Few words can describe the feeling of despair and anger I felt as I read the papers on Tuesday morning.
The testimonial given by a Foreign Office whistleblower brought back all the memories of the Afghanistan crisis and mapped out in detail a series of failures when our focus should have been on Afghan women and girls we had a moral obligation to help.
The stark and swift western withdrawal from Afghanistan was a failure of statecraft and a complete failure of leadership.
I spent chaotic days and nights taking phone calls at all hours from women and girls desperately trying to flee the Taliban.
They had spent decades rebuilding their country into a place where women and girls could live without fear. They were judges, journalists, politicians, mothers. None of them had committed a crime, but, in the eyes of the Taliban, they were the enemy.
The emails and calls continued to flow in. My young team worked overtime, days and nights and weekends, trying to stem the flow and direct people to the right places.
Pass all details on to the Foreign Office, we were told. Gather the data and send it to us, and we will do everything we can to get the most at-risk women and girls out of Afghanistan and into safety.
During one phone call with a female politician’s family, I heard the bomb at Kabul airport explode in the background. They were risking life and limb responding to the changing information they were receiving on how to be extracted out of Afghanistan.
Still the messages, calls, FaceTime, emails kept coming. Friends of friends of friends now got in touch, asking if we could do anything at all. They had already sent through their passport information, data, location – at great personal risk – so why was no response coming? Every night they hid in their homes, fearing the door would be kicked in and they would be dragged out by the Taliban.
I kept asking my team: "Have we sent this on? Are we sure? Have we checked?" We were having conversations like "Are they reading our emails" because it doesn't make sense that we keep being told "the right people will be extracted. Send us the information and they will be helped" and nothing was happening. We didn’t even know where to direct these women and girls – to the airport? To the border?
Raphael Marshall’s testimony now paints a picture of what we had begun to suspect at the time.
The Foreign Office was not reading our emails. It was not processing them fast enough. There was a lack of leadership at the top.
In his evidence, Marshall says that “between Saturday 21 August and Wednesday 25 August, there were usually over 5,000 unread emails in the inbox at any given moment, including many unread emails dating from early in August”.
Specifically, he says that “in 100s if not 1000s of cases emails from MPs were also unread”.
Yet, we were repeatedly told, the women and girls were being processed and looked after. This was the assurance I tried to give them on the phone. It is soul destroying to think now that nothing was being done.
So what can our Government do to try and restore credibility and show what Global Britain is fundamentally about?
Three things need to happen.
First, we can work with international partners to draw up a list of women and girls we have left behind who urgently and desperately need our help to stay alive – for the future of Afghanistan and for the security of our country. Translators, journalists, lawyers, aid workers, politicians, community leaders, teachers, women and their families – the list needs to be comprehensive and thorough.
Second, the Home Office urgently needs to get the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme up and functioning.
And, finally, I want to see a top-down assessment of how this monumental failure of leadership and statecraft took place. We cannot afford to ever have something like this happen again.
Read this article on the National's website here.