Afghanistan: Last British troops leave 20 years after mission began


Soldiers departed Kabul for the last time on Saturday night (Picture: MOD/PA)

The last British troops have now left Afghanistan, the Government has confirmed.

Pictures emerged showing some of the last troops to depart the country, some 20 years after Britain first arrived in the country.  

Boris Johnson paid tribute to the military’s efforts as the final soldiers and diplomatic personnel left Kabul airport on Saturday night, ending the largest evacuation mission since the Second World War.

Operation Pitting airlifted more than 15,000 people to safety in just over a fortnight after the Taliban took over – but some 1,000 Afghans and up to 150 British nationals were left behind after the final evacuation flight left earlier.

More than 1,000 troops, diplomats, and officials were dispatched to Afghanistan for the rescue mission, which finished ahead of a looming August 31 deadline for American troops to pull out of the country.

The Prime Minister said now was ‘a moment to reflect on everything we have sacrificed and everything we have achieved in the last two decades’.

British troops first arrived in the country in November 2001, as part of a coalition tasked with finding the leaders of al Qaeda in the wake of the deadly 9/11 attacks – the 20th anniversary of which is just two weeks away.

UK military personnel onboard a A400M aircraft departing Kabul, Afghanistan.

Boris 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.’ (Picture: PA)
457 British service personnel lost their lives in Afghanistan (Picture: PA)

The Taliban was accused of sheltering Osama Bin Laden and his movement, and by December the regime collapsed.

But after 457 British service personnel lost their lives, Afghanistan is again in turmoil and under the control of the Islamist militant group, with the nation’s future uncertain.

Mr Johnson said: ‘20 years ago, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the first British soldier set foot on Afghan soil aiming to create a brighter future for the country and all its people.

‘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 twenty years and give the Afghan people the future they deserve.’

Some 15,000 were airlifted to safety in the biggest evacuation since the Second World War (Picture: PA)
The Defence Secretary said troops had ‘displayed the highest levels of professionalism and bravery’ (Picture: PA)

In a tribute to British troops on Twitter, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace added: ‘The UK should be very proud of what you have done. Every one of you have displayed the highest levels of professionalism and bravery.

‘You have helped thousands to get to a better future and safety. Thank you.’

But many observers and troops have branded the intervention a failure.  

The Government said of the 15,000 people evacuated since the Taliban returned, 5,000 of those were British nationals and their families.

And more than 8,000 Afghans who helped the British effort as interpreters or in other roles, or who are otherwise vulnerable to persecution by the regime, were also able to flee to safety with their families.


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Around 2,200 of those airlifted – on more than 100 RAF flights – were children, with the youngest just one day old.

And one refugee, Soman Noori, gave birth to a baby girl, Havva, on an evacuation flight on its way to Birmingham on Saturday.

The total number of Afghans brought to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) since it was set in April is now around 10,000 in total – double the number anticipated this year.

The Government says the UK has evacuated more people than any country other than the US.

As well as taking people out, the Armed Forces also flew in supplies including vegetarian and halal meals and 250,000 litres of bottled water, to give to those waiting to escape.

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The operation saw the RAF fly a total of 261,000 miles.

One C-17 military transport aircraft leaving Kabul this week had 436 people on board – the single biggest capacity flight in RAF history.

But there was also tragedy amid the evacuation, with ISIS-K detonating a suicide bomb which killed at least 170 people.

The British presence in Afghanistan had been in decline since October 2014, when the central hub of operations in Helmand Province, Camp Bastion, was handed over to Afghan forces and combat troops were withdrawn.

The UK Government said the UK’s diplomatic efforts will now shift to supporting the people of Afghanistan from outside the country.

The British embassy and Ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow will temporarily relocate to Qatar, but plans to reopen an embassy in Kabul as soon as possible.

And ministers have stressed that the Arap scheme is not time-limited, and others deemed vulnerable, such as women and girls, can apply for the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme, which will take up to 20,000 refugees in coming years.

The Government said any Afghan people called forward for evacuation in recent days, but who did not make it out, would be guaranteed a place under the scheme.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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