Afghanistan: Ben Wallace reveals his ‘biggest regret’
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Britain’s evacuation effort in Kabul has entered its final hours and has largely ended processing new evacuees, the Defence Secretary has said, as he admitted around 1,000 Afghans could be left behind. Ben Wallace said on Friday morning as airlifts continued that the mission has not been curtailed by the terror attack that killed US troops and Afghan civilians queuing up to flee the Taliban. The Defence Secretary later admitted his biggest regret in the handling of the evacuation.
Speaking to LBC, Mr Wallace said: “I think the biggest frustration would be simply simple.
“That in the end, every day mattered and we knew that August 31 was the deadline a couple of days ago, the Americans made that decision.
“The G7 and the Prime Minister had sought extra time.
“We got some time within the timetable of when UK forces had to leave but overall I will look back on this and say, if only I have another seven more days.”
Despite airlifting nearly 14,000 people out of Afghanistan in the past two weeks, Mr Wallace said “the sad fact is not every single one will get out”.
He declined to give a timeline for the exit of British forces as they processed approximately a further 1,000 evacuees already in the airport but acknowledged it would come before the Americans withdraw, with US President Joe Biden having set the departure deadline of Tuesday.
Mr Wallace said the Baron Hotel processing centre, near where the suicide bombing took place, was closed at 4.30am, as was the Abbey Gate to Hamid Karzai International Airport.
“We will process the people that we’ve brought with us, the 1,000 people approximately in the airfield now, and we will seek a way to continue to find a few people in the crowds where we can, but overall the main processing is now closed and we have a matter of hours,” he told Sky News.
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Senior Tory MP Tom Tugendhat said the move means “many” will not now get out, despite Boris Johnson having insisted the “overwhelming majority” had been airlifted.
“I’m not giving up but my anger and shame for those we’ve left behind to be hunted by the Taliban is growing,” the chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the looming end of the evacuation from Kabul marks a “sad and dark day”, and the Government has “serious questions to answer”.
He said “with the withdrawal, we face the heart-breaking reality that people have been left behind, including many to whom we owe so much”, as he demanded ministers “urgently help” those left behind.
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“The British Government must take its fair share of the responsibility and has serious questions to answer about how, despite having 18 months to prepare, their failure to plan and inability to influence others has contributed to this tragic political failure,” he added.
Conservative former foreign and defence secretary Lord Hammond told Times Radio that the UK had “failed” in its mission to keep Afghan staff safe by not completing the evacuations.
Officials have said at least 13 US troops and 60 Afghan nationals were killed and more than 150 people were injured in a “complex attack” on Thursday.
But Mr Wallace insisted the bombings did not cut short Britain’s evacuation effort, with airlifts continuing throughout Friday and possibly into Saturday.
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