A year since Taliban's Afghanistan takeover - NI man recalls 'hell on earth' experience

By Emma Patterson

It's been one year since the Taliban swept back into power in Afghanistan

Two decades of a US-led military coalition battling against terror unravelled within two months. 

The fall of Kabul triggered a mass exodus of Afghans who feared what their lives and country would look like under Taliban rule. 

While the world's media documented the despair and panic of civilians trying to escape, one diplomat from Northern Ireland witnessed it first hand. 

Josh Norton was on the front line of the evacuation effort as part of the UK government's Operation Pitting. 

The 26 year old volunteered to travel to Kabul to urgently evacuate  people fleeing the new Taliban regime. 

Speaking on the first anniversary of Operation Pitting, Josh admits the experience of working in the UK’s evacuation handling centre near Kabul airport was "hell on earth" - but he says he's proud of the part he played in rescuing so many lives.

"You had those brilliant moments where you could say to a family, 'yes, we can take you to the UK', and that was the best part of the whole experience," he told UTV.

"But the difficult part was telling people that they weren't able to go at that point or you had to separate families.

"There are a number of occasions that stick in my mind that were really emotionally difficult, and the reactions varied between hysterical crying to anger directed to me as an individual. 

"A couple of people said that I was sending them to their deaths, that their blood was on my hands, and it was really difficult."

Josh and the team from the Foreign Office spent ten days evacuating Afghans from Kabul. 

He was eventually dramatically pulled out himself, narrowly missing a devastating terror attack outside Kabul airport which killed 170 people.

"I think the key thing to take away is that we got 15,000 people out of Afghanistan in the most challenging of circumstances. 

"It was probably the most dangerous city on earth at the time."

Over the past 12 months, the UK has committed £286 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, and Josh has continued working to ensure ordinary Afghans are not abandoned.

"We have to keep engaging with the Taliban, supporting the Afghan people and hope that they themselves can eventually work through their differences to create a more shared inclusive society." 

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