UK expresses 'tremendous pride' in criticised Afghan evacuation

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the operation showed 'bond of trust' with Afghans

British troops join a flight to Kabul where they would evacuate British nationals and eligible Afghans. AFP
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The UK’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel, expressed “tremendous pride” in her government's controversial evacuation operation after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban.

In an online video released to mark the first anniversary of Operation Pitting, Ms Patel said the UK’s “seismic” effort demonstrated the country's “bond of trust” with those Afghans who had helped UK forces.

Her praise came despite a scathing report earlier this year by MPs, which described chaotic efforts to get UK nationals and the local personnel, who worked with them, out of the country as a “disaster”, and a “betrayal” of allies that would damage British interests for years to come.

About 9,500 Afghan refugees who fled from the Taliban to Britain are still living in hotels almost a year later, at a cost of about £1 million ($1.2m) a day.

Ms Patel said that 21,000 people had been brought to the UK from Afghanistan, including 15,000 evacuated directly through Operation Pitting, and a further 5,000 arriving subsequently.

“Op Pitting was the largest evacuation we'd been involved in since the Second World War. It was seismic,” Ms Patel said.

“The United Kingdom should feel very proud of what it's done to support people in Afghanistan. That absolutely shows our commitment to humanity and doing the right thing for people

“We have a bond of trust with the people of Afghanistan who stood by us and we will stand by them.”

However, a cross-party Commons foreign affairs committee criticised Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary at the time, and the most senior civil servant at the Foreign Office for not returning from their holidays to take charge as the Afghan government crumbled in the face of the Taliban advance.

The hasty efforts to select people for evacuation were, it said, “poorly devised, managed and staffed”, leading to “confusion and false hope” among Afghan partners who were desperate for rescue.

It said British soldiers and civil servants, who worked hard to get as many people out as they could, had been “utterly let down” by the “deep failures of leadership” within government.

None of that, however, was reflected in the comments by Ms Patel released by the Home Office on social media.

“Not many of us slept throughout Operation Pitting, it was 24/7. Our teams in the Home Office were outstanding — we all knew the responsibilities we shared and the responsibilities we had to safeguard life,” she said.

“It was a moment of tremendous pride. Primarily because I was very clear about the security approaches we had to take, the safeguarding approaches we had to take, all the things that matter.”

She said that the Border Force staff who worked alongside British troops processing those Afghans seeking to get to the UK would be presented with a special commemorative award.

Updated: August 14, 2022, 4:49 AM