UK's Afghanistan evacuation ends as last troops leave but criticism grows

Boris Johnson praises 'effort' but the government is accused of leaving behind Afghans it had promised to protect

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

The last remaining British troops stationed in Afghanistan began to touch down at a military UK airfield on Sunday, bringing to an end Britain's 20-year war in the troubled country.

More aircraft bringing back approximately 1,000 British troops are expected to land at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire through Sunday and possibly into Monday, after the mission's last flight left Kabul airport on Saturday night.

Watch: last UK military flight leaves Afghanistan

Among those to disembark was Britain's ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, who said his embassy will operate from Qatar “for the time being”, but that he and his staff will return to Kabul “as soon as we can".

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday praised the evacuation effort, but his government has been criticised for being too slow to act and for leaving behind many vulnerable Afghans.

In a video message Mr Johnson called the two-week Operation Pitting evacuation mission “colossal”. It is said to have evacuated more than 15,000 UK citizens and Afghans in the past two weeks, with Mr Johnson describing it as being “unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetime”.

Operation lead Vice Admiral Ben Key also praised the effort and said Britain had “tried [its] best.”

Britain's best has still left behind hundreds, possibly thousands, of Afghans whom it had promised to protect, leading to criticism that it was “asleep on watch".

“This issue has been on politicians’ desks for two to three years and, certainly, it’s been there during the course of this year,” former head of the British Army Gen. Richard Dannatt told Times Radio.

“We should have done better, we could have done better. It absolutely behoves us to find out why the government didn’t spark up faster,” he said.

It is unconscionable that there was no strategy in place to get all the British nationals and Afghans we owed a debt to out
Sr Keir Starmer

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was also critical, saying the government had been “missing in action".

“We've known for 18 months that this moment was coming,” he said.

“It is unconscionable that there was no strategy in place to get all the British nationals and Afghans we owed a debt to out.

“I pay tribute to all the FCDO [Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office] staff and military personnel who have, as ever, stepped up when their leaders have failed them.”

Mr Johnson acknowledged that Britain “would not have wished to leave in this way” but said it was tied to the departure timetable set by the US, which will end its 20-year Afghan involvement by August 31.

“Though we now leave with the United States, we will remain represented in the region,” Mr Johnson said.

“Together with our allies in America and Europe and around the world, we will engage with the Taliban not on the basis of what they say but what they do.

Updated: August 29, 2021, 2:32 PM