‘We haven’t sent out a single empty plane so far’: Ben Wallace insists ‘not one seat is wasted’ on RAF flights out of Kabul despite scenes of carnage at airport – with 250 more families set to be evacuated today
- Ben Wallace has insisted the UK is not flying empty planes out of Kabul airport
- Claims that many countries are struggling to get people on to evacuation flights
- Defence Secretary said ‘the Taliban are letting through our people’ at airport
Ben Wallace today insisted the UK has not flown any empty planes out of Kabul despite carnage at the airport and fears the Taliban are blocking access.
The Defence Secretary said Western forces were working together to ensure that ‘not a single seat is wasted’ on the evacuation flights.
He said ‘the Taliban are letting through our people’ with 120 families being airlifted today, and another 138 families to follow later.
Mr Wallace stressed the desperate efforts to get people out will continue as long as US forces are in charge of the airport – with Joe Biden suggesting he could keep troops in place beyond his previous August 31 deadline.
Responding to reports that evacuation flights to other countries had left with only a handful of people on board, Mr Wallace told Times Radio: ‘Our people are getting through, we haven’t sent a single empty plane home.
‘And I don’t think many other nations have. I can’t speak for other nations, obviously, but fundamentally, the key here is when we have a plane if we have a single empty seat, we will offer it to other nations.
‘We’ve taken out interpreters who work for Nato, for example, we’ve taken out fellow European or other… we took some Japanese people out recently who were in need, so we will use every space on our planes possible.’
Ben Wallace today insisted the UK has not flown any empty planes out of Kabul despite fears the Taliban are blocking access to the airport
There have been scenes of utter chaos around Kabul airport as people scramble to get out of the country
Troops board a Voyager plane at RAF Brize Norton, bound to help with the operation in the Afghan capital
Thousands of British nationals and Afghan allies have been trying to get out of the country after the government dramatically collapsed and the Taliban took charge.
There have been grim scenes of women pleading to be let through the gates at the airport, and even reports of babies being passed over the railings by mothers.
UK ambassador Laurie Bristow, who has stayed in Kabul to process applications, has warned that there could only be ‘days’ left to evacuate people, with the extremists now controlling all access points.
Around 10,000 Afghan staff who helped the Western forces over the past year are now expected to come to the UK.
The Government has also announced Britain will take 20,000 Afghans under a resettlement scheme, with 5,000 due to be accepted in the next 12 months. Women and girls as well as religious minorities and others facing persecution will be prioritised.
Downing Street said the Government will be encouraging international partners to emulate ‘one of the most generous asylum schemes in British history’ – but Labour said the offer was not bold enough.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is facing a huge backlash today after it emerged help for Afghan interpreters might have been delayed because he was on holiday in Crete last week.
The Daily Mail revealed that Foreign Office officials urged Mr Raab to call Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar on Friday – two days before the Taliban marched on Kabul – only for him to be ‘unavailable’ while on holiday.
The Afghan foreign ministry then apparently refused to arrange a call with a junior minister, pushing it back to the next day.
The Foreign Office said: ‘The Foreign Secretary was engaged on a range of other calls and this one was delegated to another minister.’
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow home secretary, accused Mr Raab of a ‘dereliction of duty’.
He added: ‘Failing to make a call has put the lives of brave interpreters at risk, after they served so bravely with our military. Utterly shameful.’
As he scrambles to shore up his position with a flurry of activity, Mr Raab is due to speak with fellow G7 ministers today to discuss international co-operation before leaders of the group – which, as well as the UK, includes the US, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy – hold a virtual meeting next week.
Mr Raab also held talks last night with his counterparts in India and the US – the second time he has spoken to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week.
The decision of the Prime Minister, who is said to have gone to Somerset, and Mr Raab to take holiday while the Taliban advanced came under scrutiny during a lively Commons debate on Wednesday as Parliament was recalled from its summer break for MPs and peers to debate the Afghanistan situation.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised the pair as he told MPs: ‘You cannot co-ordinate an international response from the beach.’
Downing Street said the Prime Minister would be turning his attention to international efforts to support the Afghan people, including the emerging refugee crisis.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: ‘We are now asking our international partners to match the UK’s commitments and work with us to offer a lifeline to Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people.’
However, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy was critical of the Government’s offer during an appearance on the BBC’s Question Time.
The senior Labour MP said it was ‘absolutely clear that 5,000 is too small a number over the next 12 months’ and called for a ‘more generous offer’ to be made.
The refugee debate comes after No 10 already announced an increase in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, doubling it to £286 million.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman denied that the money would be given to the Taliban, telling reporters it would be distributed in conjunction with the United Nations (UN) and other NGOs (non-governmental organisations).
Mr Johnson and US President Joe Biden both came in for heavy criticism during the emergency debate in Parliament.
In a packed Commons chamber, the Prime Minister defended the final pull-out of British troops, saying it was an ‘illusion’ to think the international military mission could have continued without US forces.
Troops fired gunshots and let off stun grenades at the entrance to the northern military side of the airport overnight in a vain bid to keep crowds of thousands from rushing the gates
But predecessor Theresa May was among those to take aim at Mr Johnson’s approach, accusing him of hoping ‘on a wing and a prayer it’d be all right on the night’ once the US and its allies had withdrawn from Afghanistan.
Mrs May also hit out at Mr Biden’s decision to ‘unilaterally’ pull out of Afghanistan, with senior MPs – including former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith – directing their ire at the White House incumbent.
In Afghanistan, British efforts to repatriate British nationals and local Afghan backers is continuing to gather pace despite chaotic scenes at the airport, with Taliban fighters carrying out spot checks.
Mr Johnson, in his update to MPs, said the Government had so far secured the safe return of 306 UK nationals and 2,052 Afghans during its rescue efforts.
The British ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, said Foreign Office personnel were hoping to get ‘at least’ 1,000 people out of the country every day – but warned there were ‘days, not weeks’ left to complete the mission.
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