Final UK plane carrying military personnel leaves Kabul

Washington warns of 'specific, credible threat' near Kabul Airport

By: AFP      Published: 07:52 AM, 29 Aug, 2021
Final UK plane carrying military personnel leaves Kabul
UK troops boarding UK final flight out of Afghanistan.

The UK on Saturday flew out the last of its military from Afghanistan, concluding its pullout while leaving hundreds of Afghans eligible for resettlement behind. 

The defence ministry tweeted that the "final flight carrying UK Armed Forces personnel has left Kabul", posting photos of drawn and tired-looking soldiers entering a plane.

In a tribute to the troops, the ministry wrote: "To all those who served so bravely under enormous pressure and horrendous conditions to safely evacuate the most vulnerable of civilians: Thank you." 

Earlier Saturday, the UK sent out a final plane carrying only civilian evacuees as it wound up its operation to airlift civilians, diplomats and troops ahead of the August 31 deadline agreed with the Taliban for US troop withdrawal.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked those behind the rescue operation, saying they had helped over 15,000 people in less than two weeks.

"I want to thank everyone involved and the thousands of those who served over the last two decades. You can be proud of what you have achieved," Johnson said in a message posted on social media.

Defence Minister Ben Wallace said UK troops had "helped thousands to get to a better future and safety".

- 'Heartbreaking' -

The head of the UK armed forces, General Sir Nick Carter earlier Saturday told the BBC the evacuation operation had "gone as well as it could do" but admitted it was "heartbreaking" that "we haven't been able to bring everybody out".

The armed forces chief estimated the number of eligible Afghans who had not been evacuated as "in the high hundreds".

He stressed that Britain would welcome them if they managed to leave after the deadline, through third countries or other ways.

Defence Secretary Wallace earlier estimated that up to 1,100 Afghans eligible for relocation under the UK's scheme "didn't make it".

Several British nationals waiting outside the airport were among those killed in a bomb attack on Thursday, claimed by the regional Islamic State chapter.

The BBC reported Saturday that a taxi driver from London, Mohammad Niazi, was killed while his wife and two of their children were missing.

Foreign minister Dominic Raab said Friday that two British nationals and the child of another British citizen were killed. It was not clear whether this figure included Niazi.

The last few days will be "a very demanding operation" for the US, Carter said.

"I think our American allies who will effectively be the rearguard as this happens, are going to be very challenged", he said, adding that the threat from Islamic State "has not gone away".

- Controversial animal rescue -

One of the last to leave Kabul was the British head of an animal charity, who flew out on a privately chartered plane along with some 200 cats and dogs from a Kabul shelter, completing a controversial mission that has angered many.

Paul or "Pen" Farthing, founder of Nowzad, mounted a high-profile campaign to evacuate the animals, backed by celebrities including comedian Ricky Gervais.

Nowzad wrote on Facebook: "We are relieved to confirm that Pen and the Nowzad animals left Afghanistan this afternoon and are now safe."

But Farthing's insistence on taking out the animals was widely criticised as hundreds of Afghans eligible to travel to the UK remained behind.

These included Farthing's staff who were unable to reach the front of the line at the airport. The charity said it would "do its utmost to help them".

The Times quoted a UK defence source as saying: "Not only did [Farthing] abandon his Afghan staff but they loaded up their plane with dogs as the  US were loading up their 13 dead" from the Thursday attack. 

The chair of the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Tom Tugendhat told LBC radio that an Afghan interpreter who had worked for the UK had asked him: "Why is my 5-year-old worth less than your dog?"

New US warning

The United States has warned of a "specific, credible threat" near Kabul airport and urged its citizens to leave the area, days after a deadly attack on crowds fleeing Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

A series of urgent terror warnings have rattled evacuation efforts overseen by US forces, who have been forced into closer security cooperation with the Taliban to prevent a repeat of Thursday's carnage at one of the facility's main access gates.

"Due to a specific, credible threat, all US citizens in the vicinity of Kabul airport... should leave the airport area immediately," the US Embassy in Kabul said in a security alert.

Demonstrators chant during a "Save Afghan Lives" protest in Lafayette Park in front of the

White House in Washington, DC.–AFP

In its alert, the embassy noted the threat to "the South (Airport Circle) gate, the new Ministry of the Interior (gate), and the gate near the Panjshir Petrol station on the northwest side of the airport." 

Earlier Saturday US President Joe Biden warned that his military commanders believed a fresh attack could come "in the next 24-36 hours," calling the situation "extremely dangerous."

Scores of Afghan civilians and 13 American troops were killed Thursday in the bombing claimed by the regional Islamic State-Khorasan group.

Macron calls for Kabul 'safe zone'

France and Britain will on Monday urge the United Nations to work for the creation of a "safe zone" in the Afghan capital Kabul to protect humanitarian operations, French President Emmanuel Macron said.

"This is very important. This would provide a framework for the United Nations to act in an emergency," Macron said in comments published in the weekly Journal du Dimanche.

Above all such a safe zone would allow the international community "to maintain pressure on the Taliban," who are now in power in Afghanistan, the French leader added.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- France, Britain, the US, Russia and China -- will meet on Monday to discuss the Afghanistan situation. 

Paris and London will take the opportunity to present a draft resolution which "aims to define, under UN control, a 'safe zone'  in Kabul, that will allow humanitarian operations to continue," Macron said.

His comments come as international efforts to airlift foreign nationals and vulnerable Afghanis out of the country comes to an end. 

France ended its evacuation efforts on Friday and the United Kingdom followed suit on Saturday 

US troops have been scrambling in dangerous and chaotic conditions to complete a massive evacuation operation from the Kabul airport by an August 31 deadline.

Macron announced on Saturday that discussions had been "started with the Taliban" to "protect and repatriate" Afghan nationals at risk beyond August 31.

Speaking to reports in Iraq, where he was attending a meeting of key regional leaders, Macron added that with help from Qatar, which maintains good relations with the Taliban, there was a possibility of further airlift operations.

He added that France had evacuated 2,834 people from Afghanistan since August 17.

In the article published by the French Sunday newspaper, Macron said he envisaged targeted evacuations in future "which would not be carried out at the military airport in Kabul" but perhaps via civil airports in the Afghan capital or from neighbouring countries.

Macron also took aim at the kind of talk going on some quarters in France which "stir fears" about the arrival of Afghan refugees in France. "My role is not to stir up fears among our compatriots, it is to provide solutions to resolve them," he added, assuring that he aims to manage migratory pressures with "humanity, firmness, with a ability to protect our borders as necessary".