Just before 6 p.m. on 26 August a huge bomb went off near Abbey Gate, the main entrance to Kabul Airport, killing 13 US service personnel and 163 Afghans. A suicide bomber was to blame and the terrorist organisation, Daesh-Khorasan*, has claimed responsibility.
British officials told Afghans to wait at the main Abbey Gate entrance to Kabul Airport only hours before last week’s suicide bombing there, according to reports.
The BBC programme “Newsnight” said it had seen emails suggesting the British Embassy told people to “use the Abbey Gate (near) to the Baron Hotel” despite UK and US military and intelligence knowing there was a severe threat from extremists.
Earlier this week a report on the US website Politico claimed the US forces guarding the airport kept Abbey Gate open longer than they wanted because the British wanted more time to get evacuees out.
Politico said the US commanders planned to close Abbey Gate by Thursday afternoon but decided to delay it so their British allies could continue evacuating their personnel, based at the Baron Hotel.
One Afghan interpreter told the BBC if he had followed the British Embassy’s advice to go to Abbey Gate he would have been dead.
He said: “If I had followed their advice, I would be no more. I said I won’t because I don’t feel safe as the situation was getting worse. It would be madness to go there and that saved my life. It was our own judgment that saved our lives”.
The latest reports are bound to crank up the pressure on British Foreign Secretary Raab, who has been urged to resign.
Raab, who was on holiday in Greece when the Taliban* suddenly advanced and took Kabul, has been criticised for not calling the Afghan or Pakistani foreign ministers in the six months before the fall of Kabul.
The foreign secretary has defended his actions and said Britain had managed to evacuate 17,000 people – including 5,000 British citizens – since April, with only “the low hundreds” left behind.
The Afghans evacuated in the last week mainly worked for the British government and will be supported under the Afghanistan Relocation Assistance Policy.
Earlier this week, Raab told Sky News: “We coordinated very closely with the US, in particular around the ISIS-K threat which we anticipated, although tragically were not able to prevent, but it is certainly right to say we got our civilians out of the processing centre by Abbey Gate, but it is just not true to suggest that other than securing our civilians inside the airport that we were pushing to leave the gate open”.
Later on Wednesday, 1 September, he will be questioned by MPs on the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Tom Tugendhat.
Leaked transcripts to Politico from calls between the Pentagon and military top brass on the ground in Kabul show how aware they were of the potential for an attack.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin reportedly told officials to prepare for a “mass casualty event” on 25 August and said: “I don’t believe people get the incredible amount of risk on the ground”.
*Daesh-K and the Taliban are terrorist groups banned in Russia and many other countries.