The Government has said it is “wrong and misleading” to suggest a security document from July warned Afghanistan could fall to the Taliban much sooner than the UK had previously predicted.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs on Wednesday that the central assessment of the UK Government was that Kabul was “unlikely” to fall in 2021.
However, a document called the principal risk register published on July 22 suggested the collapse could happen rapidly.
According to the Guardian, the document said: “Peace talks are stalled and US Nato withdrawal is resulting in rapid Taliban advances. This could lead to: fall of cities, collapse of security forces, Taliban return to power, mass displacement and significant humanitarian need. The embassy may need to close if security deteriorates.”
The report also said the advance of the Taliban could lead to consequences including “reducing UK counter-terrorism capability and increasing compliance risks; enabling the flow of narcotics and illegal migration; increasing global humanitarian pressures; reducing oversight of government funding; destabilising the wider region, especially Pakistan; damaging the reputation of the UK and Nato and increasing threats to staff to whom [the Foreign Office] has a duty of care”.
But the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) hit back at claims the report clashed with official estimates of how quickly Kabul could fall to the Taliban.
An FCDO spokesperson said: “The principal risk register is a standard monthly report for the management board which does not contain intelligence assessments.
“It is an internal document which sets out potential risks to the organisation for planning purposes including around duty of care to staff.”
They added: “It is simply wrong and misleading to suggest this document is in any way at odds with our detailed assessments of the situation in Afghanistan or our public position throughout the crisis.
“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.”
The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, referred to the risk register as he questioned Mr Raab on Wednesday, and there was sustained questioning from other MPs on how the UK failed to predict the speed at which the Afghan government would fall to the Taliban, which ultimately seized Kabul on August 15.
Mr Raab told the committee the central assessment of the UK Government was that Kabul was “unlikely” to fall in 2021.
He told MPs: “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 the most likely, the central proposition, 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.”
Mr Raab said contingency planning and testing of such an assessment took place, adding: “That was something widely shared by Nato allies.”