The diplomat leading the UK’s rescue mission in Afghanistan has said the Kabul airport evacuation effort is ‘without a doubt’ the greatest international challenge he has faced.
Sir Laurie Bristow, British ambassador to Afghanistan, has won plaudits for staying behind in the Afghan capital to personally help process visas for those seeking to escape.
The experienced diplomat has relocated from the embassy in Kabul – which has been emptied following the Taliban takeover – to an emergency handling centre set up at the city’s airport to process the applications of those hoping to come to the UK.
Operation Pitting is supported by 600 British troops – including Paras from 16 Air Assault Brigade – as well as a small number of additional Home Office staff.
In a statement issued by the Foreign Office, Sir Laurie said: ‘The scale of this effort is enormous and is without a doubt the biggest international challenge I have worked on as a diplomat.
‘Lives are at stake and I am incredibly proud of the tenacious efforts of my team during these challenging times, with military and civilian staff working together to successfully evacuate thousands of people in the last week.
‘We will continue to work tirelessly to get British nationals, Afghan staff and others at risk out of the country as quickly as possible as we also support Afghanistan’s long-term future.’
The Prime Minister on Friday paid tribute to Sir Laurie and his team, and also to Home Office, Border Force, Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence officials who have travelled to Afghanistan to aid repatriation efforts.
Mr Johnson said 1,000 people had been repatriated to the UK on both Thursday and Friday, with most of them UK nationals or those who had assisted British efforts in Afghanistan.
It comes as US President Joe Biden signalled he wanted the evacuations completed by the end of the month as he prepares to withdraw all American troops – a move that would likely force Britain to wrap up its operation at the same time as the airport cannot be held without them.
Mr Johnson told reporters after an emergency Government meeting that the situation in the central Asian country was ‘slightly better’, although reports have suggested the airport scenario has since worsened.
Sky News said it had spoken to British troops at the airport who, having served in Afghanistan previously, said the queues, crushing and desperation of people to get out of the country were the worst scenes they had witnessed during their service.
There have been reports of people at the front of queues dying in the stampede.
Elsewhere, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy shared a letter on social media addressed to Dominic Raab in which she describes hearing of people being ‘shot at, beaten and raped’ while waiting to be called forward at the airport
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