The UK will conclude its evacuation programme of civilians from Afghanistan on Saturday with only troops left to be flown out after that ahead of the August 31 exit deadline, Britain’s Chief of Defence Staff said.
General Sir Nick Carter said during media interviews on Saturday that the country should be “holding its breath” at the challenge ahead amid the threat posed by the local Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) terror group, which has been behind suicide bombings this week as the airlift rescue operations have been underway.
Carter said Britain is “not out of the woods yet” as the UK’s evacuation efforts following the Taliban takeover draw to a close.
“The plain fact is we have always got that in the back of our minds. For the troops on the ground, they have to be constantly alert and constantly thinking about how they can rebut the threat,” he told the ‘Sky News’.
“We should all be holding our breath and thinking of the last aeroplane and what a challenge it will be for those people trying to effect their departure,” he said.
“We’re reaching the end of the evacuation, which will take place during the course of today, and then of course it’ll be necessary to bring our troops out on the remaining aircraft,” General Carter told the BBC.
“It’s gone as well as it could do in the circumstances… But we haven’t been able to bring everybody out and that has been heartbreaking and there have been some very challenging judgements that have had to be made on the ground,” he said.
The general admitted that the reality is that not everyone will get out.
“Not a day passes where I don’t have a tear in my eye over that,” said Carter.
“It’s not how we hoped it would end, that’s absolutely right… I think we have done an extraordinary job to evacuate as many as we can but I’m afraid it’s absolutely heart-breaking we can’t get everybody out,” he said. “If they are able to get out they will always be welcome but the awful fact of life is difficult decisions have to be made,” he added.
On Friday, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the UK had evacuated 14,543 people from Kabul since August 13.
This includes British nationals as well as nearly 8,000 Afghans eligible under the UK’s relocation scheme for those who worked for the UK government and other vulnerable individuals.
However, the government has said that between 800 and 1,100 eligible Afghans and 100 to 150 Britons have not been evacuated, with senior Cabinet ministers issuing a joint letter to fellow members of Parliament in an effort to reassure them about ongoing efforts.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, along with Home Secretary Priti Patel and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, said that attention would now turn to help those left behind to try to find a way to leave Afghanistan, which fell to the Taliban last week.
They acknowledged that “every single” MP would have been contacted with “heartbreaking stories of those left behind in unimaginable circumstances”.
“Let us reassure you that we will continue to use every lever at our disposal to secure the safe passage of those who wish to leave Afghanistan and to hold the Taliban to account,” they wrote.