Britain still committed to Afghanistan, says Dominic Raab

Britain prepared to engage with Taliban to ensure safe passage for people out of restive state

Britain’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab remained on holiday in Crete as Kabul fell to the Taliban. Photograph: Getty

Britain’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab remained on holiday in Crete as Kabul fell to the Taliban. Photograph: Getty

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Britain remains committed to Afghanistan despite last week’s withdrawal, foreign secretary Dominic Raab has said, adding that “we need to adjust to the new reality” of the Taliban’s control of the country.

Speaking in the Qatari capital of Doha, Mr Raab said Britain would engage with the Taliban and seek to hold them to commitments on the safe passage of people out of Afghanistan and the protection of aid workers.

“There are some early tests for the Taliban. One was their approach to the airport during the evacuation, now we are into a different space. Can we see safe passage provided out of Afghanistan. That will be quite an important first test, we need to be able to discuss that or engage on that,” he said.

“And there will be other issues. We all want to avoid a humanitarian disaster or crisis. That will require the Taliban to be able to provide and ensure a permissive climate and environment for aid workers. So I think engagement will be important in order to set early early tests and what we will be judging the Taliban by is their actions, not their words.”

Britain stopped according recognition to governments in 1980 and decides the nature of its dealings with regimes on the basis of whether they can effectively control the territory of the state, so the issue of recognising the Taliban does not arise.

Mr Raab has faced harsh criticism over his handling of the Afghan crisis, with many of the sharpest attacks coming from Conservative MPs, who have questioned his assertion that his expectation that Kabul would not fall until next year was shared across the government and intelligence agencies. On Thursday, defence secretary Ben Wallace said ministers knew in July that the Afghan government was close to collapse.

‘The game was up’

“It was a bit of a shock when Herat fell. Some of these big places had historically been resistant to the Taliban. When they fell, literally without a fight, I think the game was up. I remember back in July arguing that whatever we think, the game is up and we have to do what we can to accelerate whatever we’re doing,” he told the Spectator.

Mr Wallace also rejected Mr Raab’s suggestion that Britain’s inadequate preparation for the evacuation was the result of an intelligence failure.

“I’ve already seen some lines about the failure of intelligence. History shows us that it’s not about failure of intelligence, it’s about the limits of intelligence. When the Soviet Union crumbled, when Libya collapsed, when the actual moment came in Afghanistan, intelligence hadn’t failed. It was just limited, as it always is at the very end,” he said.

Mr Raab, who remained on holiday in Crete as Kabul fell to the Taliban, denied that Mr Wallace had followed a different intelligence assessment to himself.

“We were all working to the same set of assumptions. Ben and I were taking the same assessment throughout, until very late,” he said.