Wednesday, February 21

UK troops start leaving Afghanistan as evacuation effort enters ‘final hours’

The UK’s evacuation mission at Kabul’s airport has “a matter of hours” left and no more people will be called forward, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said. Mr Wallace told Sky News the effort was into its “final hours” after the closure of the main processing centre in Kabul at the Baron Hotel near the airport.

He said: We, at 4.30 this morning, UK-time, closed the Baron Hotel, shut the processing centre and the gates were closed at Abbey Gate. We will process the people that we’ve brought with us, the 1,000 people approximately in the airfield now and we will seek a way to continue to find a few people in the crowds where we can, but overall the main processing is now closed and we have a matter of hours.

The sad fact is not every single one will get out. The threat is obviously going to grow the closer we get to leaving. Defence sources have told Sky News British troops have also started to leave Afghanistan, with about 100 out of the 1,000 there having already left.

The Ministry of Defence said 13,708 people have so far been evacuated since 13 August, including 7,975 under the Afghanistan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) for Afghans currently and formerly employed by the UK, and their families.

The Baron Hotel was closed just hours after two attacks, claimed by terror group ISIS-K, outside the airport killed 13 US troops and 95 Afghans.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was a dark day for Afghanistan as he called for an urgent plan for those eligible Afghans who were left behind. He said the situation was a huge setback for the UK on the world stage and said the government has really serious questions to answer, but the immediate issue was how to protect those that worked for UK troops and have been left behind.

Defence sources told Sky News up to half of those crowding into the Baron Hotel yesterday for processing were not cleared under the Afghanistan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) for interpreters or the Leave Outside the Immigration Rules (LOTR) scheme, making processing difficult.

Mr Wallace would not confirm whether some British troops would remain in Kabul until the 31 August deadline the US has set. People who were unable to get processed should make their way to land borders and the UK will make sure its visa processing facilities in neighbouring countries are working hard to get Afghans to the UK, Mr Wallace said.

After the US warned of an imminent terror attack on Wednesday, most countries ended their evacuation efforts on Thursday ahead of the bombing.