The last civilian evacuation flight has taken off from Kabul, with all remaining jets to Britain today carrying out the last of the troops and diplomatic personnel from Afghanistan.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the final rescue flight as part of Operation Pitting left overnight.
It means leaving behind 150 Britons and around 1,000 Afghans eligible for migration who have not been able to get to the airport which is guarded by the Taliban and faces a constant threat of attacks by ISIS.
The Pentagon overnight announced it carried out a drone strike on the ISIS ‘planner’ behind Thursday’s suicide bombing which killed at least 170 people, including 13 U.S. soldiers, two Britons and the child of a UK national at Kabul airport.
The ISIS chief’s car was obliterated by a missile while driving through Nangahar province, eastern Afghanistan.
Britain’s last flight with military and official personnel is expected to land later today ahead of the Tuesday withdrawal deadline agreed by the U.S. and the Taliban.
Gen. Sir Nick Carter said: ‘We should be holding our breath and thinking really hard of that last aeroplane.’
U.S. troops now face a ‘very difficult’ few days acting as the ‘rear guard’ to the withdrawal, he added.
‘I think our American allies are going to be very challenged because the threat from ISIS-K has not gone away and of course there are still lots of desperate Afghans trying to get out,’ Sir Nick said.
General Sir Richard Barrons warned that ISIS now posed a threat which reached beyond Afghanistan to the UK.
‘What [the suicide bombing] does do is illustrate that Isis-K is a risk to the United Kingdom, here at home, and to our interests abroad,’ the general said.
‘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.’
The Taliban have set up new layers of checkpoints on roads leading to the airport, some manned by uniformed fighters with Humvees and night-vision goggles captured from Afghan security forces. Areas where large crowds have massed for the past two weeks were largely empty.
The MoD said last night that 14,543 people had now been extracted from Kabul since August 13, a mix of Afghan and British nationals, and that now the focus would turn to getting diplomats and service personnel out.
Some 8,000 of those were Afghans and their families under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme, which applies to those who helped the UK and are at risk of persecution by the Taliban.
The British ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, said: ‘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.’
As Britain’s 20-year military involvement in Afghanistan draws to a close:
- Among the dead in Thursday’s suicide blast was Muhammad Niazi, a British Afghan who had travelled from London to help get his family inside the airport, according to the BBC;
- Boris Johnson appeared to take a swipe at Joe Biden, saying the timing of the pull-out was ‘not the one that this country would have chosen’;
- The PM said the scenes in Afghanistan after the bombing were ‘extremely difficult and extremely horrible’;
- Animal rescuer Pen Farthing made it out of the country with 200 cats and dogs but without his Afghan staff
- A Pentagon spokesman admitted thousands of Islamic State terrorists had been released by the Taliban from US prisons in Afghanistan;
- US officials warned they feared more attempted terror attacks before all Western troops leave ahead of Tuesday’s deadline;
- Defence Secretary Ben Wallace criticised Foreign Office officials who left documents identifying vulnerable Afghan workers strewn on the floor of the British Embassy;
- It emerged that the Taliban now have access to biometric devices containing the names and details – including fingerprints – of Afghans who have helped US forces;
Afghans queue at the main entrance gate of Kabul airport hoping to leave Afghanistan in Kabul on Saturday. The last UK flight carrying civilians left last night. All further British planes will be carrying military and diplomatic personnel
A Taliban Badri fighter, a ‘special forces’ unit, stands guard as Afghans walk to the main entrance gate of Kabul airport
Members of the British armed forces 16 Air Assault Brigade walk to the air terminal after disembarking a RAF Voyager aircraft at Brize Norton on Saturday
British troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade walk off the runway after arriving back at RAF Brize Norton on Saturday
Pictured: Afghan collaborators, their families, Spanish soldiers and members of the embassy board a Spanish military plane as part of their evacuation, at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 27, 2021
Pictured: An Afghan man hands his child to a British Paratrooper assigned to 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment while a member of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division conducts security at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug 26, 2021
Pictured: A view of injured people and dead bodies after an explosion near the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 26, 2021
British troops were seen securing the perimeter outside the Baron Hotel, near the Abbey Gate in Kabul on Thursday following the bombing
Pictured left: Muhammad Niazi, a British Afghan who travelled there from London to help his family. Pictured right: One of Mr Niazi’s daughters. As of last night, his wife, youngest child and eldest daughter were still missing, according to the broadcaster, with his brother and survivor of the blast – Abdul Hamid – saying ‘I saw some children in the river’
ISIS-K, short for ISIS Khorasan Province, are believed to be operating in the east of Afghanistan on the border with Pakistan
But the announcement was followed by disappointment at the roughly 1,000 Afghans left behind.
