Dominic Raab failed to make a crucial phone call while he was on holiday to seek urgent help airlifting translators out of Afghanistan, the Mail can reveal
Dominic Raab failed to make a crucial phone call while he was on holiday to seek urgent help airlifting translators out of Afghanistan, the Mail can reveal.
Senior officials in the Foreign Secretary’s department advised last Friday that he should make immediate contact with Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar as the Taliban advanced on Kabul.
The officials said Mr Raab, who was on a luxury break with his family in Crete, needed to urgently request assistance in rescuing interpreters who had worked for the British military. They said it was important the call was made by him rather than a junior minister.
But Mr Raab did not make the call. Officials were told he was unavailable and that Lord Goldsmith, the Foreign Office minister on duty, should speak to Mr Atmar instead.
The Foreign Office said last night: ‘The Foreign Secretary was engaged on a range of other calls and this one was delegated to another minister.’
However, the Afghan foreign ministry refused to set up an immediate call between Mr Atmar and a junior minister who was not his direct counterpart. As a result, they did not speak until at least the next day, with crucial time lost before the Taliban seized control of Kabul on Sunday.
The revelation is likely to reignite the controversy over Mr Raab’s handling of the crisis. In a fiery Commons debate yesterday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer aimed a barb at the Foreign Secretary, saying: ‘I wouldn’t stay on holiday while Kabul was falling.’
It came as the situation in Kabul appeared to dramatically worsen, with chaotic scenes in and around the airport that is now the only route out of the country.
Many Afghan translators who worked with UK troops are trapped in the capital and unable to reach the airfield as they fear being uncovered at Taliban checkpoints. With crowds besieging the airport’s perimeter, and the Taliban in control of the city, it is unclear how long order will last.
On a dramatic day:
- MPs turned on Joe Biden over the catastrophic fall of Kabul, amid signs the special relationship between the UK and the US was under strain;
- During a highly charged debate in the Commons, the US President was accused of ‘shameful’ behaviour for seeking to blame Afghan soldiers for the debacle;
- It was reported that Mr Biden over-ruled his military chiefs to bring US troops home from Afghanistan;
- It was claimed that Britain fears US forces may pull out of Kabul international airport within days, putting the emergency airlift of thousands of people at risk;
- Taliban fighters opened fire on those trying to defy the new regime yesterday, leaving at least three dead;
- Afghan president Ashraf Ghani broke cover to say he hoped to return home soon, just days after fleeing Kabul;
- The head of Britain’s Armed Forces was fiercely criticised after suggesting the Taliban should not be described as ‘the enemy’ and were instead men of honour;
- It emerged that the number of Afghan refugees accepted by the UK is likely to rise well beyond the 25,000 the Government has committed to accepting;
- Boris Johnson cancelled his summer holiday plans as he faced criticism over his absence as Kabul fell.
The Amirandes Hotel in Crete, Greece. Senior officials in the Foreign Secretary’s department advised last Friday that he should make immediate contact with Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar as the Taliban advanced on Kabul
Afghanistan’s foreign minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar speaks during a press conference at the ministry of foreign affairs in Kabul, on August 3, 2021
Pictured: Women filmed pleading with US troops that the ‘Taliban are coming’ in footage that appeared to have been taken at Kabul airport
The fall of the Afghan government has left thousands of British citizens, Afghan interpreters and their families stranded in Kabul in a desperate situation awaiting mercy flights back to the UK.
Mr Raab has faced fierce criticism after it emerged that he was on holiday while the Taliban completed their stunning takeover.
The Foreign Secretary has insisted he was engaged while abroad and could direct Foreign Office operations while out of the country.
But the Mail can reveal that he did not personally make a call on Friday that officials said would assist with the evacuation of Afghan translators. Foreign Office officials said Mr Raab needed to request assistance from the Afghan government with getting interpreters who had worked for the British military out of the country.
Officials suggested he ask Mr Atmar to allow Afghans to get on flights without passports and visas so they could flee quickly.
The officials said the British Embassy in Kabul had advised it was important the call was made by him rather than a junior minister.
Both US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin had already spoken with Mr Atmar, the advice said.
‘We recommend the Foreign Secretary urgently calls the Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar,’ the senior officials said in the message sent last Friday afternoon. But Mr Raab did not make the call.
