Reality vs spin: UK releases 'calm' images amid airport chaos

Reality versus the PR spin: Foreign Office releases images of UK ambassador calmly helping Afghans in Kabul while shocking videos and eyewitness accounts lay bare deadly airport chaos

  • Foreign Office released images which appear to gloss over disorder of the Afghanistan evacuation effort 
  • Undated images show Britain’s man in Afghanistan sitting calmly while handling applications at the Embassy
  • They contrast sharply with images of huge crowds of terrified Westerners and locals trying to flee
  • At least 20 Afghan civilians have been killed in the past seven days in and around Kabul airport

The British Foreign Office has released images which appear to gloss over the chaos and disorder of the Afghanistan evacuation effort, as sources claim at least 20 people are killed in and around Kabul airport in the desperate scramble to escape the Taliban. 

Undated photos show Sir Laurie Bristow, Britain’s man in Afghanistan, calmly handling applications of British nationals and Afghans at the Embassy in the capital Kabul, and wearing body armour while speaking to British troops at the diplomatic compound.

They make the British rescue mission seem orderly at a time when the Government has come under criticism for its handling of the crisis. It comes as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warns that not all British nationals will be evacuated before the August 31 deadline.

It also follow reports that Sir Laurie, who has been widely praised as ‘heroic’ for helping repatriate British nationals on the ground, was ordered to remain in Kabul late on Saturday night, as he and Embassy staff were preparing to board a flight back to London.

The images also contrast sharply with images filed by media organisations on the ground and shared on social media which show huge crowds of terrified Westerners and locals trying to get an evacuation flight out of Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.   

The Foreign Office similarly released images of Dominic Raab last week which appeared to show him hard at work as he faced calls to resign for refusing to cut his Mediterranean holiday short – and failing to make a crucial phone call to rescue Afghan interpreters. 

Britain’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Laurie Bristow speaks with a man next to a HMG staff member as they facilitate the UK evacuation effort in Kabul, Afghanistan, in this undated handout picture

Britain’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Laurie Bristow speaks with an HMG staff member as they facilitate the UK evacuation effort in Kabul, Afghanistan, in this undated handout picture

Britain’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Laurie Bristow speaks with HMG staff as they facilitate the UK evacuation effort in Kabul, Afghanistan, in this undated handout picture

HMG staff facilitate the UK evacuation effort in Kabul, Afghanistan, in this undated handout picture

Afghan people gather along a road as they wait to board a US military jet to leave the country at Kabul airport

Pakistan’s soldiers check the documents of Afghan and Pakistani nationals for crossing into Afghanistan at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman

A baby is handed over to the American army over the perimeter wall of the airport for it to be evacuated, in Kabul

Sir Laurie, the British Ambassador to Kabul, has been widely praised for helping thousands of UK citizens evacuate the Middle Eastern country after it was taken over by the Taliban following the terror group’s astonishing seizure of Kabul last Sunday.

But a report by the Sunday Times alleges that all Embassy staff – including the Ambassador – were due to leave Afghanistan on Saturday night, but that a senior Foreign Office mandarin phoned Sir Laurie and ordered him to remain in Kabul to help British nationals.

A Whitehall source told the paper: ‘It was pretty late. There was a flight preparing to take off.’

The report suggests that Sir Laurie was forced to stay in Afghanistan while Mr Raab was on holiday in Crete. The Foreign Secretary is accused of refusing an order by Downing Street on Friday, August 13 to return to London immediately as the situation in Kabul deteriorated and had instead delayed his homecoming until the early hours of Monday morning. 

MailOnline has contacted the Foreign Office for comment.     

The Cabinet Minister has faced a torrent of criticism for staying on holiday as Kabul fell into the extremists’ hands, and for omitting to call the Afghan foreign minister to seek help for translators stranded in the country. The claim is strongly denied by friends of Mr Raab, who insist that he was assured by Boris Johnson that he could stay with his family until the end of the weekend. 

Staff talking to evacuees from Afghanistan as they arrive in an Airbus A400 transport aircraft of the German Air Force Luftwaffe in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Afghan families enter into Pakistan through a border crossing point in Chaman, Pakistan

British soldiers desperately shouted for medics and stretchers, as unconscious people were carried away, many being pronounced dead and covered in white sheets

The mayhem followed more violence in the capital last night, with footage emerging of people in crowds being beaten with sticks

Evacuations have been underway in Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of the country on August 13 after American troops were pulled from the country

The saga has led to sniping at Mr Raab from within his own party and calls from Labour for him to resign, although Mr Johnson has said that he ‘absolutely’ has full confidence in his Foreign Secretary. It has, however, undoubtedly strained relations between No10 and the FCO.

A source told the Mail on Sunday: ‘There is no doubt that Raab was told to come back on that Friday. There was then a significant amount of surprise when he appeared on the Cobra on the Sunday down the line from Crete. He must have nobbled Boris and asked for permission to finish his holiday’. 

Last night, Mr Raab told the Mail on Sunday that he had enjoyed a ‘wave of support’, and denied that there was pressure from within his party to resign.

Mr Raab said: ‘I’ve not heard any of my Conservative colleagues call for me to resign, but I have had a wave of support. There is no doubt that, like all countries, there is a measure of surprise at the rapidity of the Taliban takeover.

‘But as the Foreign Secretary travelling around the world, whether I am on leave or I’m travelling for work purposes, I am always set up to be able to grip things’.

A soldier carries someone amid the chaos at Kabul airport in Afghanistan yesterday, with thousands desperate to flee the country

At least four women are thought to have died in what witnesses called a ‘horrendous crush’. Pictured: Soldiers cover up the bodies of those who died yesterday

Beneath a fierce late-morning sun, crowds parted to reveal women’s lifeless bodies and then, rising above the chaotic hubbub, the piercing screams of their children

A close ally of Mr Raab insisted that No10 had not ‘ordered’ him to return on the Friday. The ally said: ‘The suggestion was that he should make plans to come back. They said that if things get worse then he needed to be ready to come back at a moment’s notice. He then talked it through with the PM and it was agreed that he would came back on Sunday’.

The ally strongly denied reports that Mr Raab had spent most of last Sunday on the beach: ‘That is just not true. He based his family on the beach in a gazebo precisely so that he could go back and work at the hotel, while checking in on them every now and again’. 

Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul has been the focal point for thousands trying to flee the Taliban, who seized power after sweeping into the capital a week ago following their astonishing lightning advance across the Middle Eastern country. 

The MoD confirmed that the Operation Pitting evacuation mission is being supported by 1,000 British troops – including Paras from 16 Air Assault Brigade – with nearly 4,000 people repatriated from Afghanistan since August 13. 

It comes as the Defence Secretary, in what is likely to be read as a plea to Washington, said ‘no nation will be able to get everyone out’ of the Taliban-controlled country, with the US president’s August 31 target date making the rescue mission even more time pressured.  

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