell so very, very quickly, when the Taliban got to Kabul quicker than I suspect even they anticipated, it made the job of evacuations and repatriations unbelievably difficult."

On the suggestion Mr Raab was "toast", Mr Cleverly insisted: "Government departments and ministers - including Dominic - worked incredibly hard, we worked together, we were able to get out over 15,000 people in those last couple of weeks, because all bits of Government had a role to play and discharged those roles and those functions incredibly, incredibly, professionally.

"That includes Dominic, as well. None of us could have done it on our own, we could only do it working collaboratively, that's what happened."