'All you could hear was constant gunshots': Soldier speaks of desperate scenes at Afghan airport

Soldiers on the ground at Kabul airport. Credit: PA

A British soldier involved in the evacuation of civilians from Afghanistan has described scenes of chaos as people desperately tried to flee the country.

Private Jake Howarth, of 2nd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, recalled hearing the sound of gunshots and being surrounded by barbed wire as he touched down at Kabul airport to help the UK evacuation effort following the Taliban takeover.

“There was quite a fear factor when we got there and obviously it was dark at night so nobody knew what was going on,” he said.

He added: “You had barbed wire in a square and loads of the civilians, the population in there, just waiting to get on a flight.

“You saw soldiers going around (and) weapons and everything.

Hundreds of Afghans who worked with the UK have been left stranded in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan after evacuations ended on August 28. Credit: PA

“It looked like it wasn’t organised at all. When we were walking through all you could hear was constant gunshots at that time.

“If you looked at people’s faces, we were all quite shocked. We did not know what was happening. We did not know if it was Taliban or if it was Coalition forces firing their rounds off.”

Private Howarth said the scenes left him feeling “quite sad”, adding: “I have never seen people jumping over fences because they are that desperate to get away.

“There were children who were injured, scared and did not know what was going on.

“It is quite sad to say when you get brought up in a completely different country, you get brought up differently, you think about the children who come into this world and that is the first thing they are seeing.”

A member of the UK Armed Forces fist-bumping a child evacuee at Kabul airport Credit: Ben Shread/MoD/PA

Private Howarth, who said a Sergeant Major gave the soldiers a pep talk to help keep their minds on their job, added: “When you find out that your chain of command are nervous as well, it doesn’t seem quite as bad to you.”

He was involved in a task called “guardian angel”, which meant looking after people who had a right to leave and were being processed.

He recalled that against the backdrop of the constant gunfire it was important to continually reassure the people – some of whom were “quite jumpy” and “a lot of them were very scared” – that they would soon be on a flight out.

Captain David Kellett, 2nd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, said the scenes he saw after landing at Kabul airport were “drastically different” to when he was there last year.

He added that the “the big thing” for the soldiers on the ground was to show compassion.

He said: “It was difficult because obviously there was a lot of risks and a lot of upset people. For us it was about getting hold of these people giving them basic things like food and water – once you did that and reassured them they were going to fly away from the airport that night, they calmed down a lot.

“The friendly nature of the soldiers really helped.”

The UK’s Operation Pitting rescued more than 15,000 people by the time the last plane left the airport.