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Dutch foreign minister becomes first Western politician to resign over handling of Afghanistan evacuation

The Independent logo The Independent 17/09/2021 Daniel Keane
a person sitting in a box: Sigrid Kaag resigned after the majority of the Dutch parliament said she had mishandled the Afghanistan evacuation  - ANP/AFP via Getty Images © ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Sigrid Kaag resigned after the majority of the Dutch parliament said she had mishandled the Afghanistan evacuation

- ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Dutch foreign minister Sigrid Kaag has become the first Western government official to step down over the handling of the evacuation process from Afghanistan last month.

Her resignation came after the lower house of the Dutch parliament passed a motion of censure against the government claiming that they had mishandled the evacuation of refugees from Kabul as the Taliban swept to power.

Dutch military planes evacuated around 2,100 people from Afghanistan to neighbouring countries in the last two weeks of August, and almost 1,700 of them had the Netherlands as their final destination, according to the Reuters news agency.

But hundreds of Dutch citizens, many of Afghan origin, were not able to reach the airport. Ms Kaag acknowledged that the government’s slow response meant that some Afghans who had worked as translators for Dutch troops had also not been evacuated.

“I can only accept the consequences of this judgment as the minister with ultimate responsibility,” she said during a parliamentary debate on Wednesday night.

Ms Kaag, a former diplomat and the leader of the centrist D66 party, said the cabinet had acted on the basis of “wrong assumptions”, but stressed that the speed of the Taliban’s advance had surprised everyone, “including the Taliban itself”.

Despite this, Ms Kaag said she would tender her resignation after the motion was passed as parliament had decided “that the cabinet acted irresponsibly”.

“In my view on democracy and the culture of our administration, a minister should go if the policy is disapproved. I will therefore submit my resignation as minister of foreign affairs to his majesty the king,” she told parliament.

D66 is currently in coalition talks with prime minister Mark Rutte after winning the second-highest number of seats in elections last March. Ms Kaag vowed to stay on as leader of the party despite her resignation.

Ms Kaag served as U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon in 2015-2017, and before that headed a U.N. team overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Countries across the world scrambled to evacuate their citizens and Afghans after Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15. Ms Kaag is the first Western government official to resign over the handling of the process.

It came just a day after British prime minister Boris Johnson demoted his foreign secretary Dominic Raab as part of a cabinet reshuffle. Mr Raab had faced criticism for his department’s handling of the evacuation process, with reports claiming he failed to return from his holiday in Greece as the jihadist group gained control of Afghanistan.

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