Ministers admitted today that they have no idea how many Afghan citizens the UK left behind in Afghanistan after Britain completed its withdrawal from the country.
The UK has flown thousands of people from Kabul, but the government has admitted it has not been able to save everyone eligible to come to Britain.
James Cleverly, the secretary of state, said this morning it is “impossible” to give a figure on the number of people who have not come out after the Taliban came to power.
The group has given assurances to the international community that eligible people will be able to leave the country and gain safe passage.
But Mr Cleverly said Britain is “skeptical” of those guarantees and that the UK will “assess the Taliban on their actions” for fear of reprisals against people who helped Western troops during the conflict.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said this morning it is “impossible” to give a figure on the number of people who have not come out after the Taliban took power.
The UK completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan over the weekend, while the US was set to complete its departure by August 31
During Operation Pitting, about 15,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan by British forces over the course of almost two weeks.
A joint statement from more than 90 countries, including the UK and the US, was released last night saying the Taliban have made promises to allow more people to leave the country.
The statement reads: “We have been assured by the Taliban that all foreigners and all Afghan citizens with travel authorization from our countries may travel to the departure points and outside the country in a safe and orderly manner.”
However, many prominent figures in the West fear the Taliban will fail to deliver on its promise, fearing that the number of Afghans left behind who may be eligible for resettlement is actually much higher than the government’s initial estimates.
When asked how many people were left behind, Mr Cleverly told Sky News: ‘Well, that’s an impossible number to count on. We had three methods or vehicles that would allow people to leave Afghanistan.
“Of course they are British citizens, we have a much better idea of how many British citizens were in Afghanistan. The vast, vast majority of British citizens have now left Afghanistan.
“The Arap schedule, those Afghans, interpreters and others who had worked directly for and with us, have their schedule.
“But we also contacted Afghans who were at risk of retaliation and there was no set number of people in that third group.”
Mr Cleverly said the government is “skeptical” of the Taliban’s commitments.
“Well, we’ve always said, I think the prime minister said recently that we will judge the Taliban by their actions,” he said.
“They have made certain commitments about not retaliating against individuals, about facilitating exit.
“Of course we are skeptical of those commitments, but we will continue to work with them to some extent, based on their conduct, to facilitate that further evacuation and repatriation.”
Mr Cleverly did not deny reports that hundreds of emails sent to the State Department from people trying to get out of the country had been left unopened.
He said: “Well, you have to remember that as we expanded our evacuation efforts to Afghan nationals, of course we received a deluge of requests and they were processed and they will continue to be handled.
“But I know my own inbox had a huge number of emails coming in, some duplicates, and of course we focused on the people who were at the airport being processed and who we thought we could get through the Kabul airport.” escape while we still had security from the Kabul airport.
“We will of course continue to work on applications from people who have contacted us, people who are still trying to flee Afghanistan.”
Members of the British Armed Forces 16 Air Assault Brigade walk to the air terminal after disembarking from a Royal Air Force Voyager at RAF Brize Norton, west of London, on August 29.
The return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan has raised fears that the country will once again become a breeding ground for terrorism.
Asked if the UK is less safe now than a month ago, Mr Cleverly said: “Unfortunately we have seen the attack on Kabul airport, we have killed members of the US military, Afghan civilians and unfortunately of course British nationals in that attack.
“We will work tirelessly to protect the security of the British, both at home and abroad, that is what we are doing.
Ensuring that the Taliban live up to their commitments to maintaining internal security in Afghanistan is important and of course we will have to watch very, very closely what is happening in Afghanistan to make sure it doesn’t fall back. in a haven for terrorism that the Taliban have said they are committed to preventing and we will try to hold on to that.”
The UK is now focusing on dealing with the Taliban after Britain withdrew its last troops and diplomatic staff from Afghanistan on Saturday.
A series of diplomatic meetings is planned in the coming days, with Secretary of State Dominic Raab expected to emphasize that engagement should be pragmatic and based on the actions of the group.