UK ambassador to Afghanistan remains in Kabul processing asylum claims as Taliban takes capital

Sir Laurie Bristow reported to be personally handling claims from Afghan interpreters at Kabul airport as defence secretary warns some people would ‘not get back’
Personnel are deploying to assist with the drawdown of British nationals in Afghanistan. Photo: MoD

The UK ambassador to Afghanistan has remained in Kabul after the fall of the city to the Taliban to personally process the visas of Afghan interpreters who have worked with the UK in the 20 years since the US-led invasion.

Sir Laurie Bristow is, according to reports, at the airport in the Afghan capital processing the claims of those who could be at risk from reprisals as the Taliban prepares to form a government in the country.

The UK has also deployed approximately 600 troops is to facilitate the safe and deliberate exit of remaining UK citizens and eligible Afghan personnel, which is estimated to total number about 4,000.

Last week it was announced that the number of staff working at the British Embassy in Kabul would be reduced to a core team. At that time, it was announced that Bristow would continue to lead a small team in Afghanistan which would relocate within Kabul to a more secure location.

In a statement reported by the i, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said Bristow had stayed behind to help orchestrate the evacuation of remaining Britons.

“We have reduced our diplomatic presence in response to the situation on the ground, but our ambassador remains in Kabul and UK government staff continue to work to provide assistance to British nationals and to our Afghan staff,” an FCDO spokesperson said.

“We are doing all we can to enable remaining British nationals, who want to leave Afghanistan, to do so.”

However, in interviews this morning, defence secretary Ben Wallace admitted some people who have helped the coalition forces in the last two decades would "not get back" from Afghanistan.

Wallace gave an emotional response to LBC's Nick Ferrari who asked on Monday morning when the government expected to have carried out a full evacuation of British passport holders, officials, and qualifying Afghans as the country is taken over by the Islamist military organisation.

He said the government planned to have evacuated all "entitled personnel" by 31 August and that the 700-plus British soldiers who are in the country are there solely to "process all those British passport holders and those we have an obligation to."

He said: “Our men and women in the armed forces are risking their lives in doing that, but that is the right thing to do. Our obligation, at the very least, is to get as many people through the pipeline as possible."

The defence secretary choked up as he added: "But it’s a very deep part of regret for me that some people won’t get back. Some people won’t get back and we will have to do our best, as well as third countries, to process those people."

Downing Street confirmed over the weekend that Parliament would be recalled from summer recess on Wednesday to debate the situation in Afghanistan.

Thousands are trying to flee the country, with footage showing crowds of panicked people trying to board planes at Kabul airport, after the Taliban swept across the country in the space of just a couple of weeks before taking control of the presidential palace.

The decision of American president Joe Biden to go ahead with plans to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, which was followed by the Taliban's lightning advance across the country, has received international condemnation and been blamed in large part for the collapse of the Afghan government.

The UK government's decision to follow the White House and withdraw its own soldiers from the US-led operation has also been criticised by Conservative MPs and opposition politicians.

Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative MP and chair of the foreign affairs committee, on Sunday told the BBC the situation was "the biggest single foreign policy disaster" since Suez Crisis in 1956.

His Conservative colleague Tobias Ellwood MP, chair of the defence select committee, told CSW’s sister title PoliticsHome he was "flabbergasted" by the UK's "completely timid" response. “Where are we? If the United States doesn't step forward, as occasionally it hesitates, Britain has a moral duty to lead the West," he said.

Boris Johnson, who last week ruled out a UK military response to situation in Afghanistan, convened a CORBA meeting on Sunday and spoke to NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg and the UN secretary general António Guterres.

The prime minister on Sunday said: "I think it is very important that the West should work collectively to get over to that new government – be it by the Taliban or anybody else – that nobody wants Afghanistan once again to be a breeding ground for terror and we don't think it is in the interests of the people of Afghanistan that it should lapse back into that pre-2001 status."

He added: "What the UK will be doing is working with our partners in the UN security council, in NATO, to get that message over. We don't want anybody to bilaterally recognise the Taliban.

"We want a united position among all the like-minded, as far as we can get one, so that we do whatever we can to prevent Afghanistan lapsing back into a breeding ground for terror.”

Richard Johnstone is the acting editor of Civil Service World. Adam Payne is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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