Afghanistan: First flight carrying evacuated British citizens arrives in UK

‘Some people won’t get back,’ defence secretary admits

Rory Sullivan
Monday 16 August 2021 12:35
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<p>The first repatriation flight from Afghanistan lands at RAF Brize Norton on 15 August, 2021. </p>

The first repatriation flight from Afghanistan lands at RAF Brize Norton on 15 August, 2021.

The first British repatriation flight from Afghanistan landed in the UK on Sunday night, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said.

Embassy staff and other British nationals arrived at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire hours after the Taliban overran Kabul.

The evacuation, part of Operation Pitting, was assisted by members of 16 Air Assault Brigade, who reached Afghanistan on Sunday as the security situation in the country worsened.

British forces are currently helping their US counterparts to control Hamid Karzai airport, so it can be used for evacuations. As part of these efforts, another 1,500 British troops will be flown out to Afghanistan in the next day and a half, following the arrival of the first 600 on Sunday, the MoD said.

It is thought that around 4,000 British nationals and locals eligible for relocation to the UK remain in Kabul.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace told LBC that they will not all manage to leave. "It’s a really deep part of regret for me...look, some people won’t get back,” he admitted.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said the speed of the Taliban’s offensive meant that Britain’s initial evacuation plan had to be significantly altered.

He added that the UK would have the capacity to evacuate more than 1,000 people per day, but cautioned that processing people would take time.

His comments came as Labour called on the government to stop “dragging its feet over resettling Afghans who have supported the UK presence in the country”.

Despite being closed to “civilian” flights, thousands of Afghans at Kabul airport tried to board planes on Monday.

Footage shows their desperate attempts to flee the Taliban, with some climbing onto a US air force plane, while others crowded a jet bridge in a bid to force their way onto a flight.

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood described these scenes as “Saigon 2.0”, a reference to US evacuations at the end of the Vietnam War.

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