More than 3,000 people eligible to come to the UK are trapped in Afghanistan, the government has admitted.
In 2021, the UK organised a hurried evacuation to get vulnerable Afghans and British citizens out of the country after the Taliban seized control of Kabul.
But responding to a damning report from the Commons’ defence committee – calling the withdrawal “a dark chapter in UK military history” – officials have now confirmed 3,075 who qualify for the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy or ARAP scheme remain there.
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The response comes as another evacuation is taking place in Sudan amid a tense ceasefire that continues to hold between warring military factions.
The UK government has faced questions over removing diplomats and their families from the country before helping other British nationals, and were further criticised for taking longer than some other European nations to put a plan in place.
But the Foreign Office said 897 people had now been evacuated over eight flights as of 4pm on Thursday, and there were “further flights to come”.
‘Limited value’ to inquiry
The defence committee – made up of a cross-party group of MPs – released its report into the withdrawal from Afghanistan in February, and called for a government-led inquiry into the operation.
Chair of the committee, former defence minister and Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, said the probe should “take an unflinching look at where we went wrong”, adding: “It is only through this that we can learn the necessary lessons and prevent this from ever happening again.”
But in its response – published by the committee on Friday – the government said that the Ministry of Defence thought “the value of a further wide ranging review of the totality of the Afghanistan campaign is limited, would absorb considerable resource and does not coincide with the now-published Integrated Review” into defence.
‘A chapter that we won’t have learned from’
Mr Ellwood said on Friday that the decision was “frustrating”, adding: “At the release of our report, I described the withdrawal from Afghanistan as a ‘dark chapter’ in UK military history.
“Without a thorough, public inquiry, this is a chapter that we won’t have learned from.”
The committee’s report also raised the issue of those people who had been left behind in the country, including Afghans who had worked for and supported British forces.
“They are at risk of harm as a direct result of assisting the UK mission,” Mr Ellwood said at the time.
“We can’t change the events that unfolded in August 2021, but we owe it to those Afghans, who placed their lives in danger to help us, to get them and their families to safety.”
Now, the government’s response has revealed the full number of people in that position.
‘We are committed to finding them’
“Due to operational security considerations, we are unable to provide specific details on our ongoing relocation efforts inside Afghanistan and with our third country partners,” the statement said.
“However, a finite number of Afghans are eligible for ARAP and we estimate from [His Majesty’s government] records that fewer than 620 Afghans eligible for relocation to the UK under ARAP remain inside Afghanistan.
“We are committed to finding and relocating them and their family members – approximately 3,075 people in total.”
Mr Ellwood said these figures were even more of a reason to hold an inquiry.
“Mass evacuations, while rare, are an eventuality that we must be prepared for,” he said on Friday.
“British citizens and those entitled to refuge on our shores shouldn’t be left trapped in conflict zones with their lives at risk.
“Refusing to engage in a standalone review of the Afghanistan campaign prevents lessons from being consolidated and put into action for future risks.”