Final UK evacuation flight leaves Kabul, Ministry of Defence announces
Nearly 15,000 people have been evacuated to the UK from Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of Kabul.
The final UK evacuation flight dedicated purely to civilians has left Kabul, as evacuation efforts come to an end.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed the news on Saturday, with the only remaining flights to leave Kabul for the UK now carrying diplomatic staff and military personnel along with some evacuees as the operation winds down.
The British ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, tweeted that nearly 15,000 had been evacuated to the UK during the operation, but that "our commitment to the people of Afghanistan will endure," despite the evacuation operation coming to an end.
Nearly 15,000 British nationals, Afghan staff and others at risk have been evacuated from Kabul since Operation Pitting began - our commitment to the people of Afghanistan will endure. pic.twitter.com/zUQ52ps1cE
— Laurie Bristow (@laurie_bristow) August 28, 2021
Both US and British forces have confirmed they will be removing their presence from Kabul airport by August 31.
US forces have been in control of the airport since the Taliban takeover of Kabul, overseeing the evacuation process. More than 1,000 UK troops were also in Kabul to process departures at the airport at the height of the operation. Some have already left to return home with the rest departing over the weekend.
BREAKING: Sky News understands the UK’s last dedicated evacuation flight left Kabul overnight, marking the end of the UK's civilian evacuation mission.
Remaining flights are set to bring home Britain’s troops and small numbers of Afghan evacuees.
More: https://t.co/Aw7FHTavk0 pic.twitter.com/XlPtanQqxJ
— Sky News (@SkyNews) August 28, 2021
But the head of the armed forces, General Sir Nick Carter, said it was "heartbreaking" that they had not been able to rescue everybody from the airport, adding that the number of Afghans who were eligible to come to the UK but remained in Afghanistan was in the "high hundreds."
He told Radio 4's Today programme: "[The evacuation] has gone as well as it could do in the circumstances... but we haven't been able to bring everybody out and that has been heartbreaking, and there have been some very challenging judgements that have had to be made on the ground.
"We are forever receiving messages and texts from our Afghan friends that are very distressing. So we're all living this in the most painful way."
On Saturday, Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat described the evacuation operation as a "sprint finish after a not exactly sprint start."
He told the BBC: "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."
Shadow defence secretary John Healey said he expected all remaining British troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan in the next 24 hours.
But he was critical of the government's efforts, telling 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."