Senior British officials accused of “blatant disinterest” in Afghanistan debacle

Britain’s top officials have been accused of “flagrant disinterest” after staying on summer vacation while Afghanistan collapsed.

The National Security Council has also come under sharp criticism, with MPs accusing it of neglect and of being a 19th-century relic.

Politicians were also taken aback when the deputy national security adviser suggested that the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan was not necessarily the worst outcome.

“A full-blown civil war could have been an even worse outcome,” David Quarrey told the National Security Strategy Committee.

National Security Advisor Sir Stephen Lovegrove has been questioned severely over the intelligence failures that allowed the Taliban to storm Kabul in mid-August.

He was repeatedly asked why the permanent secretaries of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense remained on work stoppage as the country collapsed city by city.

“I am particularly surprised that despite the fact that the British Embassy was close enough to being the object of direct attack, the British officials clearly feared for their lives and the military had to deploy in order to hold the lead bridge to evacuate them, that various senior officials remained on vacation, ”said Tom Tugendhat, MP.

“Would you expect a platoon commander to go on vacation right before the whistle blows?” “

Sir Stephen replied that there were “structures all over Whitehall” which allowed “continuity of senior management, so that we do not have to rely on single points of failure”.

He added that “the lack of commitment of the senior officials” did not prevent obtaining “the best result” in the evacuation operation.

“How many more dangerous occasions, how many more strategic indications should there have been for us to cancel a leave than the overflow of an embassy, ​​endangering the lives of officials and the overthrow of 20 years of British foreign policy, ”Tugendhat said. added.

Several committee members joined in the scathing attacks on Sir Stephen’s response.

Sir Stephen replied that he himself had been Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defense and “I know most of the time most of the work is done by Directors General and Directors”.

Alicia Kearns, who before becoming a Member of Parliament spent many years in government working in crisis management, said the fact that permanent secretaries did not return from vacation was “an abdication of the duty of care to their staff.”

“It was a 20-year foreign policy disaster that has been overthrown and there is either a redundancy of permanent secretaries who have a fundamental role to play in shaping policy by taking care of their staff, or a disinterest. blatant to their staff, ”she said. .

Margaret Beckett, the committee chair, called Sir Stephen’s response “very depressing”.

Dominic Raab, then foreign minister, reportedly lost his job in the recent cabinet reshuffle for staying on vacation in Crete when the Taliban entered Kabul.

Sir Stephen blamed the speed of the collapse on the Afghan government’s lack of credibility with the population, the Afghan forces’ reliance on foreign contractors to repair equipment and the withdrawal of military advisers.

Intelligence had suggested that “we would be able to maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and that the Afghan government would be operational until probably, at least the end of this calendar year,” Sir Stephen said.

Mr Quarrey appeared to blame the swift departure of senior Afghan leaders who he said were upset after reading Western media reports of their probable disappearance.

“There were decisions that could have been taken by the Afghan government that could have led to a different result,” he said.

Sir Edward Leigh, a Conservative MP, quoted General Sir David Richards, a former head of the British armed forces “who wrote that the mechanism of the National Security Council was” completely broken “.

In response, Sir Stephen said he was “unaware of the evidence” on which the remark was made and could not comment on it.

Updated: October 20, 2021, 6:16 PM

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