Final flights out of Kabul: Exhausted troops pictured leaving Afghanistan after evacuation

·5-min read
16 Air Assault Brigade (Twitter)
16 Air Assault Brigade (Twitter)

Exhausted British soldiers have been pictured being evacuated from Kabul airport after helping over 15,000 people flee the Taliban advance.

Troops are starting to leave war-torn Afghanistan after the final civilian flights departed leaving behind up to 150 Brits and more than 1,000 Afghans must now face Taliban rule.

Defence minister Ben Wallace, tweeted a picture of the 16 Air Assault Brigade saying: “The UK should be very proud of what you have done. Every one of you have displayed the highest levels of professionalism and bravery. You have helped thousands to get to a better future and safety. Thank you.”

The last dedicated flight purely for the evacuation effort from Afghanistan has already left Kabul, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

Further flights leaving from the airport would be able to carry evacuees but would also be transporting UK diplomatic staff and military personnel as the operation winds down.

Operation Pitting – where more than 1,000 troops, diplomats, and officials were dispatched to Afghanistan to rescue UK nationals and Afghan allies after the seizure of the country’s capital by the Taliban – airlifted more than 15,000 people to safety across just over a fortnight.

And Prime Minister Boris Johnson said now was “a moment to reflect on everything we have sacrificed and everything we have achieved in the last two decades”.

British boots first hit Afghan soil in November 2001, as part of a coalition tasked with finding the leaders of al Qaeda in the wake of the deadly 9/11 attacks, the 20th anniversary of which is just two weeks away.

The Taliban was accused of providing a sanctuary for Osama Bin Laden and his al Qaeda movement, and by December the regime collapsed.

But nearly 20 years later, after 457 British service personnel lost their lives, Afghanistan is again under the control of the militant group, with the nation’s future uncertain.

Mr Johnson said: “20 years ago, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the first British soldier set foot on Afghan soil aiming to create a brighter future for the country and all its people.

“The departure of the last British soldiers from the country is a moment to reflect on everything we have sacrificed and everything we have achieved in the last two decades.

“The nature of our engagement in Afghanistan may have changed, but our goals for the country have not. We will now use all the diplomatic and humanitarian tools at our disposal to preserve the gains of the last twenty years and give the Afghan people the future they deserve.”

It comes as British ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow said it was “time to close this phase” of the evacuation effort.

In a video posted on Twitter, Sir Laurie – who has remained in Afghanistan processing those who needed to leave the country – said: “The team here have been working until the very last moment to evacuate British nationals, Afghans and others at risk.

“Since the 13th of August, we’ve brought nearly 15,000 people to safety, and about 1,000 military, diplomatic, civilian personnel have worked on Operation Pitting in Kabul, many, many more elsewhere.

“Thursday’s terrorist attack was a reminder of the difficult and dangerous conditions in which Operation Pitting has been done. And sadly I attended here yesterday the ceremony to pay our respects to the 13 US soldiers who died.

“It’s time to close this phase of the operation now, but we haven’t forgotten the people who still need to leave. We’ll continue to do everything we can to help them. Nor have we forgotten the brave, decent people of Afghanistan. They deserve to live in peace and security.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer added: “I pay tribute to the brave men and women of our armed forces who have done so much to provide the opportunity of a new life to so many.

“Our diplomatic staff and military personnel should be proud of the heroic work they have done and we owe them a great debt of gratitude.

“It is now for the Government to urgently set out a plan for those left behind.”

The Government said of the 15,000 people evacuated since the Taliban returned, 5,000 of those were British nationals and their families.

Tom Tugendhat a Tory MP who fought in Afghanistan, said he was disappointed the evacuation effort was coming to an end.

The former army officer and now chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee told BBC Breakfast: “I’m extremely sad about this and I very much hope that it might go beyond the August deadline but we found out a few days ago that it wasn’t, so I was expecting it.

“It still leaves me extremely sad that so many of my friends have been left behind.”

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

Questioned over whether the UK could have done better when withdrawing personnel from Afghanistan, Mr Tugendhat said: “In the last week, probably not, but this has been a sprint finish after a not exactly sprint start.”

“There are going to be questions to be asked to the Foreign Secretary about the processing in the UK in recent weeks that we’re going to have to see what the answers are.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace previously admitted there were between 800 and 1,100 Afghans eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme who would be left behind, while around 100 and 150 UK nationals will remain in Afghanistan, although Mr Wallace said some of those were staying willingly.

But a number of MPs have said that based on the correspondence they had received asking for help, they thought this was an underestimation.

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