Kabul airport ‘secure’ for evacuation operation, says UK government

Kabul airport ‘secure’ for evacuation operation, says UK government
Troops attempting to get up to 1,500 British nationals and local allies out a day

British troops are racing against the clock to get remaining UK nationals and their local allies out of Afghanistan following the dramatic fall of the country’s Western-backed government to the Taliban.

UK defence secretary Ben Wallace said the military side of Kabul airport was “secure” and that Britain was doing everything it could to evacuate both British citizens and Afghans with links to Britain.

The Operation Pitting rescue operation, involving 600 troops, is attempt to evacuate around 4,000 British nationals and eligible Afghans out of Kabul in the coming days.

“The military side of the airport is secure and controlled, and military flights are coming in and out,” Mr Wallace told Sky News on Monday. “They’ve just brought in more British soldiers.”

The cabinet minister added: “Our target is … about 1,200 to 1,500 exit a day in the capacity of our aeroplanes, and we’ll keep that flow.”

However, the speed of the Taliban advance suggests there may only be a short window to get people out. In a sign of desperation, the British ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow was said to be helping diplomats process the applications of Afghans keen to leave the country.

Mr Wallace said Border Force officials had joined troops to “accelerate” the process. “The next group of Afghans to come out is 782 [people], and we’ll make sure we’ll get them in the next 34 to 36 hours out of the country.”

The minister told BBC Breakfast that work is under way to “remove any bureaucratic barriers” to make sure people pass screenings. “Currently, this is not about capacity on planes, it’s about processing speeds, so that’s why I’m trying to fix that.”

The defence secretary also acknowledged the Taliban was now in control of Afghanistan, and insisted British forces will not be returning to fight the insurgents.

“I acknowledge that the Taliban are in control of the country,” Mr Wallace told Sky News. “I mean, you don’t have to be a political scientist to spot that’s where we’re at.”

Asked if British troops could still return to fight in Afghanistan with Nato, Wallace said: “That’s not on the cards – we’re going to go back.” It echoes comments by Boris Johnson, who said at the weekend there is no “military solution” to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Britain has relocated its embassy to Kabul airport from the city. Asked how it felt to see the Taliban flag flying over the former British embassy building in Kabul, Mr Wallace said: “Symbolically, it’s not what any of us wanted.”

The defence secretary it was not yet the right time to decide on whether to recognise the Taliban as the Afghan government. “I think there is a lot of more to come before those decisions are made,” he said. “The proof of the pudding will be obviously in their actions rather than their rhetoric.”

Mr Wallace added: “I think we all saw that and felt a real sense of sadness that first of all the forces that the British and the international community had invested in had melted away in some areas so quickly.”

“You don’t fix things overnight in global issues, you have to manage them … when that deal was done a few years ago, what happened was ultimately we undermined the community – the deal undermined the Afghan government and left it in a place that ultimately saw the end.”

MPs won’t return to Westminster on Wednesday in an emergency recall of parliament to debate the crisis. 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.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the prime minister must set out immediate plans to prevent the fall of the Afghan government turning into a humanitarian crisis.

Videos depicted chaotic scenes at Kabul airport on Sunday, the only way out for thousands of people following rapid advance of the Taliban into the capital.

Remaining US personnel and Afghans fearing the return of Taliban rule were seen climbing onto military aircraft, scenes which drew comparisons with the hasty exit of US forces from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.

Chinook helicopters had shuttled back and forth between the US embassy and airport to remove remaining staff.

More than 60 countries issued a joint statement saying Afghans and international citizens who want to leave Afghanistan must be allowed to depart and added that airports and border crossings must remain open.

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