Dominic Raab has admitted the government did not see the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan coming, adding it will have to engage with them in the future in order to hold them to account for their actions.
The foreign secretary said several nations were “caught off-guard” by the quick and hostile nature of the militant group’s takeover, which has prompted Afghans to flee the country.
He added British intelligence had been tracking what was happening on the ground in Afghanistan “very carefully” after the United States decided to reduce its troops in the country.
‘Caught by surprise’
Speaking to Sky News, Raab said: “The truth is, across the world, people were caught by surprise. I haven’t spoken to an international interlocutor, including countries in the region over the last week, who hasn’t been surprised.
“We saw a very swift change in the dynamics, and of course this has been part and parcel of the withdrawal of Western troops, but it has also been the way and the approach of the Taliban.
“Of course it’s been a test for the Afghan security forces. All of those factors have been very fluid. But no one saw this coming. Of course we would have taken action if we had.”
He defended his decision to return from his holiday when he did, adding he arrived back in the UK “as soon as the situation deteriorated and demanded it”.
In another interview with BBC Breakfast on Tuesday, Raab said Britain believed the Taliban would attempt to move in the autumn and in a more gradual manner.
Asked if he would sit down with his counterpart in a Taliban government, the foreign secretary said it would not happen “for the foreseeable future” but added there has always been some form of communication between Britain and the militant group.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We’ve always had dialogue of some sort, either indirectly through third parties, or through the Taliban’s political commission in Doha.
“It is important to be able to engage at least in some shape or form to test and to exert as much influence as we credibly, realistically can, and also to try and hold the Taliban to account to the new commitments they made.”
Stephen Kinnock, shadow minister for Asia and the Pacific, said the approach of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan has been “catastrophically mishandled”, noting the “shambolic scenes” from Kabul airport on Monday, which saw people clinging to aeroplanes as they attempted to take off.
“This is an utter failure of the execution of the strategy and the Prime Minister has really serious questions to answer,” he told Sky News.
“It seems to me it’s absolutely extraordinary that they didn’t have this scenario in mind. There seem to be a kind of hyper-optimistic scenario whereby the Afghan army would resist the march of the Taliban, and that clearly has not happened.”
Around 900 armed forces are in Afghanistan helping to bring UK nationals home and secure the safety of selected Afghans.
Raab said 150 British nationals were flown out on Sunday while 289 Afghan nationals were taken out last week. A further 350 British and Afghans will be taken out of the country in the next 24 hours.
The prime minister is expected to announce a “bespoke” resettlement scheme to allow fleeing Afghans to set-up home in the UK shortly.