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Afghanistan

British government thought Kabul was 'unlikely' to fall to Taliban in 2021

The UK Foreign Minister is being questioned by a House of Commons committee on the country’s handling of the crisis.

THE UK GOVERNMENT believed the capital of Afghanistan was unlikely to be taken by the Taliban this year.

Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has said the government’s central assessment was that Kabul was “unlikely” to fall in 2021.

Raab is being quizzed by the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee on the UK’s handing of the Afghanistan crisis amid some doubts about the future of his position.

“The central assessment that we were operating to… is that the most likely, the central proposition, was that given the troop withdrawal by the end of August, you’d see a steady deterioration from that point and it was unlikely Kabul would fall this year,” Raab told MPs.

“The planning for military withdrawal began in April but the contingency plan was also there for a more rapid deterioration.”

Work to develop evacuation, medical and security capacity was ongoing before August, he said, and the UK started planning for a possible evacuation of Afghanistan in June.

He told the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee: “We started planning in June for the contingency of an evacuation and therefore a full drawdown of the embassy.”

After the committee, he is set to leave the country to travel close to Afghanistan.

“We’re always very careful about signalling travel movements because of the security implications, but I can tell you I’m leaving after this committee to go to the region,” he said.

UK officials and the Taliban are in talks over how to secure “safe passage” out of Afghanistan for British nationals and Afghan allies.

15 crisis response specialists are being deployed to Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to assist British diplomats in their work to allow people to escape Afghanistan over land borders.

The officials are expected to arrive within the next 48 hours, with the focus on helping UK nationals, interpreters and other Afghans who were employed by the UK, and those Afghans considered to be most at risk.

The number of UK nationals left behind in Afghanistan is in the “low hundreds”, Raab said today.

He said he is unsure how many people in Afghanistan who would be eligible for settlement in the UK under existing schemes have been “left behind”.

Pushed on the subject in the Commons, he said: “I can’t give you a definitive answer.”

Asked to confirm the Boris Johnson’s assertion that the “overwhelming majority of people who worked for us are out”, he said: “I’m not confident with precision to be able to give you a set number, but I am confident that the Prime Minister is right, that we’ve got the overwhelming number out.”

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