It is “heartbreaking” not to have been able to evacuate everyone, says the head of the armed forces.
The UK’s evacuation of civilians from Afghanistan will end on Saturday, the head of the armed forces has said.
Gen Sir Nick Carter said there were still some civilian flights leaving Kabul for the UK, but “very few now”.
He added it was “heartbreaking” they had not been able to rescue everybody, with hundreds of Afghans eligible to come to the UK still in Afghanistan.
A mass airlift has been under way at Kabul airport since the Taliban took control of the capital this month.
On Friday, the Ministry of Defence said the UK had evacuated 14,543 people from Kabul since 13 August.
Sir Nick, chief of the defence staff, told Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’re reaching the end of the evacuation, which will take place during the course of today, and then of course it’ll be necessary to bring our troops out on the remaining aircraft.
“It’s gone as well as it could do in the circumstances… but we haven’t been able to bring everybody out and that has been heartbreaking, and there have been some very challenging judgements that have had to be made on the ground.”
More than 1,000 UK troops were in Kabul helping to process departures at the airport at the height of the operation. Some have already left and the rest will depart over the weekend.
A 31 August deadline is in place for foreign troops to leave the country.
The US has been running the airport in Afghanistan’s capital, where a suicide bomb attack on Thursday may have killed as many as 170 people – including two British nationals and the child of a British national.
Sir Nick said the number of Afghans who were eligible to come to the UK but remained in Afghanistan was in the “high hundreds”.
He suggested some would not have wanted to take the risk of travelling to the airport – or been unable to – rather than it being down to “processing” issues.
But he added: “We are forever receiving messages and texts from our Afghan friends that are very distressing. So we’re all living this in the most painful way.”
He also said that people who hadn’t been able to leave via evacuation flights but were able to get out another way “will always be welcome in Britain”.
Those already evacuated include British nationals, as well as almost 8,000 Afghans eligible under the UK’s relocation scheme for those who worked for the UK government and other vulnerable individuals.
As of Friday, the government said between 800 and 1,100 eligible Afghans and 100 to 150 Britons had not been evacuated.
Chairman of the foreign affairs select committee Tom Tugendhat, who served in the military in Afghanistan, told BBC Breakfast it left him “extremely sad” so many of his friends had been left behind – but he was continuing to work to get people out of the country.
However, he said people should “forget” about trying to get to Kabul airport, due to the numerous dangerous checkpoints that have been installed along the motorways.
“We’re looking at different networks to get people into second countries, and then connecting them to high commissions and ambassadors of the United Kingdom, to get them to the UK safely,” he said.
Businesswoman and activist Hassina Syed, who was evacuated to the UK on 16 August, said the international community needed to work with the Taliban to come up with a solution to help more people leave.
Ms Syed, who still has family in Afghanistan, told BBC Breakfast “we shouldn’t just forget” about those left behind.
The UK’s defence, home and foreign secretaries have written to MPs to reassure them of the government’s continued support for those left behind in Afghanistan.
Ben Wallace, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab said the UK would use “every lever” to secure the safe passage of those who want to leave.
- Arrivals on official flights enter a 10-day Covid quarantine in a hotel
- Government officials and local authorities are trying to find them permanent homes
- A shortage of suitable accommodation means many will be placed in hotels
- Some will get refugee status and can live in the UK permanently
- Others will get a five-year visa to live and work in the UK – and can then apply for permanent residence
- Afghans arriving independently will enter the normal system for asylum claims – which has a backlog of 70,000 people
- These people cannot settle, or work, while their claims are considered