Politics

Afghanistan: Ministers accused of ignoring warning from influential House of Lords committee

Ministers”blindsided themselves” by ignoring a warning eight months ago about the implications of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

A report submitted to the government in January laid out how the US pull-out risked undermining the Afghan government and allowing the country to descend into civil war.

But the Conservative chair of the International Relations and Defence Select Committee in the House of Lords told Sky News she was left “very disappointed” by the way the government failed to heed the concerns raised in its “UK in Afghanistan” report, published in January.

The committee interviewed dozens of experts, including former ambassadors, ministers and the former chief of defence staff, as part of its inquiry.

It found the UK had “shown little inclination to exert an independent voice on policy in Afghanistan” and “instead has followed the lead of the US and has been too reticent in raising its distinctive voice”.

“The ongoing presence of UK troops in Afghanistan depends on the deployment decisions of the US,” the committee’s report said.

“We were disappointed by the lack of analysis of the implications of the planned US withdrawal from Afghanistan provided by ministers in their evidence.

“We ask the government to provide to us its assessment of the US’s policy.”

But according to Baroness Anelay, a former government minister who chairs the committee, when the government issued its response in March, the Foreign Office failed to provide what was requested.

“I was very disappointed with the response the government provided to that report,” the Tory peer told Sky News.

“We asked them to provide us with an assessment of the US policy of withdrawal because we were concerned about the lack of it in the evidence from ministers.

“All they did was acknowledge our concern, they didn’t provide any further analysis.

“Their response seemed to assume the Resolute Support Mission would be able to continue to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.

“It seemed to accept everything was going to be fine, that we could cope. There is no recognition in any of that response to the fact the number of troops could change so dramatically.

“It seems they blindsided themselves because they didn’t do the analysis we requested.”

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Lord Alton, a cross-bench member of the committee, said recent events had shown the report was “only too prescient” and had “excoriated” the government.

He said ministers’ response to the committee’s report had been “inadequate”, adding: “Let no one suggest that no one foresaw or predicted the consequences.

“It was negligent of the government not to provide time in the House for such an important and critical report to be debated.”

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy told Sky News: “The government has known that US troops were withdrawing for 18 months.

“Ministers were repeatedly warned about the consequences of a failure to prepare, but instead of this time to plan they’ve been asleep at the wheel.

“They have ignored warning after warning. It is a pattern of negligence and an unforgivable failure of leadership.”

The Lords committee had advised that US and other western forces should wait for the Taliban and Afghan government to reach a peace agreement, in talks in Doha that had been going on for the past year, before pulling out.

Leaving the country before an agreement had been reached would undermine the chances of securing one and “further destabilise the security situation”, the committee said.

“We are concerned that the US’s agreement with the Taliban risks critically undermining the Afghan government in the talks,” they added.

The UK should make clear to the Americans that “ongoing US military and diplomatic engagement is essential to achieving a successful negotiated settlement and that further US and NATO troop withdrawals should be paused,” the committee’s report continued.

The written response from the Foreign Office to the 128-page report suggested new US President Joe Biden would be more likely to consult NATO than his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The criticism from Baroness Anelay could serve to put further pressure on Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is facing calls to quit having been on holiday in Crete when Kabul fell.

But the peer told Sky News that Mr Raab cannot be held solely responsible.

“When taking decisions such as what happens if everything goes belly-up, that is not purely departmental – you are generally talking about the national security committee of the cabinet – so it would not just be Dominic Raab making a decision of this nature, this is fairly and squarely an issue amongst the cabinet at this level,” she said.

The Foreign Office has been approached for a response.

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