October 22, 2021

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Government ‘asleep on watch’ over protecting Afghans, ex-British Army chief says

A former head of the British Army has accused the government of being “asleep on watch” in relation to the protection of Afghans who helped UK soldiers and officials.

General Lord Richard Dannatt said the government’s approach was “unfathomable”, after Boris Johnson expressed regret that some people eligible to be evacuated could be left behind in the hurried evacuation.

British forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan this weekend, with the last civilian flight leaving on Saturday and the remaining diplomats and military personnel departing by Sunday.

The UK evacuated approximated 15,000 people from Afghanistan from Kabul airport starting on Friday 13 August – including those eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy programme.

But at least 1,000 Afghans eligible for the scheme are thought to have bene left behind as the Taliban consolidated control over the capital and the 31 August deadline for all foreign forces to leave neared.

There has been criticism over the rushed nature of the evacuation, prompted by the Taliban’s rapid and unexpected advance across the country as the US-backed government melted away.

“On the particular issue of those who we knew were in danger, people who had worked for us, interpreters, former locally-engaged civilians, this issue has been in the media,” Lord Dannatt told Times Radio.

“This issue has been on politicians’ desks for two to three years and, certainly, it’s been there during the course of this year.”

He added: “I mean, you might remember, back in July, 45 senior officers wrote to the Government, an open letter to the Government, saying there are people we are concerned about and if we don’t do the right thing, their blood will be on our hands.

“It is unfathomable why it would appear that the Government was asleep on watch.

“I think the issue of Afghanistan sat on the backburner. Maybe it started to come forward. But then, suddenly, when the Taliban took over the country in the precipitate fashion in which they did, it fell off the cooker straight onto the kitchen floor and we’ve … had this chaotic extraction.


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“We should have done better, we could have done better. It absolutely behoves us to find out why the Government didn’t spark up faster.”

Lord Dannatt was Chief of the General Staff, the head of the army, from 2006 to 2009.

His comment came after the Observer newspaper reported that thousands of emails to the Foreign Office from MPs and charities raising urgent cases of Afghans trying to escape the country have not been read.

And The Independent has revealed that dozens of Afghan interpreters who worked for the British Army have been told they will not be allowed into the UK because they are a “danger to [national] security”.

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