<p>The Duchess of Cambridge during a visit to RAF Brize Norton, near Oxford, to meet military personnel and civilians who helped evacuate Afghans from their country</p>

The Duchess of Cambridge during a visit to RAF Brize Norton, near Oxford, to meet military personnel and civilians who helped evacuate Afghans from their country

Kate Middleton meets military personnel who aided Afghan evacuation effort

The Duchess of Cambridge hears of the emotional impact the evacuation effort has had on those involved

Kate Ng
Thursday 16 September 2021 10:02
comments

The Duchess of Cambridge paid a visit to RAF Brize Norton to meet military personnel who helped evacuate Afghan from their home country following the Taliban’s takeover.

Kate Middleton heard of the emotional toll that Operation Pitting had on those involved. The operation saw more than 15,000 people airlifted out of Kabul during August in a state of “desperation” and “confusion”.

Thousands of Arap (Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy) applicants and their dependents were among those evacuated.

While speaking to a group of personnel, Kate commented on how some of the rescue flights included “babies, tiny babies”, and thanked all those involved in the operation.

Corporal Guy Watts, who did seven flights to Kabul and whose job involved making sure the journeys remained safe, said the duchess voiced her appreciation of everyone’s efforts.

He said: “She appreciates that some of it wasn’t easy. And she appreciated how smoothly we managed to keep things running.”

He told Kate of the high adrenaline atmosphere when he was helping the people who were being evacuated onto a military jet, which they had never seen before.

“As soon as we were in the air and got to altitude, they just collapsed,” said Cpl Watts.

When asked by Kate if the evacuees knew what the plan was, he replied: “A lot of them did not realise we were going to Dubai. They were asking, how long is the flight to the UK? When is the next meal coming?”

But once the plane had left Kabul airport, many of them began to relax because it “was such a big burden that was lifted off their shoulders”, said Cpl Watts, adding that it was “rewarding” to see.

Flight lieutenant Andy Bell told the duchess that the emotional impact of rescuing such desperate people meant he “had to take a bit of time out to think about things”.

The 43-year-old, who has two sons aged eight and give, spoke about how difficult it was to see young children whose lives were “completely thrown apart, sitting in the back of a dark aeroplane being shipped halfway across the world”.

He added: “I was helping shepherd the refugees off the back of the aircraft, and it was the last family that really hit me.

“It was a family of four – a mother, a tiny little infant over her shoulder, fast asleep. The mother looks sick with worry. A young girl, no older than my youngest lad, has no idea where she is.

The Duchess of Cambridge stands in the fuselage of an RAF C17 Globemaster during a visit to RAF Brize Norton, near Oxford

“And dad seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders. Bewilderment, desperation, confusion, and a single backpack. That’s the bit that hit me.

“That’s the family we have just taken out of a horrific situation, but they’re not out of it. The immediate threat has gone, but their life is in complete turmoil.

“I had to take myself away, find a quiet corner for 10 minutes while we turned the aircraft round and stuck some more fuel in it. Then it’s, ‘right, let’s go and do the same tomorrow’.”

Operation Pitting involved every unit at the Brize Norton military base, with personnel working together with the Royal Navy, Army, local authorities and aid organisations in Afghanistan and the UK.

The base’s full fleet of RAF transport aircraft flew around the clock to support the evacuation and carry supplies, with one flight taking a record 439 passengers on an RAF C17 Globemaster out of Kabul on a single flight.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments