British embassy officials were so desperate to flee Afghanistan they left behind sensitive documents identifying Afghan staff and job applicants in an area seized by the Taliban, the UK government has confirmed.
Times of London reporter Anthony Loyd detailed Friday how he found the papers scattered on the ground as he toured Kabul’s abandoned diplomatic district with a Taliban escort this week.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed that an urgent inquiry was being launched, telling LBC Radio that “clearly it’s not good enough” that sensitive information was not completely destroyed as per protocol.
While the Taliban has claimed to offer an “amnesty” for those who helped western forces, there have been numerous reports of door-to-door searches and brutal retaliations.
The papers — some found scattered by the ashes of a barbecue, but still legible — gave the contact details of at least seven Afghan’s who have worked closely with Britain as well as Germany and the US, Loyd wrote.
They included the name and address of a senior embassy staff member, as well as resumes of people applying to be interpreters.
Loyd called the listed phone numbers, and found at least three Afghan employees and eight family members were still stranded outside Kabul’s airport among the thousands risking their lives to flee the Taliban’s rule.
“Please don’t leave us behind,” one man in the group told the reporter.
“We are very, very afraid,” said one of the abandoned embassy employees, who with his wife and daughter were stopped entering Kabul airport by Taliban fighters whipping people and firing into the air.
“The scene was terrifying and so horrible. It scared my daughter more than I can describe,” he told Loyd. “There is not much time left.”
The UK paper agreed with the UK’s Foreign Office to hold the story for 24 hours, during which time it managed to rescue some of the trapped employees whose sensitive info had been exposed.
However, the fate of at least two of the job applicants remains unknown, the UK Times said Friday.
Wallace insisted that the government would “get to the bottom of” the potentially life-threatening lapse.
“The Prime Minister will be asking some questions,” he told LBC of Boris Johnson.
“We need to understand how that happened. How quickly did people leave? Was there a rush to the extent that these things were left?” he said, saying that no matter what happened it was “not good enough.”
“The evidence looks pretty clear. Clearly it’s not good enough, simple as that,” he also told Sky News.
The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) acknowledged the apparent error in a statement to LBC.
“The drawdown of our embassy was done at pace as the situation in Kabul deteriorated. Every effort was made to destroy sensitive material,” a spokesperson said.
“We have worked tirelessly to secure the safety of those who worked for us in Afghanistan and continue to do so,” the spokesperson insisted.