British soldiers who rescued thousands from Kabul during Taliban takeover awarded medals

Evacuation was UK’s biggest humanitarian operation since World War Two

Kim Sengupta
World Affairs Editor
Wednesday 19 January 2022 01:55
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Members of British military who took part in the evacuation from Kabul in the chaotic and violent aftermath of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban have been awarded a specially commissioned medal.

The airlift of 15,000 people, including families with babies and elderly relations, who had desperately rushed to the airport seeking safety was the biggest humanitarian operation undertaken by the UK since the Second World War.

Now members of the Army, RAF and Royal Navy who took part in the mission will get the silver Operational Service Medal (OSM) Afghanistan.

The airlift took part amid strife and ended in a massacre. The airport had already come under fire before Isis carried out a murderous suicide bombing attack, killing 183 people - 170 Afghans and 13 members of the US military - as the British mission, Operation Pitting, was coming to an end.

Around 600 soldiers from the 12 Air Assault Brigade were on the ground during the operation in which the RAF ran a shuttle of a hundred flights including a record-breaking 439 on board a Globemaster aircraft.

The operation began on 13 August and ended 15 days later. It was part of a massive multi-national effort which brought out over 122,000 people. However hundreds of others, including many who are entitled to settle in the UK remain trapped in Afghanistan, some of them living in hiding, hunted by the Taliban.

Boris Johnson, the prime minister, said: “I’m delighted that Her Majesty the Queen has given permission for a special medal to be awarded to all those who deployed to Kabul, to honour their heroism in the face of extreme adversity.”

He continued “Operation Pitting will go down as one of the great achievements of our UK armed services and their civilian counterparts in the post-war era. The whole country can be immensely proud of their tireless work to bring men, women and children to safety. They represent the very best of us.”

Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, paid tribute to the “heroism, bravery and dedication” of those who carried out the evacuation. He added: “As the security situation worsened by the hour, our service men and women stepped up and delivered the largest British evacuation since the Second World War. They will rightly receive medallic recognition for their efforts.

“I would like to thank them, and all our service personnel, on behalf of the public and UK government for safely evacuating endangered Afghans through some of the most desperate scenes imaginable. You have done us all proud."

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