Shadow defence secretary John Healey said: ‘This is the brutal truth, despite getting more than 14,000 people out, there are probably 1,000 Afghans who have worked with us over two decades in Afghanistan, helped our troops, our aid workers, our diplomats, that we promised to protect, but we’re leaving behind.
‘And I know those troops in particular will feel our failure on this as a country is a betrayal of many of those who risked their own lives to work alongside us.
‘And I think what’s important now is that we may be giving up the airport, but we cannot give up on the Afghan people or fighting to try and protect the gains that they and our troops and our diplomats and aid workers have worked so hard over two decades to gain in Afghanistan.’
Boris Johnson has admitted he felt a ‘great sense of regret’ about the many hundreds that UK forces had been unable to evacuate from Kabul.
Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the Foreign Affairs committee, said the fact people would be left behind filled him with ‘anger and shame’ and warned ‘we may find ourselves with the biggest hostage crisis the UK has ever seen.’
‘Quite rightly, British citizens and entitled persons are literally in fear of their lives right now.’
The former Army Lieutenant Colonel is one of a growing number of MPs from across the political spectrum to have accused the Government of ‘failing’ in its mission to keep Afghan staff safe by not completing the evacuations.
Mr Tugendhat added: ‘Defeat means you don’t get a say… we have just been defeated, we have no influence over Kabul anymore.’
And security sources said they feared that elements of the Taliban or Isis-K could capture vulnerable Afghans or UK citizens and demand a ransom.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke of his ‘great sense of regret’ at those left behind.
He said: ‘Of course, as we come down to the final hours of the operation there will sadly be people who haven’t got through, people who might qualify.
‘What I would say to them is that we will shift heaven and earth to help them get out, we will do whatever we can in the second phase.’
One of the victims of Thursday’s Kabul suicide bombing has been named as Muhammad Niazi, a British Afghan who travelled there from London to help his family at the airport, according to the BBC.
As of last night, his wife, youngest child and eldest daughter were still missing, with his brother and survivor of the blast, Abdul Hamid, telling the broadcaster: ‘I saw some small children in the river, it was so bad. It was doomsday for us.’
According to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Niazi was a taxi driver from Aldershot who travelled to Afghanistan to rescue his family as the Taliban bore down on the city, and chaos led to scenes of mass panic at the airport.
It is feared that his wife and two of their daughters were also caught up in the bombing, and possibly killed, and the couple’s other daughter and only son are understood to have been severely injured, the newspaper reported.
He is understood to have flown from Heathrow to Azerbaijan, before travelling to Afghanistan in an attempt to take his family to safety.
Imran Naizi, a friend and member of the same mosque as Muhammad Niazi (of no relation), told The Telegraph that the Afghan community and Aldershot are mourning the loss of a dedicated family man.
‘None of us can believe this has happened. It is such a tragedy,’ he said. ‘He flew from Heathrow on Wednesday to make the dangerous journey to pick up his family for a better life here and he has been killed along with them. It’s unbelievable.’
It is unclear whether Mr Niazi is counted among one of the three British victims reported by the Foreign Office earlier on Friday.
International fury is mounting over U.S. president Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from the country, which led to the Taliban’s lighting-fast takeover of Afghanistan and in-turn sparked the desperate evacuation, with foreign countries being given a August 31 deadline to get their citizens out.
