Afghanistan situation ‘shameful ending’ to mission, former Nato head says

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George Robertson, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the former head of Nato, said the situation in Afghanistan is ‘shameful’ (PA)
George Robertson, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the former head of Nato, said the situation in Afghanistan is ‘shameful’ (PA)

The former head of Nato has said the situation in Afghanistan is a “shameful ending” to the military alliance’s mission and that America left allies “in the lurch”.

And George Robertson also criticised Dominic Raab following reports that the Foreign Secretary did not act on advice from officials to call Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar on August 13 – two days before the Taliban marched on Kabul – to arrange help for those who supported British troops.

The Labour peer, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, a former defence secretary and secretary general of Nato from 1999 to 2004, said the intergovernmental military alliance “has been weakened” by the recent events in Afghanistan and the American decision to withdraw its troops.

Quite frankly, we need to have serious politicians at this time for a serious crisis

Former Nato secretary general, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen

Nato foreign ministers are meeting today to discuss developments in Afghanistan at an extraordinary meeting.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme, Lord Robertson said: “This will not be an easy meeting for NATO foreign ministers. The alliance has been weakened, America and the west have been weakened, and it’s a shameful ending of a mission which achieved so much for society in Afghanistan.

“I was really proud on September 12 2001 when I read out the declaration of Article 5, and all the allies said that they were in solidarity with the United States. So it’s a pretty shameful end and I feel ashamed now.”

He added: “The principle is that we go in together and we come out together, and on this occasion the Americans have decided unilaterally that they are going to leave prematurely and leave everybody else in the lurch.

“So that goes to the very heart of alliance solidarity. So the foreign ministers today are going to have to try and rebuild that solidarity. They are going to have to recognise that the Europeans in future will not be able to rely on a president, even like President Biden, and that they are going to have to do more in the interests of their own security and the wider security interests that might be represented by future threats.”

Earlier today, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab defended the Government’s handling of the Afghanistan crisis. He said the “rapidly deteriorating situation” in the country had prevented a call being made to Afghan ministers while he was on holiday.

The Foreign Secretary has come under pressure to resign after it was revealed he was on the Greek island of Crete as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. The pressure increased following reports that a phone call to the Afghan foreign minister, recommended to arrange help for people in the country who had supported British troops, was delegated to a junior minister and then not made.

In a statement on Friday, Mr Raab said: “This was quickly overtaken by events. The call was delegated to a minister of state because I was prioritising security and capacity at the airport on the direct advice of the director and the director-general overseeing the crisis response.

“In any event, the Afghan foreign minister agreed to take the call, but was unable to because of the rapidly deteriorating situation.”

Played part of Mr Raab’s statement on the World at One, and asked if it sorts out the questions over the phone call and Mr Raab’s behaviour, Lord Robertson said: “No, it doesn’t at all.

“Tony Blinken, the American secretary of state, spoke to the foreign minister of Afghanistan. And, frankly, foreign ministers only talk to foreign ministers, they don’t talk to junior ministers. So, he should have been talking to the foreign minister of Afghanistan much earlier than last Friday anyway, common sense would have suggested that the Foreign Secretary should have been trying to sort out the exit of our vulnerable people before that.

“Quite frankly, we need to have serious politicians at this time for a serious crisis that is ongoing. And if the Transport Secretary comes on the air and says people should not be having holidays abroad, and the Foreign Secretary of all people goes abroad, and doesn’t lift the phone as city after city was falling last week, then that’s a dereliction of duty of major consequence.”

Mr Raab earlier this week insisted that while he was away he “engaged in Cobra, talking to foreign counterparts, directly speaking to the head of our team here in London, I was doing that on an hour-by-hour basis and, of course, I left as soon as the situation deteriorated and demanded it”.

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