Politics

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


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

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

It comes after UK ambassador to Afghanistan 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 on Friday night spoke 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 has described the UK’s efforts to withdraw people from Afghanistan as a “sprint finish after a not exactly sprint start”.

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 to be asked to the Foreign Secretary about the processing in the UK in recent weeks that we’re going to have to see what the answers are.

“I’m sure that the Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary and the 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.”

Ambassador Sir Laurie – who has remained in Afghanistan processing 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, 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 gain in Afghanistan.”

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