In the US, the fathers of two of the Marines killed in the bomb attack on Kabul airport on Thursday are blaming Biden for their deaths, saying he turned his back on the troops on the ground with his chaotic evacuation attempt that made them sitting ducks for ISIS-K.
Thirteen US troops were killed along with 170 Afghans at the airport when a single suicide bomber detonated his vest.
Among them were Navy medic Max Soviak, and Marines Hunter Lopez, Rylee McCollum, David Lee Espinoza, Kareem Nikoui, Jared Schmitz, Ryan Knauss, Daegan Page, Taylor Hoover and an unnamed special forces soldier.
McCollum’s wrestling coach and a close family friend told DailyMail.com that ‘heads should roll’ over the debacle.
Ben Arlotta said he is furious at the Biden administration and blames the White House for putting soldiers in an unnecessarily dangerous position.
‘It’s a junk show, an absolute junk show. Not just for Rylee but for every serviceman and woman over there. They were put in a very terrible spot. In my opinion this entire circumstance has been mismanaged from every level,’ he told DailyMail.com.
‘The only thing I can hope for is that accountability isn’t forgotten. Because for the 13 men who were killed yesterday, heads need to roll for the way things have gone.
Nikoui’s father Steve told The Daily Beast on Friday: ‘They sent my son over there as a paper pusher and then had the Taliban outside providing security. I blame my own military leaders… Biden turned his back on him. That’s it.’
Schmitz’s father, meanwhile, said: ‘Be afraid of our leadership or lack thereof. Pray every day for the soldiers that are putting their lives at risk, doing what they love which is protecting all of us.’
White House Secretary Jen Psaki did not mince words when asked on Friday about Biden’s pledge to track down the terrorists responsible for the deadly attack, saying that the president ‘does not want them to live on the earth any more.’
Her remarks came a day after Biden vowed that ‘we will hunt you down and make you pay.’
Soviak’s sister said in an Instagram post: ‘He was a f****** medic. There to help people and now he is gone and my family will never be the same.’
Soviak, believed to be in his early 20s, was named by his high school in Ohio. McCollum was named by his high school in Wyoming while Espinoza, 20, was named by the local police department in Laredo, Texas, where he was born. McCollum was expecting his first child with his wife. He was deployed to Afghanistan in April.
Nikoui’s father added that he was relieved when his son signed up as a Marine when Trump was in office because he ‘really believed this guy didn’t want to send people into harm’s way.’
As the Afghan victims of the horrific Kabul airport suicide bombing were being buried, friends and relatives spoke of ‘the best and the brightest of their generation being cruelly cut down in their prime.’
The faces of the tragic, mainly young, victims came from all corners of Afghan society, but they all shared a hope for a better life away from the Taliban‘s rule.
The funerals taking place across the city today ranged from that of a talented young woman journalist to a member of the Afghan national taekwondo team. Several families were devastated by the loss of more than one cousin or sibling, and one family lost four young men.
Afghan TV presenter Muslim Shirzad, 30, who tweeted many of the images of this tragic gallery of smiling victims, said families and friends had contacted him with the sad news.
The announcement of the three deaths came as Pentagon officials in the U.S. said that there was only one suicide bomber involved in the attack, and not two as had been previously claimed, further adding to the fears and confusion over the ongoing evacuation operation on the ground.
Speaking at a briefing on Friday, U.S. Army General Hank Taylor said: ‘I can confirm that we do not believe there was a second explosion at or near the Baron hotel. It was one suicide bomber. In the confusion of very dynamic events can cause information to get confused.’
He added: ‘We’re not sure how that report was provided incorrectly’, adding that it was ‘important to correct the record.’
The deaths at the airport have caused uproar in the U.S., with the fathers of of at least two of the Marines killed in the bomb attack blaming Biden, saying he turned his back on the troops on the ground with his chaotic evacuation attempt that made them sitting ducks for ISIS-K.
