Nearly 6,000 evacuated from Kabul by UK as troops witness 'harrowing scenes'

22 August 2021, 22:49

A total of 5,725 people have been repatriated by UK troops since August 13
A total of 5,725 people have been repatriated by UK troops since August 13. Picture: Alamy Live News

By Daisy Stephens

Close to 6,000 people have been evacuated as part of the UK rescue mission in Kabul, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed.

Those repatriated under Operation Pitting include embassy staff, British nationals, those eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap) programme and a small number of nationals from partner nations.

The evacuation is being supported by 1,000 British troops on the ground - including Paras from 16 Air Assault Brigade - as well as other Whitehall staff.

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Brigadier Dan Blanchford, the most senior UK military officer on the ground in Kabul, said British armed forces personnel had "witnessed some harrowing scenes", with at least seven Afghan civilians confirmed to have died outside the airfield gates in the chaotic crowds - although the actual figure is at least 20, according to a Nato official.

In total, 5,725 people have been repatriated since the mission began on August 13, with 3,100 of them Afghan individuals and their families.

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The confirmation comes as the MoD said Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had a phone call with his US counterpart, Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, to discuss allied efforts in the Afghan capital.

Officials said the pair had a "productive" conversation where they discussed the "close co-operation of UK and US personnel in Kabul and the ongoing evacuation efforts".

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US President Joe Biden has previously indicated he wants all American troops out of Afghanistan by August 31, with the last civilian flight to leave some time before that.

The MoD said the evacuation process would "run as long as the security situation allows in joint co-ordination with our US partners", with "no firm date set" for the end of civilian flights.

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Brigadier Blanchford, Commander Joint Forces Operations, said the armed forces had also been supplying aid - including food, nappies and baby milk - as part of their efforts to get people to the UK.

"The UK Joint Task Force is at the front end of a massive cross-government evacuation operation, delivering a highly complex and demanding mission at range and in difficult circumstances," he said.

"The horrific difficulties which families and individuals have in getting to the airport are clear and my men and women on the frontline have seen and witnessed some harrowing scenes.

"I am proud of the work which our armed forces, who have shown professionalism and compassion in challenging circumstances.

"We are redoubling our efforts to speed up the processes and support the most vulnerable.

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"To that end, we have flown forward 30,000 litres of water a day, food for 5,000 people and have purchased and are distributing 2,700 nappies, 3,600 bottles of baby milk and 2,025 sanitary packs."

He added: "The men and women in the Joint Taskforce Forwards are working round the clock to get at risk Afghans and UK entitled personnel, and their families, out of Afghanistan in as safe and controlled manner as the circumstances allow.

"We have also established an evacuation handling model which is being used by many other European and allied countries and have evacuated citizens from a total of 38 countries.

"It has taken a massive effort at every level of Government to achieve."