Boris Johnson denies UK Government was 'unprepared' for situation in Afghanistan
Boris Johnson has dismissed criticism that the UK was not prepared for the scale of crisis that has unfolded in Afghanistan after MPs were recalled for an emergency debate on the situation.
"The sacrifice in Afghanistan is seared into our national consciousness with 150,000 people serving there from across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, including a number of members on all sides of the house, whose voices will be particularly important today," the Prime Minister said as he opened an emergency debate in the Commons.
"I think it would be fair to say that the events in Afghanistan have unfolded and the collapse has been faster than even the Taliban themselves predicated," he continued.
"What is not true is to say the UK government was unprepared or did not foresee this.
"It was certainly part of our planning – the very difficult logistical operation for the withdrawal of UK nationals has been under preparation for many months, and I can tell the House that the decision to commission the emergency handling centre at the airport took place two weeks ago."
The session was called after Taliban insurgents begun reclaiming much of Afghanistan after the US and the UK started the final withdrawal of troops, and within just a few days had taken the capital Kabul.
Western allies are now racing to evacuate their citizens as well as thousands of Afghans who worked with them over the past two decades, and are now at risk of reprisal from Islamic militants.
Johnson said the Taliban is currently allowing the evacuation to go ahead and while the situation had stabilised since the weekend, it remains precarious.
"UK officials on the ground are doing everything that they can to expedite the movement of people, those that need to come out, whether from the ARAP scheme or the eligible persons," he added.
"The most important thing is that we get this done in as expeditious a fashion as we can and that is what we are doing."
He said the UK’s immediate focus must be on “helping those to whom we have direct obligations”, and praised the “bravery and commitment of our ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow” who has promised to stay on in Kabul to process visas and applications to allow people passage to the UK.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of “a major miscalculation of the resilience of the Afghan forces", and a "staggering complacency” about the Taliban threat.
He said the “desperate situation requires leadership and for the Prime Minister to snap out of his complacency” and noted the absence of both Johnson and foreign secretary, who were on holiday last week, as the crisis accelerated.
“You cannot coordinate an international response from the beach,” Starmer jibed.
Last night the Home Office announced that 20,000 Afghan refugees will be given a home in the UK, with 5,000 people permitted to come to the country in the first year of a new resettlement scheme.
The Afghan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme will be offered to those forced to flee their homes or who have faced threats of persecution from the Taliban, and priority will be given to Afghan women and girls, and religious and other minorities most at risk of human rights abuses.
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