UK’s last evacuation flight for Afghans has left Kabul, Ministry of Defence says

Flights will now focus on bringing back UK military personnel as civilian operation is wound up

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Saturday 28 August 2021 17:46
comments
<p>A member of the British armed forces  disembarks an RAF Voyager aircraft at Brize Norton as they return from helping in operations to evacuate people from Kabul airport</p>

A member of the British armed forces disembarks an RAF Voyager aircraft at Brize Norton as they return from helping in operations to evacuate people from Kabul airport

The last flight dedicated to evacuating civilians from Afghanistan has left Kabul, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

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

Earlier, the UK ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, said it was “time to close this phase” of the evacuation effort, which has seen nearly 15,000 people brought to safety.

Boris Johnson spoke on Friday night of his “great sense of regret” at those left behind, while Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat warned of the risk of the “biggest hostage crisis the UK has ever seen” if interpreters and other staff, as well as remaining British citizens, are held by the Taliban.

Speaking on Saturday, Mr Tugendhat said that questions would be asked in regard to the government’s administrative efforts over recent weeks.

Asked whether he could have done better, he told BBC Breakfast: “In the last week, probably not, but this has been a sprint finish after a not exactly sprint start.

“There’s been many of us giving pressure to improve the processing of people who we think we have a duty of care to over the months and years.

“There are going to be questions asked of the foreign secretary about the processing in the UK in recent weeks, [to which] we’re going to have to see what the answers are.

“I’m sure that the foreign secretary, defence secretary and home secretary are all looking at this very carefully. I know, because I spoke to all three in the last 12 hours, that they are really doing their best to get this last level of processing done.”

Sir Laurie – who as ambassador has remained in Afghanistan, working to process 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 13 August, we’ve brought nearly 15,000 people to safety, and about 1,000 military, diplomatic, and 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.”

Shadow defence secretary John Healey said he expected all remaining British troops, who are facilitating the evacuation, to be withdrawn from the country within 24 hours.

The Labour MP said the operation had been “very dangerous and desperate” as he praised the troops involved.

But he told Sky News: “This is the brutal truth: despite getting more than 14,000 people out, there are probably 1,000 Afghans who have worked with us over two decades in Afghanistan – helped our troops, our aid workers, our diplomats – that we promised to protect, but we’re leaving behind.

“And I know those troops in particular will feel our failure on this as a country is a betrayal of many of those who risked their own lives to work alongside us.

“And I think what’s important now is that we may be giving up the airport, but we cannot give up on the Afghan people or fighting to try and protect the gains that they, and our troops and our diplomats and aid workers, have worked so hard over two decades to make in Afghanistan.”

Join our new commenting forum

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

View comments