UK prioritised animals over people during Kabul airlift, says whistleblower

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has defended his government’s Kabul response.

The United Kingdom’s handling of the evacuation of vulnerable Afghans from Kabul after the Taliban seized power in August was dysfunctional and chaotic, a Foreign Office whistleblower has told a parliamentary committee.

In evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday (local time), Raphael Marshall, a former Foreign Office desk officer, said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself had given an order to sink resources into evacuating animals from a sanctuary.

Johnson’s government has repeatedly defended its airlift from Kabul against criticism that Britain left thousands of eligible Afghans behind in the country after being caught out by how quickly the Afghan government fell.

However, Marshall said the process for choosing who to evacuate was “arbitrary and dysfunctional”.

He recalled one afternoon when he was the only person processing emails and, despite the urgency of the situation, the expectation remained that staff would only work eight hours a day, five days a week.

A child waits with her family to board a US evacuation flight at Kabul airport on August 22.CREDIT:US MARINE CORPS

He estimated between 75,000 and 150,000 people applied to be evacuated, but fewer than 5 per cent received assistance.

“There were usually over 5000 unread emails in the inbox at any given moment, including many unread emails dating from early in August,” Marshall said in his written evidence to the committee, which is investigating Britain’s departure from Afghanistan.

“These emails were desperate and urgent. I was struck by many titles including phrases such as ‘please save my children’. It is clear that some of those left behind have since been murdered by the Taliban.”

Staff shortages were exacerbated by people working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, adding that soldiers who were brought in to help were forced to share one computer between eight.

“Emails received an automatic response that the request for assistance had been ‘logged’. This was usually false. In thousands of cases emails were not even read,” he said.

Marshall also said capacity that could have been used to evacuate people was used instead to rescue animals from a shelter.

He said an instruction had come directly from Johnson to use “considerable capacity” to evacuate the animals.

At the time, former Royal Marine Paul Farthing was receiving press and social media coverage for “Operation Ark”, his bid to evacuate animals from the Nowzad animal sanctuary he had set up in Afghanistan.

“There was a direct trade-off between transporting Nowzad’s animals and evacuating British nationals and Afghans evacuees, including Afghans who had served with British soldiers,” Marshall told the committee.

Johnson dismissed the testimony as “nonsense”. It was also disputed by former foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who has since been made Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister.

Former foreign secretary Dominic Raab is now Deputy Prime Minister.CREDIT:BLOOMBERG

Raab was heavily criticised in August for going on a holiday to Crete as the Taliban advanced on Kabul.

On Tuesday, he defended his actions and those of the Foreign Office and denied an accusation from Marshall that he had been slow to respond to requests for help.

“We did everything we could … 15,000 people evacuated in two weeks,” he told Sky News UK. “We wanted to make sure we had the basic facts in order to make clear decisions,” he said.

Source: (Brisbane Times)

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