Dominic Raab claimed everyone was surprised by the pace at which the Taliban took control in Afghanistan. Estimates earlier last week suggested insurgents would retake Kabul within 30 to 90 days of US troops entirely pulling out but the fall of the capital was confirmed on Sunday. Speaking following the third emergency Cobra meeting in four days, Mr Raab said: “Everyone, I think, has been surprised by the scale and the pace at which the Taliban have taken over in Afghanistan, and that’s a lesson that we’ve all got to learn from.
“But the truth is what matters right now is focusing on getting British nationals out, getting out those who have so loyally served the UK, and making sure that the gains that we’ve made over 20 years are not lost.”
The comment from the Foreign Secretary prompted Sky News presenter Jon Craig to react in disbelief at the UK Government’s unpreparedness for a potential evacuation of Kabul.
Mr Craig said: “I think the most candid thing we’ve heard from Mr Raab was that the British Government had been caught by surprise…
“Well, I think plenty of the Government’s critics, perhaps some military people, will say ‘you shouldn’t haven’t been caught by surprise as this was always likely to happen with the withdrawal of troops.’
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“He talked about the evacuation of British nationals from Afghanistan. As for how you exert pressure, he talked about sanctions, no detail of that there.”
In his first public reaction about the return of Taliban militants to Kabul, Mr Raab also said the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is “a new reality”.
He continued: “It is not what we wanted, but we have to deal with the new reality.
“We’re making it clear with our partners with all the means at our disposal, that we will hold the Taliban to account, to its commitments, to have a new start in Afghanistan.
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“It’s clearly not going to be to the values that the UK, the west, the European Union, the Americans believe in, but we can have a moderating influence. I think it’s important we use all of the policy tools at our disposal – working with our partners – to try and achieve that.”
Mr Raab highlighted what he said were gains made in the country and said: “We’ve worked very hard, a huge amount of British taxpayers’ money has gone in to clearing land mines, to getting children into education, to bringing down the maternal mortality rate, which has almost halved since 2001.
“Those are all gains that have been made. Of course, the situation on the ground, and the Taliban takeover, is a new reality.”
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Asked how he would hold the Taliban to account, the Foreign Secretary said: “Ultimately through working with our partners through everything from the sanctions that we can apply, to the ODA (Official Development Assistance) that we will hold back, pending reform and a more inclusive government.
“I think there are levers.”
Asked whether he was holding out the possibility of new sanctions he said: “The question of relief of existing sanctions as well.
“All of the financial means at our disposal will depend on the behaviour of the Taliban.”