Tuesday briefing: Whistleblower says Kabul airlift chaos cost lives

·9 min read
<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP

‘People left to die at hands of the Taliban’ with no help from UK government … US commits to defending Ukraine … and life in a time of deadly Covid

Top story: ‘Direct trade-off’ put animals before people

Good morning, Warren Murray with the news of the moment.

Tens of thousands of Afghans received no UK help to get out following the fall of Kabul because of turmoil and confusion in the Foreign Office (FCDO), a former diplomat-turned-whistleblower has said. Raphael Marshall said it led to “people being left to die at the hands of the Taliban”. It is likely his evidence and launch of a still-unpublished internal inquiry contributed to the decision to move out the then foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, to a new cabinet role. Marshall was involved at the height of the August crisis after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. He has quit the department and, in testimony to the foreign affairs select committee published today, reveals the extent of the chaos he witnessed.

Marshall claims Raab refused to make immediate decisions about evacuations and some of those requiring the minister’s consent never reached the airport. The whistleblower reveals the uproar inside the Ministry of Defence when Boris Johnson ordered an Afghan animal charity to be given priority for evacuation – “a direct trade-off between transporting Nowzad’s animals and evacuating British nationals and Afghan evacuees”. In his testimony, Marshall estimates between 75,000 and 150,000 people (including dependants) applied for evacuation under the special case scheme, and that fewer than 5% received help. “At the height of the crisis on the afternoon of Saturday 21 August, I was the only person monitoring and processing emails in the Afghan special cases inbox.”

A source close to Raab said: “We evacuated over 500 special cases, including journalists, women’s rights activists and extremely vulnerable individuals … The major practical challenge to evacuation was verifying identity and securing safe passage to the airport, not the speed of decision making. At all times, the team’s focus was on saving lives.” A UK government spokesperson said staff including 1,000 from the FCDO “worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight … Regrettably we were not able to evacuate all those we wanted to, but … since the end of the operation we have helped more than 3,000 individuals leave Afghanistan.”

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Party political matter – Dominic Cummings has said it would be “very unwise for No 10 to lie” about social events that allegedly took place during lockdown last Christmas, after the prime minister’s spokesman insisted that “there was not a party”. Cummings alleged that some political journalists were “also at parties in No 10 flat”, so were “trying to bury” the story. Separately, it has emerged that at least 46 PPE deals were awarded to firms put in a special “VIP lane” by Conservative ministers, MPs and officials during the Covid pandemic before a formal due diligence process was put in place. Moving on to the medical science of Covid: a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine with a second dose of either Moderna or Novavax results in far higher levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells compared with two doses of AstraZeneca, a study has found.

Fresh Covid-19 restrictions come into force today: international arrivals must take a Covid test a maximum of 48 hours before setting out for the UK. The red list is being extended to Nigeria after South Africa and others 10 days ago – all citizens returning from these places must enter mandatory hotel quarantine. Our live blog has further developments.

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‘To de-escalate now would be a loss’ – The US has said it would commit troops in response to a Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as taking punitive economic steps. Joe Biden is also expected to tell Vladimir Putin in talks today that the US will not rule out future Ukrainian membership of Nato. With Russian troops massing near the borders, the crisis is at its worst since 2015 when Moscow staged a large-scale incursion into Ukraine. Fyodor Lukyanov, a Russian foreign policy analyst, said he did not believe an offensive was imminent but “any kind of military alignment between Ukraine and the west … That is seen here as absolutely unacceptable”. An agreement for further talks on European security could be viewed as a success in Moscow, he said. But pressure is also growing on the Kremlin to walk away with a concrete win or risk seeing its threats disregarded in the future. “Just to de-escalate for nothing now would be a loss,” said Michael Kofman from the CNA security thinktank.

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Misogyny as hate crime rejected – A coalition of women’s rights campaigners have voiced their disappointment and frustration after the Law Commission rejected making misogyny a hate crime. The commission concluded it would not solve the “real problem” of hostility or prejudice directed against women because of their sex or gender. Instead it recommends the government consider introducing a specific offence to tackle public sexual harassment, which it claims would be more effective. It proposes extending the existing offence of stirring up hatred to doing so on the grounds of sex and gender, saying this would help tackle “the growing threat of ‘incel’ [involuntary celibate] ideology, and its potential to lead to serious criminal offending”. Twenty leading women’s rights and hate crime organisations said they would keep fighting for the anti-misogyny law. The Home Office said it would respond to the Law Commission’s recommendations in due course.