In the Commons yesterday, Mr Raab was accused of a ‘dereliction of duty’. Sir Keir taunted the Foreign Secretary as he told MPs: ‘You cannot co-ordinate an international response from the beach.’
He also criticised Mr Johnson, who headed to the West Country on Saturday. ‘The Prime Minister’s response to the Taliban arriving at the gates of Kabul was to go on holiday,’ Sir Keir said.
On Sunday, as Kabul fell to the Taliban, Mr Raab was spotted at Crete’s five-star Amirandes Hotel, which describes itself as a ‘sparkling boutique resort for the privileged and perceptive’.
The Foreign Secretary insisted he did not spend ‘all day lounging on the beach’ as the militants entered the Afghan capital.
He said he took part in a series of meetings from his hotel and went outside to see his family ‘episodically’.
The Daily Mail revealed earlier this week that Mr Raab got a flight back from Crete late on Sunday night, arriving at Gatwick at 1.40am on Monday. A fellow passenger said: ‘He was typing on his phone a lot and walking around looking stressed.’
‘Off-guard’ Foreign Secretary’s Greek idyll: The luxury Crete hotel where Dominic Raab ‘was staying as Taliban went on the rampage in Afghanistan’
It styles itself as a ‘sparkling boutique resort for the privileged and perceptive’.
Mr Raab was spotted on Sunday at the five-star Amirandes Hotel, just before he jetted back into Britain to help deal with what has been described as the biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez.
The Foreign Secretary yesterday conceded he would not have left the UK had he known what would unfold in Afghanistan.
Mr Raab (pictured) was spotted on Sunday at the five-star Amirandes Hotel in Crete
The Amirandes is situated on its own private beach in Crete
But he insisted that he did not spend ‘all day lounging on the beach’ as militants swept through Kabul.
He said that he took part in a series of meetings from his hotel and only went outside to see his family ‘episodically’.
The Amirandes, which is situated on its own private beach, says it has ‘a first-class dining scene and one of the biggest pools you’ll ever see’ – and is said to be ‘inspired by the palaces of Minoan kings’.
Mr Raab told Sky News that he returned ‘as soon as the situation deteriorated and demanded it’, adding: ‘Everyone was caught off-guard by the pace, scale of the Taliban takeover.’
The Mail revealed yesterday that he only got a flight back late on Sunday, arriving at Gatwick ‘looking stressed’ at 1.40am on Monday.
The hotel claims it has ‘a first-class dining scene and one of the biggest pools you’ll ever see’
Dozens of Afghan interpreters who served with British Army hold protest in Parliament Square as they demand more protection for desperate translators and their families stranded in Kabul
- Demonstrators held signs showed images of people badly injured in Afghanistan
- One former interpreter said that their families are in grave danger in the country
- He said: ‘The Taliban will butcher every single one of them if they are left behind’
By Isabella Nikolic for MailOnline
Dozens of Afghan interpreters who served with the British Army are holding a protest in Parliament Square to demand more protection for desperate translators stranded in Kabul.
The protesters held banners and signs up in front of Parliament on Wednesday as MPs returned to the House of Commons after it was recalled.
Signs they held included images of people gravely injured in Afghanistan, with the caption ‘Protect our loved ones’.
Afghan interpreters are now being hunted Taliban kill squads. One, referred to only as Ahmadzi for his safety, is hiding with his family after as least one assassination attempt.
He was branded a ‘threat’ to UK security by Home Office officials despite serving alongside British Army generals so his visa to the UK was revoked.
Protesters, who are former translators for the British Army, held banners and signs up in front of Parliament on Wednesday as MPs returned to the House of Commons after it was recalled
He told the Stories of Our Times podcast: ‘The only actions left are either to remain in Kabul and get killed by the Taliban, to cross the border to Iran and go there, or to be helped by NATO countries.
‘They have sentenced me to death, and ordered their fighters that I should be shot and killed wherever I am found. Three weeks ago my son was with me when four gunmen tried to kill me but I recognised them and they fled.’
One former interpreter at the demonstration in London today, who only gave his name as Rafi, said: ‘Today we are representing all those employees of the British Government in Afghanistan who have served the British forces.
