LONDON: Britain’s last plane carrying only civilian evacuees has taken off from Kabul, the defence ministry said Saturday, leaving hundreds of Afghans eligible for resettlement behind, reports AFP.
The government is winding up its operation to airlift civilians, diplomats and troops out of Afghanistan ahead of the August 31 deadline for US troop withdrawal.
The head of the UK armed forces, General Sir Nick Carter earlier Saturday told the BBC that the evacuation effort would end “during the course of today”.
“We have some civilian flights to take out but it’s very few now,” Carter said, after which “it will be necessary to bring our troops out on the remaining aircraft”.
The UK Ambassador to Afghanistan, Laurie Bristow, tweeted a video of himself standing on the airfield with military planes in the background, wearing a bullet-proof vest.
He said his team had been working “to the very last moment to evacuate British nationals, Afghans and others at risk”.
“Since August 13, we have brought nearly 15,000 people to safety,” the ambassador said.
The armed forces chief estimated the number of eligible Afghans who had not been evacuated to be “in the high hundreds”.
He stressed that they will be welcome in Britain if they manage to leave after the deadline, through third countries or other ways.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace earlier estimated that between 800 and 1,100 Afghans eligible for relocation under the UK’s scheme “didn’t make it”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday that London would “shift heaven and earth” to help the Afghans left behind.
Several British nationals were killed in Thursday’s bomb attack at Kabul airport, claimed by the regional Islamic State chapter.
The BBC reported Saturday that a taxi driver from London, Mohammad Niazi, was killed in firing in the aftermath of the blast, 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”, 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”.
As the UK pulled out, controversy grew over the case of the British head of an animal charity, who was waiting for a privately chartered plane to fly him out along with some 200 cats and dogs from a Kabul shelter.
Paul or “Pen” Farthing, founder of Nowzad, has mounted a high-profile campaign to evacuate the animals, backed by celebrities including comedian Ricky Gervais.
But his insistence on taking the animals has been widely criticised as thousands of Afghans have been unable to access the airport.
Sky News, citing defence ministry sources, reported that a charter plane was set to fly into the airport from Pakistan to rescue Farthing and animals.