Najma Saddique, 21, from Kabul (pictured left) and her sister Zuhal (right). Ms Saddique was in her third year of a journalism course at the city’s university when she was killed in the horrific Kabul airport suicide bombing on Thursday
The Afghan Taekwondo Federation confirmed that Mohammad Jan Soltani (pictured), a member of the national taekwondo team, was killed in a suicide attack in Kabul on Thursday. Pictured right: Wasiq Ehsan, a third-year student in literature and modern languages at Kabul University who also lost his life
U.S. Marine Kareem Nikoui, pictured with his mother, was killed on Thursday. His father said he blames Biden for abandoning them in Kabul
Navy medic Max Soviaks (left), Marine Rylee McCollum (center) and David Lee Espinoza, 20, who were both killed in the ISIS blast at Kabul airport
Jared Schmitz (left) and David Lee Espinoza, 20 (right)
President Joe Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office at the White House on Friday. He did not take questions but made a brief statement on Afghanistan, saying it was a ‘dangerous but worthy mission’
Pictured: A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the August 26 twin suicide bombs, which killed scores of people, at Kabul airport on August 27, 2021
TV presenter Muslim Shirzad told MailOnline: ‘The generation which should have been Afghanistan’s hope has now become a generation of frustration and escapees.
‘Before the Taliban returned, Kabul was like the pulsing heart of Afghanistan’s talented new generation, but now it looks like a ghost city
‘Despite the threat of violence in Afghanistan, we had the motivation to go forward and be part of change in our country, but now we are just the audience at a horror movie and can’t control the outcome.
‘The youth of Afghanistan saw what happened two weeks ago as history repeating itself – a history they didn’t feel part of and wanted to escape.
‘These young people felt they had no choice but to feel from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, but instead they were cut down in their prime.’
Teenager Mohammad Jan Soltani had fought his way onto the country’s national taekwondo team, but was killed in the outrage, according to Svaka News Agency.
Najma Saddique, 21, from Kabul, was in her third year of a journalism course at the city’s university, but her poise in front of the camera had already bagged her an on-screen job with one of Afghanistan’s morning TV shows.
A friend told MailOnline: ‘The idea of a young woman appearing on TV was unthinkable under the Taliban before, but Najma and her sister Zuhal, who is also a journalist, don’t remember those days.
‘Najma was so hopeless when the Taliban took over in Afghanistan and she decided to try and escape the country with her brother Wasiq, 19, and her cousin.’
The friend said the three wanted to escape to Canada or the United States. ‘She just wanted to be safe. It was the third time they’d been to the airport and tried to get out.’
Zuhal, 22, now grieving with her parents and another brother said: ‘This has left us without any hope – our family is torn apart.’
Four young men, all members of the same family, named Taher, Naseer, Emran and Bilal, also paid with their lives after joining the crowd of desperate people trying to escape their country.
Abdul Khaber Ibrahimkhail, was a 17-years-old Frisbee enthusiast from Kabul who dreamed of coming to London, according to his elder brother Moner, 27.
‘My brother got a passport for the first time three months ago when the situation began to deteriorate,’ said Mr Ibrahimkhail, who escaped to Austria a year ago.
‘Before that point, he saw a future here and really wanted to be someone in his own country. He was in year 11 and was a member of the Afghanistan Frisbee Federation.
‘He went to the airport in the first wave of people with our sister and her husband, who was also injured. My family didn’t find my brother’s body until the next day.’
The Raheens were another family destroyed by the terrorist atrocity. Dr Khalid Raheen and his sons Milad and Ferdaws Raheen, both in their early 20s, were all killed in the attack.
Wasiq Ehsan was a third-year student in literature and modern languages at Kabul University who also lost his life.
