Afghanistan live news: last dedicated civilian flight to UK has left Kabul, says Ministry of Defence

Afghanistan live news: last dedicated civilian flight to UK has left Kabul, says Ministry of Defence

If you’re just joining us, the final UK evacuation flight purely for Afghan nationals has left Kabul airport, ending an often chaotic process in which around 14,000 people were airlifted out of the country by British forces in less than two weeks.

Final UK evacuation flight purely for Afghan nationals has left Kabul airport
The British Red Cross has said it has been overwhelmed by the kindness shown by the public, who have raised over £1 million for its Afghanistan Crisis appeal.

The charity’s staff and volunteers have been welcoming Afghan families arriving at UK airports, providing emotional support and giving out essential items like food, warm clothing, blankets, shoes and hygiene kits, including soap, nappies and toothbrushes.

Mike Murphy, a British Red Cross emergency responder at Heathrow, said:

People have come from a chaotic area on very long-haul flights, often in cramped conditions with little opportunity to clean and be comfortable. It’s the little things like toothpaste and a toothbrush, a pair of slippers so they can change the shoes that they’ve been wearing for the last 56 hours. They’re quite confused and very tired.

Emergency response officer, Henry Moggridge, said:

There was one family with three tiny children who had no shoes, so we measured their feet and went and got them shoes.

Because the needs of the people change from day to day, it’s difficult to ask for physical donations like clothes or shoes, so having money is so valuable.

You can donate to the British Red Cross Afghanistan Crisis appeal here.

Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson and the German chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the situation in Afghanistan on Saturday and agreed on the need for international aid and a common approach by the G7 to the future government of Afghanistan, Reuters reports.

Johnson’s office said in a statement:

The prime minister and chancellor resolved to work, alongside the rest of the G7, to put in place the roadmap on dealing with any new Afghan government discussed at last week’s leaders’ meeting.

The prime minister stressed that any recognition and engagement with the Taliban must be conditional on them allowing safe passage for those who want to leave the country and respecting human rights.

Final dedicated civilian flight to UK has left Kabul
The final UK evacuation flight purely for Afghan nationals under Operation Pitting has left Kabul airport, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

Any further flights which will now leave Kabul under the UK’s evacuation operation will have UK diplomatic and military personnel on board.

PA understands any further flights would be able to transport those still needing evacuation, but would now also include personnel travelling back to the UK.

Sky News is also reporting, citing defence sources, that remaining flights over the weekend are set to bring home British troops as well as small numbers of Afghan evacuees who have permission to fly.

The British ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, has said it is “time to close this phase” of the evacuation operation from Kabul airport.

In a video posted on Twitter, Bristow – who has remained in Afghanistan processing refugees – said:

The team here have been working until the very last moment to evacuate British nationals, Afghans and others at risk.

Since the 13th of August, we’ve brought nearly 15,000 people to safety, and about 1,000 military, diplomatic, civilian personnel have worked on Operation Pitting in Kabul, many, many more elsewhere.

Thursday’s terrorist attack was a reminder of the difficult and dangerous conditions in which Operation Pitting has been done. And sadly I attended here yesterday the ceremony to pay our respects to the 13 US soldiers who died.

It’s time to close this phase of the operation now, but we haven’t forgotten the people who still need to leave. We’ll continue to do everything we can to help them. Nor have we forgotten the brave, decent people of Afghanistan. They deserve to live in peace and security.

The Taliban has deployed extra forces around Kabul’s airport today to prevent large crowds from gathering, AP reports.

New layers of checkpoints have appeared on roads leading to the airport with some manned by uniformed Taliban fighters with Humvees.

Areas, where large crowds gathered over the past two weeks in the hope of fleeing the country following the Taliban takeover, were now largely empty.

The news that the British evacuation has ended today has alarmed those still trying to get British nationals on planes out of Kabul.

Lyn Brown, MP for West Ham, working on one of these cases told the Guardian:

The primary school-aged daughter of one of my constituents has been waiting on buses for two days now and is continually turned away because while her passport is waiting for her within the airport, she doesn’t have it with her.

