Britain’s 20-year Afghanistan campaign comes to an end as last UK troops leave Kabul

The last remaining UK troops have been flown out of Kabul airport, ending Britain’s 20-year campaign in Afghanistan.

The final RAF plane left at 9.25pm on Saturday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.

It comes after the last dedicated flight purely for the evacuation effort left the Afghan capital on Friday night – and ahead of the 31 August deadline set by Joe Biden for American forces to withdraw.

a group of people posing for the camera: Troops left Afghanistan on packed military flights© Other Troops left Afghanistan on packed military flights

Operation Pitting has now ended, with the UK evacuating 15,000 people from Kabul in a fortnight – including 5,000 British nationals and more than 8,000 Afghans who worked for the UK, and their families, as well as many highly vulnerable people.

a man standing in front of a plane: Laurie Bristow (L) with Brigadier Dan Blanchford - the 'Mastermind of Operation Pitting' - before they left Kabul© PA Laurie Bristow (L) with Brigadier Dan Blanchford – the ‘Mastermind of Operation Pitting’ – before they left Kabul

Among those fleeing were approximately 2,200 children, who have now been lifted to safety – the youngest of whom was just one day old.

It has been the UK’s largest military evacuation since World War Two.

Around 10,000 people have been brought to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which is double the number anticipated this year.

The British embassy and ambassador to Afghanistan, Laurie Bristow, will now be temporarily relocated to Qatar to lead the UK’s diplomatic, security and humanitarian engagement remotely.

The government said it intends to re-establish a diplomatic presence in Kabul “as soon as the security and political situation in the country allows”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the work of those involved in the operation, saying: “Twenty years ago, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the first British soldier set foot on Afghan soil aiming to create a brighter future for the country and all its people.

a man wearing a uniform: The final flight carrying UK troops left on Saturday evening. Pic: MoD© Other The final flight carrying UK troops left on Saturday evening. Pic: MoD

“The departure of the last British soldiers from the country is a moment to reflect on everything we have sacrificed and everything we have achieved in the last two decades.

“The nature of our engagement in Afghanistan may have changed, but our goals for the country have not. We will now use all the diplomatic and humanitarian tools at our disposal to preserve the gains of the last 20 years and give the Afghan people the future they deserve.”

But Labour has accused government ministers of being “missing in action”, with leader Sir Keir Starmer saying: “We’ve known for 18 months that this moment was coming.

“It is unconscionable that there was no strategy in place to get all the British nationals and Afghans we owed a debt to out.

“I pay tribute to all the FCDO [Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office] staff and military personnel who have, as ever, stepped up when their leaders have failed them.”

The Sunday Times has reported that up to 9,000 people who may have been eligible to escape were left behind, while The Observer claimed thousands of emails from MPs and charities highlighting potentially eligible cases went unread by the Foreign Office.

The FCDO told The Observer: “We have been working tirelessly to evacuate over 15,000 people from Afghanistan in the last two weeks.

“We deployed a 24/7 cross-Whitehall team based in our crisis hub to triage incoming emails and calls from British nationals, Arap applicants, and other vulnerable Afghans.

“We always cautioned that the nature of the security situation in Afghanistan meant that we would not be able to evacuate everyone we wanted to.”

But Sir Keir said: “The fact that so many emails have simply gone unopened is not the fault of civil servants but of government ministers who have been missing in action during this whole crisis.

“MPs and their staff have been hearing harrowing stories from so many people we should have taken care of but who have been abandoned to the Taliban.”

The government has said it will continue to provide help to any remaining British nationals and Afghans who have worked with the UK and who were not evacuated on time.

The UK also reiterated the legitimacy of the Taliban regime in the eyes of the G7 depends on the group continuing to provide safe passage for those who want to leave the country and safeguarding the rights of all Afghans.

The Home Office is working to establish the details of the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), which aims to provide protection for Afghan citizens identified as most at risk – such as women and girls.

The government has committed to take around 5,000 refugees in the first year and 20,000 over the coming years.

Sharing an image of departing troops on a packed military plane, Mr Wallace said: “The UK should be very proud of what you have done. Every one of you has displayed the highest levels of professionalism and bravery.

“You have helped thousands to get to a better future and safety. Thank you.”

He later added: “In 14 days over 15,000 people have been airlifted on over 165 flights. We should be proud of our armed forces, welcoming to those coming for a better life, and sad for those left behind.

“Our obligation to them does not end with our leaving. There will be many lessons to learn but over the last 20 years there are also endless examples of amazing achievements, bravery and friendships formed. We will not forget those who lost their lives.”



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