The Raheens were another family destroyed by the terrorist atrocity. Dr Khalid Raheen (pictured top) and his sons Milad and Ferdaws Raheen (pictured bottom), both in their early 20s, were all killed in the attack
Four young men, all members of the same family, named Taher, Naseer, Emran and Bilal, also paid with their lives after joining the crowd of desperate people trying to escape their country. Pictured: A composite image posted to twitter showing the four family members
A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the terrorist attack which killed over 100 people outside Kabul airport
The British soldiers are seen securing the perimeter outside the Baron Hotel on Thursday night near a road which leads to the Abbey Gate of Kabul airport
Pictured: Members of Spanish National Police forces and military personnel who were stationed in Afghanistan disembark from the last Spanish evacuation flight, at the Torrejon de Ardoz air base, 30 km from Madrid, on August 27, 2021
Britain is planning to take out ISIS-K chiefs responsible for Kabul airport suicide bombing as PM tells of his ‘great regret’ at leaving Afghans behind
The UK was last night plotting the elimination of Isis-K leaders responsible for the Kabul atrocity as it emerged that two British nationals and the child of another Briton were among at least 170 killed in the attack.
Ministers said they were prepared to ‘take action’ to deal with the terror threat as the death toll continued to rise following the suicide bomb blast which signalled the biggest single loss of American troops in Afghanistan for a decade.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed the deaths of two British adults as well as injuries to two others. It is understood the child who died was a teenager.
Mr Raab said: ‘These were innocent people and it is a tragedy that as they sought to bring their loved ones to safety in the UK they were murdered by cowardly terrorists.
‘Yesterday’s despicable attack underlines the dangers facing those in Afghanistan and reinforces why we are doing all we can to get people out. We are offering consular support to their families.
‘We will not turn our backs on those who look to us in their hour of need and we will never be cowed by terrorists.’
Ministers said they were prepared to ‘take action’ to deal with the terror threat as the death toll continued to rise following the suicide bomb blast which signalled the biggest single loss of American troops in Afghanistan for a decade. Above: The aftermath of the blast
Papers left in embassy put Afghan allies in danger
The Defence Secretary has expressed fury at Foreign Office staff who left documents identifying vulnerable Afghans at the British embassy.
Ben Wallace said the security lapse was ‘clearly not good enough’ as it left the details of those who had been working with Britain free for the Taliban to find.
Speaking to LBC yesterday, he added that the Prime Minister would be ‘asking some questions’ about the failure to destroy the potentially life threatening information.
And Tom Tugendhat, Tory chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said the debacle would form part of an upcoming Commons inquiry with ‘evidence already coming in’.
The blunder emerged when Anthony Loyd, a reporter for The Times, came across the documents while accompanying a Taliban patrol.
Papers scattered around a barbecue were found to identify seven Afghans – including a senior embassy figure.
They also revealed the details of two people applying for jobs.
Some of the staff members had already been evacuated to the UK, The Times found when reporters called the numbers listed. But the fate of at least two job applicants remains unknown.
The Foreign Office said ‘every effort was made to destroy sensitive material’.
Heartbreaking tributes began emerging last night to those named among the dead. Boris Johnson branded the attack ‘contemptible’ while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was ‘incredibly sad’ to learn that British nationals had lost their lives.
He added: ‘Getting your family to safety should not cost you your life. We must urgently help those left behind to avoid any more tragic deaths.’
Yesterday it emerged that the fatalities were the result of a single suicide bomb attack rather than two blasts as previously believed.
An Isis-K terrorist is thought to have detonated a suicide vest in the middle of families waiting for evacuation flights near a sewage canal by the airport.
Afghans were still desperate to escape yesterday as the clock ticked down on evacuation efforts with hundreds queuing by the sewage canal where bodies lay just hours earlier.
Among the dead was Muhammad Niazi, a British Afghan who had travelled from London to help get his family inside the airport, according to the BBC.
Last night his youngest child, eldest daughter and wife were still missing.
His brother Abdul Hamid, who survived, said: ‘I saw some small children in the river [canal]. It was so bad. It was doomsday.’
It is not thought that Mr Niazi was one of the British fatalities reported by the Foreign Office. At least 13 US military personnel were killed in the attack, including Navy medic Max Soviak, from Ohio, who was in his early 20s.
Yesterday his sister Marilyn described him as a ‘beautiful, intelligent, beat-to-the-sound of his own drum, annoying, charming baby brother.’
