Ben Wallace says he warned in July ‘game is up’ in Afghanistan

Ben Wallace says he warned in July ‘game is up’ in Afghanistan
‘Government fighting like rats in a sack,’ says Labour after new claims from defence secretary

Defence secretary Ben Wallace has claimed that he warned cabinet colleagues in July that “the game is up” in Afghanistan, amid a deepening row with foreign secretary Dominic Raab over the crisis.

Mr Wallace hit back at Mr Raab’s suggestion there had been a failure of over the likelihood of a Taliban takeover, saying he had argued in July that UK should “accelerate whatever we’re doing”.

Mr Raab is under renewed pressure over a Foreign Office document from 22 July – issued weeks before his holiday in Crete – which suggested that the Taliban could advance rapidly across Afghanistan.

Mr Wallace told The Spectator magazine: “I remember back in July arguing that whatever we think, the game is up and we have to do what we can to accelerate whatever we’re doing.”

The defence secretary said: “I’ve already seen some lines about the failure of intelligence. History shows us that it’s not about failure of intelligence, it’s about the limits of intelligence.”

Mr Wallace added: “When the Soviet Union crumbled, when Libya collapsed, when the actual moment came in Afghanistan, intelligence hadn’t failed. It was just limited, as it always is at the very end.”

The comments are latest in a blame game under way in Whitehall following the humiliation in Afghanistan. Labour called for an end to the “unseemly infighting at the top of government”.

Shadow security minister Conor McGinn said: “While British nationals and Afghans who helped us are fighting for their lives, the Cabinet are more interested in fighting for their jobs.

“It’s embarrassing to watch and tragic for those terrified in Afghanistan, who are looking to Britain for a way out of the despair, but just see a government fighting like rats in a sack.”

Grilled by MPs on Wednesday, the foreign secretary told them the intelligence assessment was that “given the troop withdrawal by the end of August, you’d see a steady deterioration from that point and it was unlikely Kabul would fall this year”.

But Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat pointed to a document from Mr Raab’s own department called a principal risk register – which appeared to warn Afghanistan could fall to the Taliban much sooner than the UK had previously predicted.

However, a Foreign Office spokesman said it was “wrong and misleading” to suggest the document was “at odds with our detailed assessments of the situation in Afghanistan or our public position throughout the crisis”.

They added: “The July document makes clear that our central planning assumption at the time was that the peace process in Afghanistan would run for up to a further six months.”

Mr Raab has held talks with officials in Qatar on Thursday about the government’s “top priority” of safely evacuating British nationals and Afghan interpreters from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

The foreign secretary will be briefed on talks between UK officials and the Taliban, and is expected to discuss the prospect of persuading the new regime to reopen Kabul airport.


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