Foreign Office chief was on holiday for 11 days as Kabul fell to Taliban
Afghanistan: Sir Nick Carter discusses engaging with the Taliban
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The £185,000-a-year mandarin confessed he should have “come back earlier” while the crisis was unfolding. During an extraordinary committee hearing, Sir Philip, who has a taxpayer-funded pension worth £1.7million, revealed that he was on leave from August 9 and did not return until the 26th, nearly two weeks after the Afghan government collapsed and handed control to the Taliban.
He refused to say where he was on holiday but disclosed that it was partly in the UK and partly abroad. He tried to play down the impact by saying he had put cover in place.
The civil servant also refused to confirm whether or not he was still in the UK when the evacuation began.
Sir Philip insisted that at the time he left there was “no inevitability” about the situation spiralling out of control, but added: “If I had my time again I would have come back earlier.”
His comments at the foreign affairs select committee followed a damning testimony from whistleblower Raphael Marshall.
In a dossier handed to MPs, the Foreign Office official claimed that just five percent of Afghan nationals who applied to flee under one UK scheme received help as a result of the “dysfunctional and chaotic” handling of the situation.
He said that some of those hoping to escape were murdered by the Taliban after being left behind. Mr Marshall also accused the then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab of undermining rescue efforts by delaying decisions.
And he accused senior civil servants of refusing to come into the office because they were working from home, saying it hindered the rescue effort further.
Defending his actions, Sir Philip told the committee: “I stayed in touch with the department all the way through the period closely.”
Mr Raab was also on annual leave during that period. Pressed on why he didn’t return to work when Mr Raab did, he replied: “I reflected on that and if I had my time again I would have come back from my leave earlier.”
But he added: “I don’t believe me being present in London as opposed to on leave and keeping in touch with the department would have changed the outcome, you know the number of people who were evacuated.”
Committee member Tory MP Alicia Kearns was heard to say he “couldn’t be bothered” in reply. She told Sir Philip: “How in two weeks did, at no point, you go, ‘I can’t, I have to go in and protect my people?’”
Tory MP Bob Seely told the committee: “People clocking off after eight hours, not bothering to come in at weekends – it’s all complacent and woolly and waffly and unfocused and sort of just a bit rubbish.”
An unnamed Conservative MP, not on the committee, last night said Sir Philip should resign. He said: “Perhaps if he were to reflect again he might question whether he should remain in the position.”
The committee heard that by August 11 it was deemed that the British embassy in Kabul was no longer safe. Diplomats were relaying to London by August 13 that the Afghan government was unlikely to hold.
Former ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow told the committee that no aeroplane failed to land or take off because of a mission to evacuate animals from the country.
Paul “Pen” Farthing, a former Royal Marine, persuaded the Government to help him evacuate 170 dogs and cats from Kabul. Mr Marshall claims British soldiers were put at risk by the decision.
But Sir Laurie said: “Nobody would have got through the system but didn’t because of this decision to facilitate animals on to the airfield.
“There was no decision to evacuate animals over people.”
Following the hearing, committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said: “Today’s session left the committee concerned about the Foreign Office’s role in the evacuation effort.
“We have seen the disintegration of a nation British troops laid down their lives to protect.
“In leaving, many Afghan friends and partners were abandoned. This crisis demanded, and deserved, the full attention of the Foreign Office.
“It seems that junior staff members and soldiers bore most of the burden, having been placed under huge pressure to make life-or-death decisions with insufficient guidance, support or oversight. The evidence we’ve heard today points to a lack of leadership, urgency and adequate resourcing. It is deeply painful how badly we have let Afghanistan down.
“I would like to reiterate my thanks to Raphael Marshall. His powerful and compelling evidence has helped bring fundamental failures to light.”Foreign Office chief was on holiday for 11 days as Kabul fell to Taliban
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