Afghanistan

Raab: 'Widespread Surprise' At Pace Of Taliban Takeover

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab made the comment while visiting Pakistan on a diplomatic mission regarding the Afghanistan crisis.

Dominic Raab has insisted there was "common widespread surprise" at the pace of the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan as he faces sustained pressure over his handling of the crisis.

The Foreign Secretary suggested on Friday that even the Taliban were "taken by surprise" by the speed in which Kabul fell, as he seemingly contradicted remarks from Boris Johnson.

The Prime Minister has said it had been "clear for many months" that the situation in Afghanistan could change "very fast", after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace claimed he argued back in July that the "game was up".

Mr Raab was set to face further scrutiny over his handling of the situation in the troubled country after the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee launched an inquiry into the Government's Afghanistan policy.

He's recently travelled to Pakistan from Qatar to diplomatically aid UK efforts to ease the crisis and help secure safe passage for the potentially thousands of vulnerable Afghans left behind after the takeover and subsequent evacuation.

Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, Mr Raab said: "The takeover, I think it's fair to say, was faster than anyone anticipated, not just the United Kingdom or NATO allies, but I was talking with our friends here.

Military personnel departing from an aircraft after returning from evacuation efforts in Afghanistan last month (Picture: MOD).

"And I suspect the Taliban and ordinary Afghans were taken by surprise.

"I think there was a common widespread surprise at the speed with which the consolidation of power happened," he added.

The Foreign Secretary has said advice from the intelligence community and the military was that Kabul was unlikely to fall this year, instead indicating that there would be a "steady deterioration" after troop withdrawal.

His comments seem to contradict assertions by the Prime Minister made on Thursday, when Mr Johnson said: "I think it's been clear for many months that the situation could go very fast and that's been part of the intelligence briefing.

"There have also been suggestions that the Afghan national defence force might hold on for longer.

"But, logically, you can see what happened," he added.

With Kabul airport now under Taliban control, Pakistan is now crucial in the further escape of any Afghan allies as the two countries share a land border.

Watch: Boris Johnson praises military and 'amazing' Kabul airlift effort.

Mr Raab, who has faced criticism for holidaying in Crete in August, was scheduled to meet with Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday to discuss further evacuations.

In the face of concerns of a growing number of refugees to neighbouring countries, the Foreign Secretary vowed that the UK would be "shouldering our humanitarian responsibilities".

"We will also be supporting those countries who face greatest demands from those who may be displaced in the weeks ahead," Mr Raab said at the joint press conference.

The Prime Minister said on Sunday that if the Taliban regime wanted diplomatic recognition and aid funding, they would have to ensure "safe passage" for those who want to leave.

And in a joint statement with the US and more than 90 other countries, it was confirmed that the Taliban had said anyone who wished to leave the country could do so.

The joint statement said: "We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorisation from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country."

Fifteen thousand people were airlifted from Afghanistan by UK troops over the course of nearly two weeks in Operation Pitting, which is believed to be the largest evacuation mission since the Second World War.

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Cover image: Dominic Raab (Picture: Alamy).