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Dominic Raab held talks with Qatari leaders on Thursday on whether commercial flights could take off from Kabul to evacuate stranded Britons as the Taliban was poised to form a government in Afghanistan.
The Foreign Secretary met the Amir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and the deputy prime minister and foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.
Mr Raab sought the views of Qatar, which has strong relations with the Taliban, on whether Kabul airport could be reopened for charter or commercial flights so hundreds of UK nationals and thousands of Afghans desperate to leave the war-torn country can get out.
The military evacuation of more than 120,000 people ended at the start of the week when the last US soldiers pulled out after a 20-year war, but tens of thousands of people still want to flee a feared return of a brutal Taliban regime.
The Foreign Secretary flew to the Persian Gulf state just hours after being grilled by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday and being accused of failing to build ties with key countries close to Afghanistan in the months before US and UK forces withdrew.
After landing in Doha, where the Taliban’s exiled leaders have been based, he stressed: “Qatar is an essential partner and we will be working with others to ensure safe passage for all those wishing to leave Afghanistan and holding the Taliban to the commitments they have made.”
He also emphasised: “The international community needs to adapt to the new reality in Afghanistan to make sure that the country does not become a haven for terrorists and that humanitarian assistance reaches those who need it.”
Mr Raab, who has admitted he should have returned earlier from holiday in Crete as the Afghan crisis escalated, faced sustained questioning from MPs on how the UK failed to predict the speed at which the Taliban stormed back to power, seizing Kabul on August 15.
A Foreign Office document called a principal risk register, published on July 22, warned of the dangers posed by Afghanistan falling to the Taliban, though it did not set a timeline on how this could happen. Mr Raab stressed the “central assessment that we were operating to, and it was certainly backed up by the JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee) and the military, is that...it was unlikely Kabul would fall this year”.
However, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in an interview with The Spectator that he had felt that the “game was up” in July after the fall of Herat, and argued for the evacuation to be speeded up.
As the row over the Afghan crisis continued, Boris Johnson was set to visit a military base in the South East and meet troops involved in the evacuation of Kabul airport.
In Afghanistan, Taliban rulers were preparing to unveil their new government as the economy teetered on the edge of collapse and fears grew that women will be excluded from senior roles, girls could face education restrictions, and more people who worked with US and UK forces would be targeted, with executions and other retaliations.
Taliban official Ahmadullah Muttaqi said on social media a ceremony for the new government was being prepared at the presidential palace in Kabul.