The government has defended its Afghanistan embassy staff after documents identifying Afghan workers and job applicants were found left on the ground at the British diplomatic mission in Kabul.
The Foreign Affairs Select Committee is set to launch an inquiry after a journalist with The Times found the papers with contact details of seven Afghans on a tour through the city’s abandoned diplomatic quarter while accompanied by a Taliban patrol.
Amid fears of Taliban reprisals for any locals who helped western interests in the country, the documents included the name and address of a senior embassy staff member, other staff members and their contact details, and the CVs and addresses of applicants for jobs as interpreters. Some applicants listed previous work for western countries.
The newspaper said it called the numbers listed and found some of the staff members had already been evacuated to the UK, but that other staff had been left behind.
Among those were three Afghan staff and eight family members, including five children, who were caught in crowds at Kabul airport unable to access the British-controlled section of the facility. They were, however, eventually found and rescued.
“The Foreign Office appeared to have lost these staff, and their evacuation only occurred after their details were passed on by The Times,” the newspaper reported.
The fate of at least two job applicants whose details were left on the ground at the embassy remains unknown.
The apparent blunder made as staff hastily abandoned the embassy as the Taliban reclaimed Kabul appeared to ignore evacuation protocols of shredding and destroying all data that could compromise local workers.
It also came after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab rejected a request to speak with his Afghan counterpart about the evacuation of interpreters who worked for Britain two days before the fall of Kabul, while he was on holiday on Crete, The Times said.
The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has acknowledged the apparent error, but said staff had tried to destroy sensitive material before leaving the embassy.
“We have worked tirelessly to secure the safety of those who worked for us in Afghanistan and continue to do so. Crucially we have now been able to get these three families to safety,” a FCDO spokesperson said.
“The drawdown of our Embassy was done at pace as the situation in Kabul deteriorated. Every effort was made to destroy sensitive material.”
Meanwhile, the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee will conduct an inquiry into the incident, according to its chairman, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat.
Mr Tugendhat said in a tweet: “How @FCDOGovUK handled this crisis will be the subject of a coming @CommonsForeign inquiry. The evidence is already coming in.”
An FCDO source added the Foreign Office was grateful to The Times for “sharing the information retrieved with us and working with us to enable us to get these three families to safety”.