A protester holds up a large banner with British soldiers that reads: ‘Do not leave anyone behind’
Demonstrators take part in a ‘Save Afghanistan’ protest in Parliament Square today
One former interpreter, who only gave his name as Rafi (pictured), said: ‘Today we are representing all those employees of the British Government in Afghanistan who have served the British forces’
He added: ‘The Taliban will butcher every single one of them if they are left behind’
‘Today, their lives are at a very high risk, them and their families, and our families, they need protection and safety.
‘The Taliban will butcher every single one of them if they are left behind.’
He added: ‘The Afghan nation feels betrayed and let down. They deserved better.
‘The Americans took the rug from under our feet and left the nation with no protection, no safety and under the control of the same terrorists that we started fighting 20 years ago.’
Ahmadzai, speaking to the podcast from the Times and Sunday Times, had been working for Afghan president Ashraf Ghani until Sunday before the politician fled when the Taliban breached Kabul’s defences.
Former British interpreters protesting in Kabul on August 13 before the capital was overrun by the Taliban. Their faces are obscured for security reasons
His position working for some of the British Army’s most senior officers puts him high on the list for retribution, and the Taliban have already searched his home since taking over Kabul.
In June the Home Office announced he would be granted a visa to travel to Britain on August 1, but last week this was revoked because his ‘character, conduct and associations’ were not ‘conducive to the public good’. He cannot appeal.
Today he pleaded: ‘Take me to the UK and put me in prison. Take me to court. If you believe I’m bad, you can sentence me to death.
‘But to leave me behind in Kabul, you are inviting the Taliban to come and kill me. The Taliban won’t give me a chance to speak. They will just shoot.’
Armed Taliban militants in a pick-up truck move through a market in Kabul today after taking over the capital
Charlie Herbert, a former major general who worked alongside Ahmadzai in Kandahar, said it was ‘rubbish’ that he posed a threat to the UK
Charlie Herbert, a former major general who worked alongside Ahmadzai in Kandahar and has testified to his good character, said: ‘You’re telling me this man is a threat to the United Kingdom? Absolute rubbish.
‘He is a dead man walking, there is no doubt that they will kill him as soon as they find him.’
Activists estimate that – when interpreters’ families are included – there are around 1,000 men, women and children who could miss the chance of a deserved new life in Britain and instead be left to the brutal mercy of the Taliban.
Government sources said that a total of around 1,700 ‘former locally employed staff and their families’ have been told they can come to the UK.
Protesters stand in Parliament square holding signs and banners which read, ‘Protect our loved ones,’ ‘Save those who saved your sons in Afghanistan’ and ‘Do not leave anyone behind’
Major Herbert warned that the Prime Minister will have ‘blood on his hands’ if any interpreters are abandoned to their death by Britain.
He said: ‘If any interpreters or their family members are murdered by the Taliban, Boris Johnson, the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and the Home Secretary Priti Patel will have their blood on their hands.
‘It is too late now for most interpreters caught in areas controlled by the Taliban. I am getting messages from them and they are heartbroken and terrified. They are hiding for their lives as the Taliban go from house to house trying to find them.’
A separate protest was also held earlier in Parliament Square, called Stop the War.
The campaign group was there demanding that politicians recognise that the war in Afghanistan was a catastrophe and must not be repeated.
A separate protest was also held earlier in Parliament Square, called Stop the War. Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attended the protest
Former Afghan interpreters and veterans hold a demonstration in Parliament Square
A large group of protesters huddle together at Parliament Square today demanding that the Government safely return Brits left in Afghanistan
One protester holds up a large poster which reads, ‘Do not leave anyone behind’ at the protest today
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attended the protest, as did his brother Piers, although the pair appeared at different points.
Labour MP Richard Burgon joined Jeremy Corbyn at the protest.
Jeremy Corbyn, an Independent MP, tweeted: ‘Joined @STWuk and other campaigners outside Parliament this morning to demand support for Afghan refugees and no more disastrous wars.’
Later on at Parliament Square, hundreds of Gurkhas are expected to arrive and hold a separate protest.
They are calling for equal pensions for Gurkhas who retired before 1997 but are not eligible for a full UK armed forces pension.
