It is “clearly not good enough” that documents identifying Afghan workers and job applicants were found on the ground at the British diplomatic mission in Kabul, Ben Wallace has admitted.
The defence secretary said Boris Johnson “will be asking some questions” about how the papers were left unsecure.
As we’ve reported, the Commons foreign affairs select committee is set to launch an inquiry after a journalist from the Times (paywall) found the documents containing contact details of seven Afghans while on a tour through the city’s abandoned diplomatic quarter accompanied by a Taliban patrol on Tuesday.
Amid fears of Taliban reprisals for any locals who helped western interests in the country, the documents included the name and address of a senior embassy staff member, other employees and their contact details, and the CVs and addresses of applicants for jobs as interpreters. Some applicants listed previous work for western countries.
The Times said it called the numbers listed and found that some of the staff members had already been evacuated to the UK, but that others had been left behind.
Among them were three Afghan employees and eight family members, including five children, who were caught in the crowds at Kabul airport unable to access the British-controlled section of the facility. They were, however, eventually found and rescued.
The fate of at least two job applicants whose details were abandoned at the embassy remains unknown.
Wallace told LBC radio:
We’ll find out and get to the bottom of it. The evidence looks pretty clear. Clearly it’s not good enough, simple as that. I think the prime minister will be asking some questions, I think we need to understand, quite rightly, how that happened.
The blunder was apparently made as staff hastily left the embassy when the Taliban reclaimed Kabul and ignored evacuation protocols of shredding and destroying all data that could compromise local workers.
The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has acknowledged the apparent error, but said staff had tried to destroy sensitive material before leaving the embassy.
“We have worked tirelessly to secure the safety of those who worked for us, including getting three families to safety,” an FCDO spokesman said. “During the drawdown of our embassy every effort was made to destroy sensitive material.”
Meanwhile, the foreign affairs select committee will carry out an inquiry into the incident, according to its chairman, Tom Tugendhat. “The evidence is already coming in,” he tweeted.
An FCDO source added that the Foreign Office is grateful to the Times for “sharing the information retrieved with us and working with us to enable us to get these three families to safety”.