loader image

UK evacuates over 10,000 from Kabul – as every effort being made to airlift thousands more Afghans, says commander

The UK has flown more than 10,000 people from Kabul to safety in the past nine days and is now rescuing around 2,000 people per day in the biggest evacuation effort in living memory.

Brigadier Dan Blanchford, the commander in charge of the mission on the ground, said every effort was being made to enable the many thousands more Afghans still waiting to be rescued as time ticks down on an operation that only has days left.

“We continue to redouble our efforts at the moment to identify those that are most vulnerable and most at risk and find ways to bring them on to the airport so we can process them and get them out,” he told journalists in a virtual briefing from Kabul airport.

Follow live updates from Afghanistan as the first US troops leave Kabul

A U.S. Marine escorts a child to his family during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Pic: Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps/Reuters
Image: 341 people have been evacuated from the British embassy in Kabul. Pic: Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps/Reuters

The UK rescue mission, dubbed Operation Pitting, began on 14 August as Kabul was about to fall to the Taliban and the western-backed Afghan government teetered on the brink of collapse.

He said the initial days at Kabul airport were hard but that the situation for his team of more than 1,000 servicemen and women was now running well. A much larger contingent of some 6,000 US forces is in charge of security for the perimeter of the site.

“It was certainly very difficult to start with as we faced a very rapid change in the security environment here with the Taliban move on to Kabul,” Brigadier Blanchford said.

More on Afghanistan

“But we have gradually established the infrastructure and the security needed and the operation is now working very well.”

In contrast, conditions were still horrific for the thousands of desperate men, women and children attempting to navigate hostile Taliban checkpoints and surging crowds to reach the small number of entrance points to the airport.

“Conditions on the ground remain very difficult at the moment with harrowing stories of families and individuals having to fight through some pretty desperate conditions to get to the airport,” the commanding officer said.

He paid tribute to his troops, who are working round the clock to process individuals and who have witnessed “some truly heartbreaking” scenes.

Royal Air Force transport planes are flying passengers out of Kabul to a regional hub – from there they are moved on to commercial aircraft for the final journey to the UK.

Evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan. Pic: Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps/Reuters
Image: More than 6,300 of those evacuated were former Afghan interpreters. Pic: Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps/Reuters

Setting out the number of people helped so far, Brigadier Blanchford said it comprised 10,291 individuals in total.

This included 341 people – comprising former staff and their families – from the British embassy in Kabul.

In addition, more than 6,300 were former Afghan interpreters and other staff who have worked with British troops and diplomats over the past 20 years, as well as their partners and children.

Finally, there have been more than 2,500 British entitled personnel and their dependents.

Follow the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker.

He also revealed that the UK had evacuated citizens from 38 other countries at the request of their respective governments.

As well as evacuating as many people as possible before the exit date of August 31, Brigadier Blanchford and his troops must also get themselves and their equipment safely out of the country.

CONTACT THE STUDIO