Afghanistan: Final flights arriving as UK's campaign ends

By George Bowden
BBC News

media captionThe final flights bringing British troops arrive in the UK

The final flights bringing British troops home from Afghanistan are arriving, as the UK's 20-year military campaign ends.

The last British flight has left Kabul, and the ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, arrived at RAF Brize Norton on Sunday morning.

Further flights are expected to arrive at the RAF base in Oxfordshire later.

More than 15,000 people, including about 2,200 children, have been evacuated by the UK since 14 August.

About 800 to 1,100 eligible Afghans, including those who worked for the UK government, and 100 to 150 British nationals were feared to be unable to make evacuation flights.

More than 1,000 UK service personnel were in Kabul at the height of the airlift operation. The final dedicated civilian evacuation flight left Kabul on Saturday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday that if the Taliban regime wanted diplomatic recognition and aid funding, they would have to ensure "safe passage" for those who wanted to leave.

In a joint statement with the US and more than 90 other countries, it was confirmed that the Taliban had said anyone who wished to leave the country could do so.

The statement said: "We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorisation from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country."

At the scene: Pride and frustration as evacuation ends

image source, Reuters

By Simon Jones, BBC reporter

At RAF Brize Norton, they're preparing for the arrival of more British troops from Afghanistan.

The vast majority of military personnel have now left the region. Dogs and equipment have been brought back too.

There's a sense of pride at the air base at how the evacuation operation has gone over the past two weeks - in hugely challenging circumstances.

But there's also frustration that some people who wanted to get out of the country have been left behind.

Some of the troops, who will now face a period in quarantine, will need support too - due to the harrowing scenes they witnessed at Kabul airport.

And although we are seeing the last major flights to the UK carrying troops from Kabul, more personnel will be brought back in smaller groups in the coming days, meaning the operation still has some time to run.

Vice Adm Key, chief of joint operations, said that while he "pays testament" to everything achieved by British forces over the last two weeks, "we know that there are some really sad stories of people who have desperately tried to leave that - no matter how hard our efforts - we have been unsuccessful in evacuating".

Speaking at RAF Brize Norton, Vice Adm Key said the 31 August deadline imposed by the Taliban prevented them evacuating more people "who had helped us so wonderfully and courageously over the last 20 years".

Ambassador Sir Laurie, who had been processing those fleeing the country at the airport, pledged to continue efforts to support Afghanistan from a new embassy location in Qatar.

media caption"Thousands more did get out... thousands more are still left behind"

No 10 said the youngest child evacuated was just one day old.

About 5,000 British nationals and their families were airlifted, alongside more than 8,000 Afghan former UK staff and their families and those considered at risk from the Taliban.

This number is in addition to the number of Afghans set to be resettled in the UK through a separate multi-year programme - with all arrivals coming under a new effort called Operation Warm Welcome.

media captionBoris Johnson: "It's the culmination of a mission unlike anything we've seen in our lifetimes"

In a video posted on Twitter on Sunday, Mr Johnson praised the "colossal exertions" of those involved in the evacuation operation who worked "to a remorseless deadline, in harrowing conditions".

He said that although the UK "would not have wished to leave in this way", the suffering and hardship of all the troops involved over 20 years was "not in vain".

What happens to Afghan refugees coming to the UK?

  • Arrivals on official flights enter a 10-day Covid quarantine in a hotel
  • Government officials and local authorities are trying to find them permanent homes
  • A shortage of suitable accommodation means many will be placed in hotels
  • Some will get refugee status and can live in the UK permanently
  • Others will get a five-year visa to live and work in the UK - and can then apply for permanent residence
  • Afghans arriving independently will enter the normal system for asylum claims - which has a backlog of 70,000 people
  • These people cannot settle, or work, while their claims are considered

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