SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has called for a four-nations summit amid a growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
Boris Johnson chaired a third Cobra meeting on Monday afternoon over the worsening situation as a desperate struggle to get UK nationals and local allies out of the country, which has fallen to the Taliban following the withdrawal of Western troops, continued.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said the UK will carry on with the evacuation effort for “as long as we are able to do so and as long as it is safe to do so” but the Government has come in for fierce criticism over the way the crisis has been handled.
Open our doors
Mr Blackford said it is crucial UK ministers work with the devolved governments and show leadership by “opening our doors” and providing safe routes for resettlement for those whole lives have been thrown into turmoil.
He also called for the UK Government to reverse its cuts to international aid and play a leading role in funding and supporting humanitarian efforts to save lives and protect the human rights of women and girls.
“The appalling situation in Afghanistan is one of the biggest foreign policy failures in modern times – and the UK Government bears its share of responsibility,” Mr Blackford said.
“Scotland stands ready to play its full part in resettling refugees and tackling the humanitarian crisis.”
Canada has committed to resettle more than 20,000 vulnerable Afghans, including women leaders, human rights workers and reporters, and Mr Blackford insisted there is “no question that the UK must also commit to leadership on this scale”.
He said: “The Tory government’s cuts to international aid must be reversed, and the UK must play a leading role in funding and supporting humanitarian efforts to save lives, promote peace and protect human rights, especially those of women and girls – with a specific fund dedicated to the Afghanistan humanitarian crisis.
“The immediate priority must be to do everything we can to protect lives – but in time there must also be a chance to review how the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan went so badly wrong.
“The UK government must commit to a future judge-led inquiry into the war in Afghanistan to ensure full scrutiny, accountability and lessons learned.”
Harrowing footage shared on Monday appeared to show two people falling to their deaths as desperate Afghans clung on to the side of a moving US military plane leaving Kabul airport.
In what is likely to become defining images of the crisis, hundreds of people could be seen running alongside the aircraft as it taxied along the runway before it soared towards the mountains, with the pair then appearing to fall off.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace, who served in the Scots Guards, appeared to choke up as he spoke of his regret that “some people won’t get back”.
Appearing on LBC radio, Mr Wallace, said it is a “really deep part of regret for me… and we will have to do our best in third countries to process those people”.
Asked why he felt the situation so personally, Mr Wallace said: “Because I’m a soldier… because it’s sad and the West has done what it’s done, we have to do our very best to get people out and stand by our obligations, and 20 years of sacrifice is what it is.”
— LBC (@LBC) August 16, 2021
British troops are racing against the clock to get people out of Afghanistan following the dramatic fall of the Western-backed government amid a rapid advance across the country by the Taliban.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said on Monday there would be “significant numbers flying out day by day” and that the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy was “open-ended”.
He said the British ambassador, Sir Laurie Bristow, was working from the airport in Kabul alongside Home Office staff, diplomatic workers, and the armed services, to process visas.
‘We will do everything we can’
He told a Westminster briefing: “We will continue to do everything we can, our offer is open-ended, we haven’t put an end date on that and we will continue to do all we can including – as the Defence Secretary said – should individuals manage to get to other countries and be brought in from those other countries.”
The Government has come under sustained pressure over the situation in Afghanistan, with even Conservative MPs criticising the handling of the situation.
John Baron, Tory MP for Basildon and Billericay, has called for Boris Johnson to apologise to veterans and families who lost loved ones fighting in the country.
Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood, the Tory MP for Bournemouth East, described the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as “Saigon 2.0”, referencing evacuations in 1975 as the North Vietnamese army captured the city and ended the Vietnam War.
In a tweet, he said: “Is this how we thought we’d depart Afghanistan? I repeat my call for a UK inquiry.”
Chaotic exodus from Kabul airport.
Apaches used to clear the runway.
If this is not Saigon 2.0 I don’t know what is.
Is this how we thought we’d depart Afghanistan?
I repeat my call for a UK inquiry. pic.twitter.com/Bd7bRPRTVy
— Tobias Ellwood MP (@Tobias_Ellwood) August 16, 2021
However No 10 defended the Government’s position, with the prime minister’s official spokesman saying: “I think it was clear that military intervention alone was not going to be sufficient.
“We have seen the Taliban move quickly across Afghanistan, that is true, but we have been monitoring the situation, and are continuing to do everything possible to secure UK and Afghan nationals.”
He added: “Clearly, once the US decision was made (to withdraw troops), our view was that it would not be right to act unilaterally in this as an occupying force.
“We did speak to other international partners on this, but it was clear that that wasn’t going to be feasible.”