She added: ‘He was just a kid. He was a f****** medic. There to help people. And now he is gone and my family will never be the same.’
His former school said he was ‘well respected and liked by everyone who knew him’.
Three US marines killed in the attack were named yesterday as Rylee McCollum, David Lee Espinoza and Kareem Nikoui.
Yesterday Mr Nikoui’s father Steve, of California, expressed anger that his son had been sent to Afghanistan as a ‘paper pusher’ with the Taliban ‘providing security.’
He insisted: ‘I blame my own military leaders… Biden turned his back on him.’ Mr McCollum, from Wyoming, graduated from high school in 2019 before joining the Marine Corps
Facebook pages appearing to belong to him and his wife show wedding photos from May and indicate that the couple were expecting a child.
Wyoming governor Mark Gordon wrote on Twitter: ‘I’m devastated to learn Wyoming lost one of our own in yesterday’s terrorist attack in Kabul. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Rylee McCollum.’
Mr Espinoza, 20, was named by police in Laredo, Texas, where he was born.
The names of three other young marines killed also emerged on Facebook last night.
Tributes were paid to Hunter Lopez, 22, from California, Staff Sergeant Taylor Hoover from Utah, and Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz, 20, from Missouri.
Earlier, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace indicated that Britain was ready to target Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan after the group claimed responsibility for the terror attack.
The splinter group Isis-K is named after Khorasan province, a historical swathe of eastern Afghanistan. Members view the Taliban as moderates.
Mr Wallace told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We are already on a mission to deal with Isis, whether they are in Iraq, Syria or anywhere else where they pose an imminent threat to UK citizens and indeed the interests of that country, or where we operate for mutual self-defence.
‘If Isis, as it clearly does, poses an imminent threat to the UK and its people, then under international law we have the right to take action and we will take action where we see that threat emerge – and we have the ability to do that.’
Mr Wallace refused to be drawn into the type of action, but insisted the UK had the ‘capabilities’ to deal with terror threats.
Later he suggested that the Armed Forces could target the leadership of Isis-K in the hope of eliminating the threat from lower-level fighters.
He told Times Radio: ‘There are lots of methods to find who is in charge.’
Referencing the mission to hunt down an Islamic State leader in north-west Syria in 2019, he added: ‘If you remember the United States raided and killed Al Baghdadi, the leader of Isis. It is possible to find the leadership of Isis around the world.’
Joe Biden earlier vowed to ‘hunt down’ those behind the suicide bombing and ‘make them pay’.
Last night the US President’s security team were warning that another terror attack was ‘likely’ in Kabul.
The UK’s ability to process any more evacuations from Afghanistan is now ‘extremely reduced’, the Ministry of Defence warned last night.
It said that 14,543 people had been extracted from Kabul since August 13, including 8,000 Afghans and their families under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme.
Never have I seen such horror… is that why journalists were bundled out so early? STUART RAMSAY, who was in the gully at Kabul airport hours before it was bombed, sends a vivid and angry last dispatch from Afghanistan as the country is lost to extremists
By Stuart Ramsay
Ever since we were ejected from Afghanistan on Thursday I have been unable to get the faces of those we left behind out of my mind.
As our convoy for the airport swung out of the iron gates of the hotel compound that had been taken over as the British evacuation base, we drove past thousands of people still begging for a chance to leave.
We passed the sewage canal where hundreds stood knee deep in stinking water, pleading to have their cases heard by the soldiers on the other side of the canal.
A short distance away we were taken through the fortified Abbey Gate entrance to the airport where thousands more people were still waiting to join the queue, hands in the air holding passports and paperwork.
We had been reporting in this small and crowded area constantly. It was just hours after we drove through for the last time that we learned of the two suicide bombs detonated by Isis-K fanatics, one outside the hotel and one at Abbey Gate.
Scores lay dead and it’s agonising to think that among the bloodied and mutilated corpses were perhaps people we had interviewed only hours before.
