LONDON: The last remaining UK troops began landing back from Kabul in Britain on Sunday, ending the country’s 20-year military campaign in Afghanistan where the Taliban have seized power.
The Taliban insurgents stormed across the country on August 15, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, two weeks before the US was set to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war.
A Royal Air Force (RAF) plane left Kabul airport on Saturday night and arrived at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, including with British ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow who had been assisting the evacuation process.
Vice-Admiral Sir Ben Key, who ran the UK’s evacuation dubbed Operation Pitting, said there was a “sense of sadness that we haven’t done all we would have wished”.
In a video posted on Twitter on Sunday morning, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the end of Operation Pitting was the “culmination of a mission unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes”, and that British troops and officials had “worked around the clock to a remorseless deadline in harrowing conditions”.
“They have expended all the patience and care and thought they possess to help people in fear for their lives,” said Johnson.
“They’ve seen at first hand barbaric terrorist attacks on the queues of people they were trying to comfort, as well as on our American friends. They didn’t flinch. They kept calm. They got on with the job,” he said.
In a letter to the armed forces community, Johnson acknowledged the fall of Kabul to the Taliban would have been hard for them to watch and “an especially difficult time for the friends and loved ones of the 457 service personnel who laid down their lives” during the war.
He noted that the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan “kept Al Qaeda from our door for two decades and we are all safer as a result”.
Paying tribute to the efforts of UK forces since 2001, he added: “Though we would not have wished to leave in this way, we have to recognise that we came in with the United States, in defence and support of the US and the US military did the overwhelming bulk of the fighting.” —PTI