Afghanistan: British troops race to evacuate UK nationals from Kabul as Taliban take control
ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen and Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo analyse the latest UK and US foreign policies regarding Afghanistan
British troops have arrived in Kabul in a race to evacuate the remaining UK nationals and their local allies out of Afghanistan following the dramatic fall of the country’s Western-backed government to the Taliban as the Defence Secretary admitted “some people won’t get back”.
The speed of the Taliban advance suggests that there may only be a short window of a few days to get people out after the Islamic militants took the capital Kabul on Sunday. Lead elements of 16 Air Assault Brigade were working with US forces to secure Kabul airport to ensure flights can continue as Afghans and foreigners alike scramble to leave.
British forces from 16 Air Assault Brigade arrive in the Afghan capital to assist in evacuating British nationals and entitled persons amidst the worsening security situation there (C) Ministry of Defence
While the airport has so far not come under attack, there are fears that could change quickly with Taliban insurgents now effectively in control of the capital.
Speaking to LBC radio on Monday, former Scots Guard Ben Wallace appeared to choke back tears as he spoke of his regret that not everyone would make it out of Afghanistan.
He said: “It’s a really deep part of regret for me … look, some people won’t get back. Some people won’t get back and we will have to do our best in third countries to process those people.”
Asked why he felt the situation “so personally”, Mr Wallace replied: “Because I’m a soldier… because it’s sad and the West has done what it’s done, we have to do our very best to get people out and stand by our obligations and 20 years of sacrifice is what it is.”
Gunshots can be heard as people flock to Kabul's airport as they attempt to flee the Taliban
The Taliban's swift takeover means the UK must move quickly to evacuate its nationals and eligible Afghans. Operation Pitting was originally planned to run until 31 August but now it is likely to be just a few days.
Mr Wallace said the Government was aiming to fly out a further 1,500 people over the next 24 to 36 hours.
Around 4,000 British nationals and eligible Afghans are thought to be in the city and in need of evacuation.
There was particular concern for the safety of Afghans who worked with British forces when they were in the country as interpreters and other roles amid fears of reprisals if they fall into the hands of the insurgents.
Thousands of Afghans fearing a return to Taliban rule are trying to flee the country through Kabul's international airport.
Videos circulating on social media showed hundreds of people racing across the tarmac as US soldiers fired warning shots in the air. Another showed a crowd pushing and shoving its way up a staircase, trying to board a plane, with some people hanging off the railings.
Triumphal Taliban fighters were pictured in the presidential palace abandoned by President Ashraf Ghani who fled the country while his forces gave up the city without a fight.
Following a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergencies committee, Boris Johnson his priority was to get UK nationals and Afghans who had worked with them out of the country “as fast as we can”.
“We are going to get as many as we can out in the next few days,” he said.
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, a former captain in the British Army and chairman of the Defence Select Committee, criticised the West for pulling out of the country.
Appearing on Sky News on Monday, he said: “The world is now a little bit more dangerous because they’ve now taken control of the country, and the West should really hang its head in shame after abruptly abandoning Afghanistan to a civil war after two decades of effort.”
In a sign of the desperate situation the British ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow was said to be personally staying behind to help the small team of diplomats still in the country to process visas of those hoping to leave.
The Taliban insisted that they were seeking a peaceful takeover of power and were prepared to offer an amnesty to those who had worked with the Afghan government or with foreign governments.
However those assurances were being treated with deep scepticism by many British MPs amid reports of threats to those who remain and their families.
Labour called on the government to urgently expand the resettlement scheme for Afghans to ensure that none were left behind.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: “Some of them have already been killed, others have received threats to themselves and their families.
“We have an obligation as a country to make sure that they are safe.”
Mr Johnson insisted the UK would continue to work with “like-minded” allies to try to ensure that Afghanistan did not again become “breeding ground for terror” in the way that it was before the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
However his words are likely to ring hollow among many MPs who warned the West’s credibility had been fundamentally damaged by the dramatic failure of its 20-year experiment in nation building.
Among senior parliamentarians, who return to Westminster on Wednesday in an emergency recall of Parliament to debate the crisis, there was shock at the speed of the Afghan collapse after the billions invested in building up the country’s armed forces.
In the course of little over a week many cities fell to the Taliban without a fight after tribal elders stepped in to negotiate the withdrawal of government forces, who showed little appetite for battle in order to avoid bloodshed.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister needed to set out plans to prevent the fall of the Afghan government turning into a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of displaced people trying to escape the Taliban.
The Liberal Democrats called on the government to work with allies to establish a “safe passage corridor” so that those Afghans who wanted to leave the country rather than remain under the Taliban could do so.
“Safety from the Taliban should not just be foreign nationals, or the lucky few who made it in time to Kabul airport,” said foreign affairs spokeswoman Layla Moran.
“A safe passage corridor must be secured immediately between Kabul and an international border.
“If we do not act now, hundreds of thousands of innocent people will be tortured, enslaved and murdered at the hands of the Taliban.”