Afghans lie on beds at a hospital after they were wounded in the deadly attacks outside the airport in Kabul
Sky News correspondent Stuart Ramsay (pictured) was ejected from Afghanistan on Thursday and has struggled to forget the faces of thousands of people he and others left behind in the country
Horrifying footage from Kabul airport shows dozens of Afghans lying in blood after a ISIS suicide bomber attacked crowds who were hoping to flee the Taliban
Medical and hospital staff bring an injured man on a stretcher for treatment after two blasts, which killed at least five and wounded a dozen, outside the airport in Kabul yesterday
A man covered in blood was placed on a stretcher and rushed to hospital by volunteers and medical staff after the deadly bombing on Thursday
We had fought to stay on in Kabul but ultimately were kicked out on the orders of the MoD or Whitehall, or both. I suspect the prospect of the withdrawal being filmed in excruciating detail was a risk the Government wasn’t prepared to take.
Finally we joined a queue of people boarding through the enormous jaws of a C17 transporter plane. I watched as an elderly couple, holding hands, looked back at the Afghan mountains looming over the airport. Mountains that are the very essence of Afghanistan.
It seemed to me they were saying goodbye, one last look at their country. They clutched each other for a moment and turned. They will never come back.
On landing in Doha, we left our fellow travellers on the runway. Split from them by our passports and privilege. The evacuees were told to sit and wait on the tarmac. They are, of course, the fortunate ones because they got out of Afghanistan. But their lives have been altered immeasurably in just over a week.
A bag each is all they have. They will go to countries, communities and cultures that are utterly alien. At least they will survive.
We still feel guilty about departing – me, my producer Dominique, Sky colleague Martin, and our cameraman Toby. An easy exit for a group of journalists guaranteed safety by our soldiers.
I’ll bear that guilt for some time and I’ll accept the jibes and scorn for leaving. But I will say this: if we hadn’t been there, nobody would have seen any of the scenes of horror and desperation that have engulfed this entire operation. I’ve reported on the pain and grief of the war in Afghanistan for two decades. But I can’t think of anything worse than the horrors I’ve seen in the past two weeks.
The daylight reveals the bloodied clothes and belongings of Afghan people who were waiting to be evacuated area before the bomb was detonated
The British soldiers are seen securing the perimeter outside the Baron Hotel on Thursday night near a road which leads to the Abbey Gate of Kabul airport
Medical staff bring an injured man to a hospital in an ambulance after two powerful explosions, which killed at least six people, outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021
Wounded women arrive at a hospital for treatment after two blasts outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021
My last visit, about seven years ago, was to cover the election of the current president, Ashraf Ghani, who promised his people a new era of governance and a move towards lasting peace and prosperity.
Those dreams are now shattered – as became clear when I returned to Kabul on August 12.
I am still scratching my head as to how a superpower was brought to its knees by a bunch of blokes driving around in pick-up trucks with Kalashnikovs in the back. The biggest mistake came in 2002.
Just as the war against the Taliban had effectively been won, the decision was made to switch resources to the war in Iraq.
The focus changed, the Taliban grew and grew in strength, and we have been playing catch-up ever since.
The most surprising thing about the suicide bomb attacks was the West’s confident warnings that they might happen.
If their intelligence is that good, how did we reach a point where we didn’t know that all these cities were going to fall so quickly? And why was the evacuation planned on the basis of Kabul being held for a considerable period of time, only for it to capitulate in a day and a half?
In general, the Taliban’s battle plans seem to be drawn up on the back of a cigarette packet. But over the last few weeks they cleverly exploited the Kabul government’s failure to get vital supplies to forces out in the field.
Hemmed in very quickly with little resupply, those forces gave up fighting.
The Taliban’s masterstroke lay in offering to let them go if they gave up without resistance.
In some cases, it was left to local police forces to defend their neighbourhoods.
One of my most distressing interviews was with Farida Khurasani whose husband and brother, both police officers, were killed by the Taliban in the northern city of Kunduz after they were attacked in their police station. She told me they were burnt to death.
