Afghanistan: key questions about the government’s handling of the crisis

Dominic Raab is under pressure after the foreign secretary remained on holiday while the Taliban advanced on Kabul

Dominic Raab has faced questions about his future over his handling of the buildup to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, including calls to resign. It follows several days of criticism of the foreign secretary.

As the Afghan crisis unfolded, where was Dominic Raab?

He was on a family holiday at a five-star hotel in Crete. It is believed he arrived on 6 August, and he returned just over a week later, in the early hours of Monday morning, by which point the Taliban had overrun Kabul and the city’s airport was in chaos.

Ministers are entitled to holidays, and the foreign secretary has argued he was fully in touch with colleagues and officials. He said he was “engaged” remotely in meetings of the Cobra emergency committee last week.

But Whitehall and diplomatic sources have complained to the Guardian that Raab “refused to be contacted on basically anything” for more than a week, and even before he left for Crete had not talked to UK ambassadors in the region.

What did Raab do during the holiday?

Beyond his comments about the Cobra meetings, we do not know, with the Foreign Office giving no details of the calls he made. However, we now know one call he didn’t make. On Friday the Daily Mail reported that he was advised by officials to speak to an Afghan minister, Hanif Atmar, about evacuating Afghan nationals who had worked as translators with British forces. But Raab delegated the call to the junior foreign office minister, Zac Goldsmith.

The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, has insisted it wouldn’t have made any difference who made the call, as it was already too late. But opposition MPs have called on Raab to quit.

Should Raab have come home earlier?

Stories about ministers being on holiday amid some crisis or other within their department’s brief are a regular part of summer news coverage, and can sometimes be largely confected. But there are arguments that Raab’s case is different for two reasons.

The first is the scale of the crisis: the sudden collapse of a government supported by the UK over 20 years, involving many billions of pounds and 457 UK service personnel deaths, to be replaced by the Taliban, whom the conflict originally ousted. There is also a sense that Raab could and should have returned sooner, certainly before the weekend.

Who was leading the government’s response to the crisis?

Largely Boris Johnson. He led a meeting on Friday of the government’s Cobra emergency committee before going on holiday the next day. However, the PM was in Somerset, and returned to London on Sunday. MPs, aides and others have also praised the role of Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, saying his department has been notably more connected and involved.


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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