Dominic Raab has said the Taliban’s lightning quick takeover of Afghanistan took the UK by surprise as 150 UK nationals are set to arrive home early tomorrow morning.
Raab, speaking after a Cobra meeting chaired by Boris Johnson, said a further 350 British nationals and Afghani visa holders would be evacuated to the UK in the coming days as efforts continue to evacuate people in Kabul.
The foreign secretary also said the UK was “looking very carefully” at providing asylum to Afghanis who have not previously worked with the British government or armed forces.
Taliban fighters reached the capital yesterday and took over the Presidential Palace just one week after starting an offensive to capture the entire country.
Johnson said just eight days ago that the Taliban would not be able to easily re-take the central Asian country, despite Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all troops by 31 August.
When asked how UK intelligence got it so wrong, Raab said: “Everyone has been surprised by the scale and the pace at which the Taliban have taken over in Afghanistan. That’s a lesson we’ve all got to earn from.
“What matters right now is focusing on getting British nationals out and those who have so loyally served the UK out.”
The Taliban has declared the Afghanistan war over and have control of around 90 per cent of government buildings, after taking the Presidential Palace yesterday.
At least seven people have reportedly been killed at Kabul airport today as thousands of people rushed to board planes on the tarmac.
Desperate scenes of hundreds of Afghani civilians chasing after US military planes that are about to takeoff have also been circulated across social media.
There have also been reports of people falling off the outside of planes taking off from Hamid Karzai International.
Johnson will chair a G7 meeting in the coming days to discuss the unfolding crisis.
Raab said the UK would freely impose economic and aid-based sanctions on Afghanistan if the Taliban once again turns the country into a breeding ground for terrorists and does not “protect the most essential human rights, including respecting the rights of women”.
“There are levers and we know from the political commission of the Taliban in Doha that they’ve made a series of commitments, a series of undertakings and it’s right for the UK, critically working with our partners, that they are held to the undertakings they’ve made,” he said.
Taliban fighters were able to sweep through Afghanistan in just over a week in a lightning quick offensive, which has seen them take Kabul and forced President Ashraf Ghani to flee.
Biden, who will give a televised statement tonight, has refused to take responsibility for the unfolding disaster, saying over the weekend that Afghani forces should have been able to repel the Taliban’s offensive.
“I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth,” he said yesterday.
There have already been reports of girls as young as 12 being taken into sex slavery by the extremist Islamist group and of women being prevented from going to university classes.
Women were forced to wear a Burqa and not allowed to work or get an education under the Taliban’s previous regime.
Johnson’s former national security adviser Lord Mark Sedwill told the BBC that the Taliban’s rise will pose a direct threat to British security.
Afghanistan under the Taliban became a training ground for terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks.
“We have to see whether the Taliban will honour their commitments not to allow Afghanistan to become a haven for terrorists and indeed drug traffickers as well,” Sedwill said.
“I think that’s one of the two or three things we really must do now to in response to this, is work with China, Russia, Afghanistan’s neighbours and others who have – whatever our differences on other issues – a common interest in ensuring that Afghanistan does not become another source of terrorism.”