She escaped with her two children and I found them sleeping rough in Kabul’s Shahr-e Naw park, along with some 1,800 other families fleeing the fighting once again raging across Afghanistan.
Like so many of the people we met, Farida was angry at the government and felt abandoned.
Throwing dirt in the air, she yelled: ‘Look what we are living in!’
There are many such impromptu camps spread across the country, full of equally enraged and frightened people.
Initially we were based in the centre of Kabul and it was from the roof of our hotel that we saw the first Taliban fighters enter the city.
At a news conference they said they recognised the rights of women ‘that Islam gave them’ and they would be able to go to school and teach and work in hospitals.
This stance should set alarm bells ringing: a sharia interpretation of women’s rights, which by all western standards and much of the rest of the world, isn’t at all a respect for women’s rights, as we know them.
I immediately noticed a difference driving around Kabul compared with the days before.
People on the streets were no longer wearing jeans and T-shirts, they had changed into traditional shalwar kameez clothing, and virtually no women were to be seen.
At the airport, we watched the horrific scenes that unfolded as tens of thousands of people camped on the approach road tried to rush their way through, with people at the front of the queue crushed to death.
So terrible were the images that, as we sent the footage featuring dead bodies back to the UK, we had to warn our editors to steel themselves for the distressing content.
Medics treat a victim of the attack at a hospital in Kabul. Hospitals in the city are struggling to cope with the number of people injured in the blast
A young boy holds his knees in his arms while he sits in the boot of a car next to the coffin of a loved one who died in the terrorist attack
‘Is this a stabilised withdrawal from Afghanistan?’ I thought. It looked like death to me, death trying to reach freedom.
What hit me every time I went outside the hotel compound was the number of very young children enduring all of this.
It must be so, so terrifying for them. It’s noisy, and there are constant gunshots and shouting – it is heartbreaking.
In the coming days the crowds were brought under control by armed Taliban fighters acting as security guards and administering vicious beatings with canes.
There was nothing the Paras could do but hold the line and every day leading up to our departure seemed worse.
Among the thousands still queuing in burning temperatures there was growing panic.
The hours were counting down towards the August 31 deadline for withdrawal, and they knew it.
The only chance now for those who served as translators for the British forces, along with others deemed to have worked against the Taliban, is to return to the villages where their kin may protect them.
But the Taliban are in those villages too and they may be informed on by neighbours willing to sell them down the river.
One hope lies in a possible uprising. I wouldn’t discount it because young people born in the past 20 years (nearly two thirds of Afghans are under 25 years of age) are used to Western ways, the internet and smartphones and won’t want to go back to some sort of medieval nonsense run by a bunch of criminals.
And they are, by and large, just that, the most influential security people within the Taliban organisation belonging to the Haqqani Network, a cartel that sells opium around the world.
Further down the chain are the vicious thugs who take over villages and towns and act like gangsters rather than spiritual leaders.
We know that because people we are close to are already getting messages saying things like: ‘You owe me $4,000 and if you don’t pay me I’m going to kill you.’
I’ve been struck by the whole families I’ve seen fleeing Afghanistan.
There’s a huge brain drain going on and, as other countries are prepared to take them in, Afghanistan will be left with a rump of bearded men who go to the mosque but are not capable or experienced or educated enough to run a country.
Right now, it looks as if that’s what the country will end up with – the trillions of dollars spent, the thousands of lives lost, the sheer scale of the international presence in this poor landlocked country all coming to nought.
The upset, the pain, and the deaths – including 457 British troops and 2,352 Americans – almost defy comprehension.
Shortly before writing this I phoned a British Army officer back at the Baron Hotel and asked him how things had been in the hours since our departure.
‘Grim,’ he said, explaining that between 15 and 30 hardcore Taliban had taken over the entrance and were beating people.
I asked if the withdrawal scheduled for Tuesday was going to end badly. ‘100 per cent, Stuart,’ he replied. ‘100 per cent.
What a ridiculous, expensive, awful, bloody waste.