Lack of political leadership was 'fundamental failing' of Afghan crisis, ex-national security adviser says

Lord Ricketts says National Security Council could have helped overloaded FCDO, while former Army head calls for perm sec to resign
PM Boris Johnson and then-foreign secretary Dominic Raab visit the Foreign Office crisis centre during the Afghan evacuation in August.

By CSW staff

09 Dec 2021

The "chaos" of the August Afghan evacuation could have been avoided if the prime minister had treated the fall of Kabul as a "whole-of-government crisis" and held daily meetings of the National Security Council, the government's former national security adviser has said.

Lord Peter Ricketts, who led the Foreign Office from 2006 to 2010 before spending two years as the UK’s first NSA, said his former department showed “evident shortcomings” in how it coped during the crisis.

But he said the "fundamental failing was one of political leadership".

Then-foreign secretary Dominic Raab and prime minister Boris Johnson should have used the NSC to mobile help from across Whitehall, he in a letter to The Times..

"If Dominic Raab had made clear early on that FCDO could not cope with the huge caseload it was receiving, the PM could have told the cabinet secretary to mobilise help from across the civil service," he added.

“Many [civil servants] would not have had experience of Afghanistan. But if the NSC had laid down clear guidelines for prioritising cases, and then delegated to civil servants the job of implementing them with a 24/7 operation properly supervised by senior staff, the chaos revealed by the whistleblower could have been avoided,” Ricketts wrote.

Former Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office civil servant Raphael Marshall has given evidence to parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, estimating that fewer than 5% of 75,000 to 150,000 people who applied for resettlement received any assistance, adding that some have since been killed by the Taliban.

Among other things, Marshall claimed guidance on how to prioritise people who contacted the department asking for help was unclear and difficult to follow.

“Due to our team’s lack of expertise, I believe we will not have distinguished between claims in emails which were and were not credible,” he said.

Perm sec 'should follow Raab out of the door'

In a second letter to The Times, Richard Dannatt, who was chief of the Army's general staff between 2006 and 2009, called for FCDO head Sir Philip Barton to resign following the latter’s admission that he regretted not returning from holiday during the crisis.

Barton has told the Foreign Affairs Committee that he did not return to work until 26 August, 11 days after the evacuation from Afghanistan started.

Lord Dannatt said that Raab, who similarly stayed on holiday during the crisis, was fired as a result. Raab lost his foreign secretary post in the prime minister's latest reshuffle and is now justice secretary.

“Sir Philip should now emulate the example of his old boss and follow him out of the door,” Dannatt wrote. “Leadership without the respect of those who are supposed to follow is a recipe for future failure.

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