The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from Afghanistan was a “disaster,” and a “betrayal” of the country’s allies, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the UK House of Commons said on Tuesday.
The committee published a report titled “Missing in action: UK leadership and the withdrawal from Afghanistan” to examine the decisions of the Foreign Office and UK leadership before, during and after the August 2021 withdrawal.
“The manner of our withdrawal from Afghanistan was a disaster and a betrayal of our allies that will damage the UK’s interests for years to come. This inquiry has identified systemic failures of intelligence, diplomacy, planning and preparation,” the report said.
The committee pinned the blame on UK’s Foreign Office and, in part, on the National Security Council for failing to ensure sufficient coordination between the relevant authorities.
The inquiry identified a host of shortcomings that led to the chaotic withdrawal, such as a failure to respond to the United States’ decision to withdraw its troops, made in February 2020; underestimating the speed of the Afghanistan takeover by the Taliban; the absence of any contingency plans for the evacuation of UK nationals and Afghans who worked for the UK government.
“It might be convenient to blame FCDO [Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office] officials or military intelligence for these failures, but ministers should have been driving this policy. The fact that the Foreign Office’s senior leaders were on holiday when Kabul fell marks a fundamental lack of seriousness, grip or leadership at a time of national emergency,” the report noted.
The Foreign Affairs Committee bemoaned the hasty evacuation process, which had “no clear line of command within the political leadership of the Government, as decisions were made on the basis of untraceable and unaccountable political interventions.” The report stated that the most deplorable aspect of the operation was the absence of an evacuation plan for Afghans who had supported UK objectives.
The report enjoins the UK should seek engagement with the Taliban government despite diverging views on human rights and democracy to ensure that the political vacuum created by the withdrawal is not filled by China or other rival powers.
In August 2021, the Taliban stepped up their offensive against government forces amid the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and took over the country.