British soldier speaks of 'rewarding but challenging' mission of evacuating Afghans

17 August 2021, 20:16 | Updated: 17 August 2021, 20:20

By Elizabeth Haigh

A British soldier who is leading the evacuation mission in Afghanistan said helping save thousands of civilians flee the Taliban control is a "once in a lifetime opportunity".

Pete Maughan, an RAF Flight Lieutenant leading the Air Movements Team on the ground at the international airport in Kabul, has spoken of the "rewarding but challenging" situation he and fellow British military personnel are facing there.

The lieutenant describes Operation Pitting as a "once in a lifetime opportunity", and spoke of the "rewarding but challenging" mission.

He is part of a team evacuating eligible Afghans and British citizens after the Taliban took over the rest of the capital in recent days, known as Operation Pitting.

He described his role in the evacuation efforts: "Our mission here is to facilitate the handling of UK military aircraft to move packs and freight to and from this location."

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He added the aim was: "getting ourselves here, established, and then starting to evacuate personnel home."

Flt Lt Maughan described Kabul as a “really challenging but rewarding place to operate from".

"As you can probably imagine there’s a lot of people who are very desperate to escape, and that puts a lot of strain on to the team."

He described the emotional difficulties of the situation for troops interacting with "some personnel who aren’t entitled to come home, or are pleading for their lives to try and escape, something that we’re not normally used to operating in."

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But he added: "We are genuinely helping people here, you can see it in the faces of everyone who’s boarding the planes, all of the families and small children who we are successfully getting away, hopefully saving lives.

"I don’t think I’ll do anything like this again in my career. Probably once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of something a lot bigger than myself."

It is estimated that the UK is hoping to evacuate 6-7,000 British nationals and Afghan staff and their families from Kabul.
Those who aided western allies have in the past faced being killed by Taliban forces. But Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has admitted that “some people won’t get back” due to the speed of the Taliban takeover.

On August 16 the international airport at Kabul had to suspend all military flights several times due to Afghans blocking the runway. Thousands headed to the airport in a desperate attempt to escape the city after the Taliban declared the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan".