UK govt chaos left Afghans at Taliban mercy: whistleblower

UK Foreign Office chaos left tens of thousands of Afghans at risk after Taliban took Kabul, whistleblower says
3 min read
07 December, 2021
A whistleblower has slammed the UK Foreign Office's handling of the crisis in Afghanistan over the summer, claiming that chaotic mismanagement resulted in tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghans being left behind.
Marshall estimated that up to 150,000 people applied for evacuation under the special cases scheme, but fewer than five percent received help [Getty]

Tens of thousands of Afghans have been put at risk by the shambolic mismanagement and bureaucracy of the UK Foreign Office, said a whistleblower in damning evidence published Tuesday. 

Raphael Marshall, a desk officer at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) who helped manage evacuations out of Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control of the capital Kabul, said the UK’s handling of the crisis was “dysfunctional” and “chaotic”. 

Marshall claimed the department was inadequately staffed, lacked necessary skills, left thousands of critical emails unread; it also adopted an “arbitrary” policy for deciding who got to fly out, and who was left “to die at the hands of the Taliban”. 

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In testimony presented to the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the former diplomat said: “To give one example on the night of Saturday 21 (I believe the only night-shift), I individually briefed the two people who came on shift to prioritise the emails. One was clearly scared by being asked to make hundreds of life and death decisions about which they knew nothing.

“They initially essentially declined to do the task. I persuaded them that unless they accepted the task the emails would not be read at all which would be worse.”

Marshall criticised the Foreign Office’s working culture, saying that strict adherence to eight-hour working days “undermined organisational effectiveness”. 

He added that those who worked on his team did not have a comprehensive knowledge of Afghanistan, and were learning about key organisations while making life-and-death decisions about who should be evacuated.

“I believe no member of the Afghan Special Cases team had studied Afghanistan, worked on Afghan previously or had a detailed knowledge of Afghanistan.” 

The “special cases team” was comprised of staff dedicated to helping Afghans put at risk due to their connection with the UK. This included soldiers, politicians and journalists threatened by the insurgent group, who captured Kabul on 15 August after a lightning offensive across the country aided by the withdrawal of foreign troops.  

These applicants were not covered by the UK’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which served those who had been directly employed by the UK government. 

Marshall estimated that up to 150,000 people applied for evacuation under the special cases scheme, but fewer than five percent received help. 

He also referred to a controversial decision to evacuate animals instead of people under the orders of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

In a statement sent to The New Arab, the Foreign Office said of Marshall’s testimony: “UK Government staff worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight. This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations and the second largest evacuation carried out by any country. We are still working to help others to leave.” 

The Foreign Office stressed that the scale of the evacuation and “challenging circumstances” made it difficult to assess who to offer help to. 

They added that since the end of Operation Pitting on 28 August, the UK government has helped 3,000 individuals leave Afghanistan.   

“Regrettably we were not able to evacuate all those we wanted to,” they said.