Raab says Pentagon leaks blaming UK for Kabul bomb attack ‘just not true’

Raab says Pentagon leaks blaming UK for Kabul bomb attack ‘just not true’
UK did not push to keep key airport gate open, foreign secretary insists

UK officials did not push to their US counterparts to keep a key gate open at Kabul airport before the deadly bomb attack in the area, foreign secretary Dominic Raab has said.

American forces decided to keep the gate open longer than they wanted to allow British officials to continue evacuating personnel, according to leaked claims from the Pentagon.

But Mr Raab said it was “just not true” to suggest the UK called for the airport’s Abbey Gate to be left open for part of its exit operation, which then contributed to the suicide bombing attack by an offshoot of the so-called Islamic State.

The foreign secretary told Sky News: “We co-ordinated very closely with the US … It is certainly right to say we got our civilians out of the processing centre by Abbey Gate, but it is just not true to suggest that other than securing our civilians inside the airport that we were pushing to leave the gate open.”

He added: “In fact, and let me just be clear about this, we were issuing changes of travel advice before the bomb attack took place and saying to people in the crowd … that certainly UK nationals and anyone else should leave because of the risk.”

The so-called Islamic State’s Afghan offshoot, Isis-K, carried out the attack on Kabul airport on Thursday which killed two Britons and the child of a British national, along with 13 US service personnel and scores of Afghans.

The terrorist attack in Afghanistan has led to a transatlantic blame game, with US sources indicating the gate that was attacked was kept open to facilitate the British evacuation.

According to leaked Pentagon notes obtained by Politico, Rear Admiral Peter Vasely, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, had wanted to close Abbey Gate but said it was kept open to allow UK evacuees inside.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that throughout the operation at the airport “we have worked closely with the US to ensure the safe evacuation of thousands of people”.

The final US troops left Kabul on a flight shortly before midnight local time on Monday, meeting US president Joe Biden’s commitment to withdraw ahead of the deadline.

Mr Raab added he had an “excellent working relationship” with the US secretary of state Antony Blinken – pointing to last night’s UN Security Council resolution, which calls on the Taliban to offer safe passage, humanitarian access and respect for human rights.

The foreign secretary also defended the US after a weekend drone strike targeted at a vehicle “carrying Isis fighters” reportedly killed 10 civilians. Mr Raab said the moral responsibility for civilian casualties caused by drone strikes “lies with the terrorists” .

The minister told Times Radio: “The right of self-defence is ultimately for every country to decide, but we do support exercising it and of course it has got to be targeted in accordance with international law, and the aim of the Americans was to hit a terrorist.”

He added: “And we know history shows – recent history in particular – that terrorists will try to hide in cover where civilians are at risk. I think the moral responsibility of that lies with the terrorists.”

Mr Raab also said the UK will “reserve the right” to take part in air strikes in Afghanistan in the future in the interests of “self-defence”.

It comes as the head of the RAF indicated that British forces are still prepared to launch air strikes to target so-called Islamic State terrorists in Afghanistan. “If there’s an opportunity for us to contribute I am in no doubt that we will be ready to,” said Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston.

Meanwhile, Mr Raab denied claims in the Sunday Times he did not take regular calls from Afghan and Pakistani ministers during the evacuation from Kabul airport, allegedly because he thought Afghanistanwas “yesterday’s war”.

The cabinet minister said that anyone “toddling off” to give “buck-passing briefings either at me or the FCDO is frankly not credible and it is deeply irresponsible”.

The foreign secretary also insisted that there were “real, tangible” gains from the UK’s military action in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. “We have got to look at the gains that we made because of the sacrifice of so many.”

He added: “We haven’t seen, in that 20 years, Afghanistan used as a base for terrorism abroad. We have with our aid money and our wider development policy got 10 million more children into education.”

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