Last time, names of those on the bus were checked against a list and supposedly her name wasn’t on it despite all our efforts.

I am at my wits’ end desperately trying every avenue to help but nothing is working.

The Guardian has contacted the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. I will post an update when we have a response.

Hundreds of Afghans have protested outside a bank in Kabul as others form long lines at cash machines, reports AP.

The protesters at New Kabul Bank included many civil servants demanding their salaries, which they said had not been paid for the past three to six months.

They said even though banks reopened three days ago no one has been able to withdraw cash.

ATM machines are still operating, but withdrawals are limited to around $200 (£145) every 24 hours, contributing to the formation of long lines.

People march in protest near the Central Kabul Bank, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has warned of the threat of Islamic State group jihadists, reports AFP.

He is at a summit in Iraq attended by key regional leaders.

Macron said: “We all know that we must not lower our guard, because Daesh (IS) remains a threat, and I know that the fight against these terrorist groups is a priority of your government,” Macron said, after a meeting with the Iraqi prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhemi.

Kadhemi responded that Iraq and France “are key partners in the war against terrorism.”

A Royal Air Force plane carrying soldiers landed at the RAF Brize Norton airbase, Oxfordshire, on Saturday morning. The troops are part of a contingent of 1,000 that have been based in Kabul to help run the airlift.

A British Royal Airforce Voyager aircraft, carrying members of the British armed forces of the 16 Air Assault Brigade, arrives at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire.
A British Royal Air Force Voyager aircraft, carrying members of the British armed forces of the 16 Air Assault Brigade, arrives at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire. Photograph: Alastair Grant/AFP/Getty Images
A crew member opens the door of an RAF Voyager aircraft carrying members of the British armed forces 16 Air Assault Brigade.
A crew member opens the door of an RAF Voyager aircraft carrying. Photograph: Alastair Grant/AFP/Getty Images
A member of the armed forces walks to the air terminal after disembarking a Royal Airforce Voyager aircraft at Brize Norton.
A member of the armed forces gets off the plane. Photograph: Alastair Grant/AFP/Getty Images
Members of the armed forces walk to the air terminal after disembarking a Royal Airforce Voyager aircraft, as the troops return from assisting with the evacuation of people from Kabul airport.
Members of the armed forces walk to the air terminal. Photograph: Alastair Grant/AFP/Getty Images

Civilian evacuations from Afghanistan will finish today, the head of the UK armed forces, Gen Sir Nick Carter, has said.
With very few civilian flights remaining, Carter said it was heartbreaking that the evacuation had failed to get everybody out.

Ending evacuation from Afghanistan is ‘heartbreaking’, UK armed forces chief says
The United Nations has issued an urgent appeal for aid for 7 million Afghan farmers in the war-ravaged nation facing the threat of severe drought, AFP reports.

Covid-19 has further squeezed agricultural workers in the country, which is now controlled by the Taliban after they toppled the US-backed government this month.

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said the farmers worst affected by a drought in the country are among 14 million people – or one in three Afghans – who are “acutely food insecure and need urgent humanitarian assistance”.

“Urgent agricultural support now is key to counter the impact of the drought and a worsening situation in Afghanistan’s vast rural areas in the weeks and months ahead,” the FAO director, Qu Dongyu, said in a statement.

Afghanistan is facing its second severe drought in three years and the UN said this week it could run out of its staple wheat flour from October.

“If we fail to assist the people most affected by the acute drought, large numbers will be forced to abandon their farms and be displaced in certain areas,” Qu added. “This threatens to further deepen food insecurity and poses yet another threat to the stability of Afghanistan.”

The organisation said it was facing a funding shortfall of $18m (€15m) to support its drought response plan in Afghanistan.

It is hoping to help 250,000 families, or around 1.5 million people, for the upcoming winter wheat season. But the funding shortfall means only 110,000 families can be supported.

