Afghanistan: Last UK evacuation flight leaves Kabul airport
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As the last flight left Kabul, the Prime Minister released a letter to troops to reassure them their efforts in a 20-year Afghanistan mission were not in vain. It comes after news that a baby girl was born on one evacuation plane destined or Birmingham. The PM also praised the sacrifices made by our Afghan allies and launched Operation Warm Welcome – a plan to help them settle into their new lives in the UK.
His words came as the final dramatic hours of the biggest military evacuation since the Second World War saw Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow join 250 others on the last plane to leave.
The transport plane had twice its permitted allowance of passengers.
Sir Laurie said: “It’s time to close this phase of the operation now.
“But we haven’t forgotten the people who still need to leave. We’ll continue to do everything we can to help them.
“Nor have we forgotten the brave, decent people of Afghanistan. They deserve to live in peace and security.”
During the last C-17 flight to take home members of 2 Para yesterday afternoon, strains of Richard Wagner’s Ride Of The Valkyries could be heard reverberating from the transport plane’s speakers. The music is the regimental song, and was famously used in the classic war movie Apocalypse Now.
The end of Britain’s 20-year presence in Afghanistan was officially marked with a handshake between Brigadier Dan Blanchford and his commanding officer, US Marine Corps Brig Gen Farrell Sullivan. In the remarkable evacuation effort, the UK managed to get more than 15,000 people out.
It made Operation Pitting the largest UK military evacuation since the small ships rescued the British Army from Dunkirk in the Second World War.
The evacuation haul included 5,000 British nationals and their families, more than 8,000 Afghan former UK staff and their families and many highly vulnerable Afghan people, who have been brought out of the country on more than 100 RAF flights.
Approximately 2,200 children were lifted to safety, the youngest born on a plane carrying her Afghan mum to Birmingham. The little girl was named Eve. It all came against the constant threat of attack, after a suicide bomb last week killed at least 95 people.
The extraordinary evacuation was highlighted by the Prime Minister in his letter to the Armed Forces.
He said: “Over the last two weeks, I have been lost in admiration for the heroic efforts of everyone engaged on Operation Pitting.
“There has been nothing like it in speed and scale, certainly in my lifetime. Your efforts in difficult and hostile circumstances have seen the evacuation of thousands of British nationals alongside Afghans who worked with us, and who will now start new lives in the UK.”
The operation saw the RAF fly a total of 261,000 miles.
A C-17 leaving Kabul this week carried 436 people – the single biggest capacity flight in RAF history.
Mr Johnson said the efforts of the last two decades have not been wasted. The PM also made it clear that the UK will not give up on Afghanistan, with plans to
reopen the embassy which will temporarily be housed in Qatar.
Once the embassy is up and running, efforts to get more people out of Afghanistan will continue through the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy and the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme. As the PM agreed with G7 partners last week, the legitimacy of the Taliban regime in the eyes of the international community will be contingent on them providing safe passage for those who want to leave Afghanistan.
In his letter, Mr Johnson said: “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.”
Meanwhile, work is under way across the whole of the Government to ensure the Afghans who stood side by side with Britons in conflict, their families and those at highest risk who have been evacuated, are supported as they now rebuild their lives in the UK. Operation Warm Welcome is a plan for the refugees, including many who helped British military personnel and their families.
It will be overseen by Victoria Atkins as the new Minister for Afghan Resettlement and will find ways to supply accommodation, education and employment.
Mr Johnson said: “I am determined that we welcome them with open arms and that my Government puts in place the support they need to rebuild their lives.
“We will never forget the brave sacrifice made by Afghans who chose to work with us, at great risk to themselves.
“We owe them, and their families, a huge debt.”
Last night, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace tweeted a picture of paratroopers sat in rows aboard a military aircraft.
He wrote: “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.”
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