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UK should be ‘holding its breath’ while British troops are still in Afghanistan, says armed forces chief

Written by on 28/08/2021

Britain should be “holding its breath” and “thinking of the challenge” faced by people trying to effect the departure of the final planes leaving Afghanistan, the chief of the defence staff has said.

General Sir Nick Carter said Britain is “not out of the woods yet” as the UK’s evacuation efforts following the Taliban takeover draw to a close.

And he urged people to think of military personnel as the deadline for the final planes to leave Afghanistan rapidly approaches.

Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter said the Taliban 'want an Afghanistan that is inclusive for all'.
Image: General Sir Nick Carter spoke of how the people left behind weighs heavily on him

He said the reality is that not everyone will get out: “Not a day passes where I don’t have a tear in my eye over that.”

General Sir Nick said the final stages of the withdrawal and evacuation represented the “hardest phase” of the operation.

“A lot of things can go wrong” when the final planes leave – with officers facing “public disorder” as people desperately try to board a flight, together with the “threat of terrorism”.

Troops are working in the face of a “very demanding threat” while also focusing on the “humanitarian job” with soldiers “holding a gun in one hand and a baby in the other”, adding: “It has been very difficult”.

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UK’s evacuation enters its final hours, with no more people to be processed or allowed inside the airport.
Afghan collaborators, their families, Spanish soldiers and members of the embassy board a Spanish military plane as part of their evacuation, at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 27, 2021. Ministry of Defense of Spain/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
Image: The deadline for the evacuation is Tuesday

“The plain fact is we have always got that in the back of our minds.

“For the troops on the ground, they have to be constantly alert and constantly thinking about how they can rebut the threat.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: 'Our thoughts today are very much with their families and their loved ones.'
Image: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to ‘shift heaven and earth’ to get people out of Afghanistan

“We should all be holding our breath and thinking of the last aeroplane and what a challenge it will be for those people trying to effect their departure.”

When asked about regrets, General Sir Nick said of the withdrawal: “It’s not how we hoped it would end, that’s absolutely right.”

He added: “I think we have done an extraordinary job to evacuate as many as we can but I’m afraid it’s absolutely heart-breaking we can’t get everybody out.

“If they are able to get out they will always be welcome but the awful fact of life is difficult decisions have to be made.”

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to “shift heaven and earth” to get people out of Afghanistan.

Crowds of people wait outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, 25 August
Image: Crowds of people waiting outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on 25 August

But foreign affairs committee chairman, Tom Tugendhat, warned people should “absolutely forget” about getting to Kabul and attempting to fly from the airport.

“Forget about getting to Kabul. You know there’s 10 checkpoints between them on the motorway, let alone down the motorway, all the way to Kabul,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“You can absolutely forget about trying to get to the airport because every one of those checkpoints has a danger point where Taliban or indeed affiliated groups, drug dealers or just simply bandits could murder, and certainly have, been murdering various people.”

 Sky News

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