The appeal comes as humanitarian organisations fear the Taliban’s arrival could hamper access for aid deliveries and personnel.

The UN warned earlier this week that low supplies of food aid were threatening to plunge Afghanistan into a humanitarian disaster.

Afghanistan could start to run out of food by September, UN warns

Mursal Rasa Jamili, a 23-year-old final-year university student, English teacher and journalist in Kabul, was evacuated to the UK with her two sisters. In this diary, she explains what happened during her last days in Afghanistan.

‘I feel helpless, useless and hopeless’: diary of an Afghan evacuee
Read more
One extract reads:

As we were on the plane, I started talking with families around me. One person said: “I wanted my children to grow up with our own traditions but I could not let them die. So I had to take them out.”

The UK is safe and I love it but I am far from my motherland. I really wish we were lucky enough to have a safe and secure country, where we could stay and work to improve it.

British troops will end their evacuation of civilians from Afghanistan on Saturday and many hundreds of Afghans entitled to resettlement in Britain are likely to be left behind, the armed forces chief, Gen Nick Carter, said.

The defence minister, Ben Wallace, said on Friday that the country was entering the final hours of its evacuation and would process only people who were already inside Kabul airport.

Carter told the BBC:

We have some civilian flights to take out, but it is very few now. We’re reaching the end of the evacuation, which will take place during the course of today. And then it will be necessary to bring our troops out on the remaining aircraft.

The Ministry of Defence said late on Friday that it had evacuated more than 14,500 Afghan and British nationals in the two weeks since the Taliban took control of the country.

Wallace said on Friday that he estimated between 800 and 1,100 Afghans who had worked with Britain and were eligible to leave the country would not make it through, and Carter estimated the total would be in the “high hundreds”.

However, it isn’t clear just how many British passport holders remain stranded in Afghanistan or how many eligible people are still waiting for evacuation, my colleague Amelia Gentleman has reported over the last few days.

It is highly likely the MoD figure significantly underestimates the total number left vulnerable to the new regime, as it only refers to people eligible to leave under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap), including their families. So the picture for UK nationals and for Afghans eligible to leave in other ways, of which there are estimated to be thousands, remains unclear.

Many Afghans unable to leave judged it was too dangerous to travel to Kabul airport, Carter went on.

People like me … we are forever receiving messages and texts from our Afghan friends that are very distressing. We’re living this in the most painful way.

The UK’s Afghan war is ending, but questions about its failures need answers, writes HuffPost’s Paul Waugh in last night’s edition of The Waugh Zone.

Here are some key extracts, making the case for an independent public inquiry into UK policy on Afghanistan since 2001.

In many ways, [Boris] Johnson’s hands have of course been tied by his heavy reliance on the Americans. Joe Biden’s refusal to shift his political commitment to the August 31 withdrawal deadline has driven events, though the US president’s failure to keep allies like the UK in the loop has left a bitter taste for many of them.

But while Biden’s boast at the G7 summit in Cornwall – “America is back” – rings hollow, Johnson’s own “Global Britain” mantra has been brutally exposed too. The prime minister’s bigger failure this week was not in shifting Biden’s deadline, it was the woeful lack of concrete pledges on issues like overseas aid. We still have no detailed ‘road map’ for G7 policy on Afghanistan.

Johnson had explicitly said before the virtual meeting that he wanted other nations to “match the UK’s commitments” on development. Yet afterwards, there were no such specifics, only vague ambitions. One reason was perhaps that the UK had forfeited any hope of global leadership on aid when it decided to actually slash funds to Afghanistan last year, only to this summer realise it would have to restore them.

Although Dominic Raab has stressed he began contingency plans in April, he’s had to admit he was caught out by the speed of the Taliban takeover. Raab is in for a very difficult session next week before the foreign affairs committee, not least as he admitted “with hindsight” he should have come home earlier from his Greek holiday after Kabul fell. Unlike defence secretary Ben Wallace, who is seen by MPs on all sides to have been accessible and acting cross-party, Raab is viewed as distant and defensive.