‘Even if the call comes, road blocks may stop us’: Translators tell of their terror as Taliban militants try to block their escape
A former interpreter with UK Special Forces ran the gauntlet of Taliban checkpoints to reach Kabul’s airport yesterday in a desperate attempt to secure a place on a Freedom Flight.
‘There was panic, chaos and confusion at the airport with crowds of people around all five gates,’ Shane says. ‘Some were pushing, others pleading and some just sitting and waiting. There was shouting and crying; some were trying to climb over the gates.
Chaos: Shane awaits his flight to freedom
‘People are afraid and desperate to escape. We are all worried the airport will be cut off by the Taliban, so even if we have a chance for a flight it could be very tough.’
The 34-year-old father-of-five is among those approved for sanctuary in recent days after his case was highlighted by the Mail’s Betrayal Of The Brave campaign.
He was among a dozen translators with a Special Forces’ Task Force based at Camp Juno in Helmand who had been rejected for relocation because they were not employed by the Government.
The decision was reversed and he is now waiting to be told when to fly.
‘Everyone is wanting to get on a plane before the Taliban find us,’ he says. ‘That is why we went to the airport, but the Turkish guards were letting no one through apart from American translators and their families, who had U.S. troops with them.
I asked for British troops, but no one came. It was frustrating. There was a real feeling of fear around us and of suspicion.
‘The Taliban is stopping and searching vehicles, and we have been told they are going from compound to compound, looking for those who worked with the government and Western forces. I have changed my location three times.’
Shane, who worked for three years at the highly sensitive base which ran intelligence operations and Afghan spies — he was once flown to the UK to brief ministers and officials — says: ‘We are all worried that when the call comes to go to the airport, it may not be possible because of road blocks and searches. We are worried, too, that the phone networks or electricity will be down and we will miss the call.’
Remain? ‘It’d be like Hell waiting for their revenge’
The view from his second-floor window in a Kabul suburb was terrifying, Waheed said, as he watched Taliban putting up roadblocks and searching cars.
‘It is worrying as there are many on the roads and they seem to have absolute power, people are very respectful — afraid — so they are answering questions and stepping away from their cars if asked,’ said the 30-year-old former British military interpreter.
Low profile: Waheed is still hopeful he will escape
Waheed, who worked with front-line troops and military spies for three years, is waiting for news of a Freedom Flight with his wife and their two young children.
‘As the day has gone on, there are more Taliban on the streets,’ he told me. ‘Some are not armed but they are all clearly confident and proud of what they are.
‘Some people are greeting them and shaking their hands. I think it is because they are fearful — not because they are really pleased to welcome them.
‘I don’t think there has been any shooting — they seem in absolute control — so the problem for me will be reaching the airport when permission to fly is granted.
‘I am really hopeful that Britain will make this work for us because to remain would be like staying in Hell to wait for their revenge.’
He said social media was ‘alive’ with rumours and stories, saying that government officials were being taken away from their homes.
Some Afghan police and military are now helping the Taliban.
Translators had agreed to keep a low profile, Waheed explained, and await the call ‘to fly’. Some were deleting numbers and pictures from their phones in case they are stopped and searched for anything linking them to the British military.
‘The window for our escape is closing…’
Bashir was anxiously waiting by his telephone yesterday, hoping Britain would finally grant him sanctuary before time runs out.
Desperate: Bashir says Kabul is full of fear
The 34-year-old worked in Helmand for 14 months, and was wounded in the shoulder by a sniper’s bullet during a daytime operation to capture Taliban targets.
He says: ‘Every call, every message I hope is permission to go to the UK.
‘I am desperate to escape. Kabul is full of fear. If I am captured, I will be killed because of my work, and I know the Taliban is searching for us.
‘All my paperwork is ready and with the UK authorities. I served them bravely and loyally, and it is now in their gift to save me and my family.
‘The window for our escape from the Taliban is closing and I do not understand the delay. Why have some been approved and others not?’
Three weeks ago, the father-of-three found a bomb under his car and he claims to have been threatened repeatedly.
‘The fear among us all is very real. People here are nervous — you can feel it,’ he says.
‘Everyone is fearing the worst and wondering if they will live or die.’
Bashir, whose interpreter brother has been approved for relocation, said he moved to Kabul to be ready to ‘escape’ if permission is granted.
He said he first applied for sanctuary three years ago, but did not qualify because he had not been directly employed.