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‘Pain in the bum’ – Billy Connolly says he has learned to hypnotise his hand to stop shaking due to Parkinson’s disease. Speaking during an interview with the Radio Times, Connolly said he treated his illness the way he used to deal with hecklers at his comedy shows: by facing it down. “I glare at it and it kinda quivers … It’s quite a good trick. We love it.” He said he never tried to cover up his illness but was “pissed off with it” for stealing many of the things he loved doing. “I loved writing letters, but now my writing is illegible. My collection of fountain pens and ink is redundant. It’s a pain in the bum.”

Today in Focus podcast: Do we need ‘a more open MI6’?

Britain’s overseas spy agency MI6 needs to become “more open, in order to stay secret” according to its new head, Richard Moore. Dan Sabbagh looks at what that might mean.

Lunchtime read: Life in a time of death

Modern society has largely exiled death to the outskirts of existence, but Covid-19 has forced us all to confront it. Our relationship to the planet, each other and time itself can never be the same again, writes Jacqueline Rose.


Goodison Park erupted not in protest but joy. The plan was to walk out in the 27th minute to mark 27 years without a trophy come the end of the season and years of mismanagement under Farhad Moshiri. Some heeded the call, though most rose to their feet and roared their team on. Everton repaid the backing in stunning style against Arsenal. Chesterfield, one of four non-league clubs left in the FA Cup, have been handed a lucrative third-round tie at the European champions, Chelsea. How the Guardian ranked the 100 best female footballers in the world 2021: leading coaches, former players and journalists from the women’s game are among the 86 judges for this year’s list.

Haseeb Hameed could be key if England are to cope with lack of Ashes preparation, writes Mark Ramprakash. But the vibe from the England camp was that it was all part of the plan after confirmation of Jimmy Anderson’s absence from Wednesday’s Ashes opener at the Gabba began being interpreted locally as a major blow to their campaign. Anderson is “fit to play” said an England spokesperson, talking down the suggestion of a calf injury.

The Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, has said he fears the Formula One world championship title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen could be decided by a crash between the two drivers. A global investigative network intended to tackle sexual abuse across all sports is due to be established by Fifa and a United Nations agency next year in the wake of the scandals in Afghanistan and Haiti revealed by the Guardian. The White House confirmed the United States will stage a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, in the latest move that will further widen the rift in an already strained relationship.


The Bank of England’s monetary policy chief has said inflation is likely to soar “comfortably” above 5% next spring when the energy regulator Ofgem raises a price cap affecting millions of households. Upward pressure on prices also looks set to continue with Tesco facing a “stock shortage” after the threat of strike action by workers at distribution centres. The UK economy may be overheating but China has announced measures including more liquidity from banks to stop its system going the other way. The news boosted shares in Asia overnight but the FTSE100 looks flat this morning. The pound is buying $1.324 and €1.168.

The papers

The Guardian leads with that Kabul crisis whistleblower story. Also on the front: “‘Sham trial’: Aung San Suu Kyi jailed in Myanmar”. There has been outcry and uprising as the ousted leader was sentenced to two years in detention after her show-trial on charges that no one outside the junta views as credible. Despite the generals arresting thousands, including the country’s elected leaders, and unleashing terror across the country, opposition to the junta remains widespread.

The Daily Mail focuses on the Kabul story as well: “Afghans killed as Whitehall worked from home”. The Times leads with “Omicron cases in UK double every two days” – we have a story on how testing results may not be giving the full picture, because not all Covid tests determine which variant is involved. The Telegraph gives the Afghanistan story a front-page slot, while its lead is “Booster rollout at a standstill”. The i says “UK ministers bullish about no Plan B as Omicron starts to spread in community”.

The Mirror has “Government ‘cover-up’ led to Grenfell” – it suggests cladding hazards were known about under the Cameron government. The Express says “Bank of England warns price rises will bite even harder” – its deputy governor, Ben Broadbent, is quoted saying that in the spring inflation will rise “comfortably” above 5% which seems an unfortunate choice of words. “SEC probes Trump’s ‘non-woke’ group as blank-cheque fears rise” – the Financial Times leads with an enticing story.

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