MPs are also increasingly furious with the Home Office for failing to set up its own briefings for them on how to deal with constituents and relatives desperate to get out of Afghanistan. Stella Creasy tells me: “Ministers tell the press the evacuation has ended, but can’t even be bothered to speak to those dealing with these distraught people to help them advise on what next.”

The lack of UK engagement is also upsetting the Pakistan government too, other MPs say. When ministers talk about ‘phase 2’ of the evacuation going through land borders, they really mean Pakistan, yet the country has been given no real clue to the hard cash support needed or details of categorisations of national status and employee status needed for evacuation.

Again, Johnson holds a wider responsibility too. Insiders say Pakistan’s Imran Khan called off a planned visit to the UK this July in part because he felt the PM had no concrete agreement lined up on issues like Afghan refugees.

The huge cost in both money and lives, British and Afghan, deserves a full “lessons learned” account. As we pull up the drawbridge in Kabul airport, today’s British casualties only add to that moral imperative.

Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons foreign affairs select committee, has said he is disappointed the evacuation efforts from Afghanistan by the British armed forces are coming to an end.

The former army officer told BBC Breakfast he was continuing to work to get people out of the country.

I’m extremely sad about this and I very much hope that it might go beyond the August deadline but we found out a few days ago that it wasn’t, so I was expecting it. It still leaves me extremely sad that so many of my friends have been left behind.

What I am working on, and you’ll understand I’m afraid that I’m not going to give you complete details about this, we’re looking at different networks to get people into second countries, and then connecting them to high commissions and ambassadors of the United Kingdom, to get them to the UK safely.

Tugendhat said people should “forget” about getting to Kabul and attempting to fly from the airport, due to the numerous dangerous checkpoints that have been installed along the motorways.

Forget about getting to Kabul. You know there’s 10 checkpoints between them on the motorway, let alone down the motorway, all the way to Kabul. You can absolutely forget about trying to get to the airport because every one of those checkpoints has a danger point where Taliban or indeed affiliated groups, drug dealers or just simply bandits could murder, and certainly have, been murdering various people.

On Wednesday, with chances of being airlifted out of the country dwindling, the British defence secretary, Ben Wallace, advised Afghans seeking to flee to Britain to try to get to the border, and the Foreign Office warned people not to travel to the airport amid the deteriorating security situation.

The former senior military commander, General Sir Richard Barrons, has warned the affiliate of Islamic State in Afghanistan, ISKP, is a threat to the UK.

He said it was likely Britain will have to co-operate with the Taliban in the future in light of the rise of the splinter cell, as a result of a lack of presence on the ground in Afghanistan.

Speaking about the number of casualties in Afghanistan, he told Times Radio:

What it does do is illustrate that Isis-K is a risk to the United Kingdom, here at home, and to our interests abroad. We’re going to find common cause with the US, and indeed I think the Taliban, in bearing down on this terrible organisation for as long as it takes to neuter them.

Before we arrived at this current catastrophic outcome, we had a diplomatic presence, we had a relationship with the Afghan intelligence organisations and we were able to work with some of the very good but now completely dissolved elements of the Afghan security architecture.

We also had the benefit of the sort of drone eyes-in-the-sky that the US provides. And now, all we have left is recourse to this over the horizon, drones support.

So what this actually means is we’re going to end up co-operating, not just with the US, but with the Taliban in the future, in order to deal with Isis-K.

In a separate interview with Times Radio, Barrons said it was going to be a “slow process” but the UK also must co-operate with the Taliban to try and get the rest of the people out of Afghanistan.

What we need to recognise is we are where we are and it is in our own strong, national interest to find a way to get those 1,100 or so people we have a commitment to, who are still stuck in Afghanistan, out and to co-operate with the Taliban in order to stop terrorism coming to the UK.

We are going to have to be pragmatic, I think this will be quite a slow process, it will be conditional but it is necessary.

He added the “risks” to the evacuation efforts are the “same as they have always been” but added the risk will close “quite quickly” due to the evacuation entering its final stages.

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