While the United States has been warning all of its people to stay away from the airport in Kabul and is basically ready to shut down the evacuation, Great Britain has still been bringing people out of the country. In fact, they expect to have all of their citizens out today, even though there are only a few flights expected to leave in the next 24 hours. The troops they airlifted out were part of a group of more than 1,000 who stayed behind to help the United States secure the airport during the initial days of the bugout. They won’t hit 100% of their goals, however, admitting that as many as a thousand Afghans who had been assisting them will wind up being left behind. But they do seem to have accounted for all of their own citizens in the country, so how did they manage to pull this off? (Associated Press)
Britain is starting to bring its troops home from Afghanistan as the country’s evacuation operation at Kabul airport ends.
A Royal Air Force plane carrying soldiers landed at the RAF Brize Norton air base northwest of London on Saturday morning. The troops are part of a contingent of 1,000 that has been based in Kabul to help run the airlift.
Flights bringing U.K. citizens and Afghans have largely ended, though the head of the armed forces, Gen. Nick Carter, said there would be a “very few” more on Saturday.
The Brits had a number of advantages in terms of getting the job done, starting with the fact that they had far fewer people in the country to begin with. They also reportedly didn’t have as many of their people scattered around in the more distant provinces, being largely centered in and around Kabul. That certainly helped, but the efficiency with which they’ve been clearing out remains impressive.
As I already mentioned, however, the same can’t be said for their Afghan translators and other helpers. At least a thousand are going to be left behind. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced yesterday that he planned to “shift heaven and earth” to get the rest of them out “through other means,” but offered no details of how that might be accomplished. At this point, they might be down to the point of having to come up with some cash or other resources to bribe the Taliban to let more people leave, just as the United States has apparently been doing.
Another possibility might be to work with the Russians to arrange for land transportation over one of the border crossings. The Russians still seem to be on good terms with the Taliban at this point or are at least giving them enough money to keep the peace. The problem is that the United States’ relationship with Russia is pretty much kaput at this point and many of the neighboring countries people might cross into if they can get past the Taliban checkpoints aren’t exactly friendly to the west, with many of them being heavily under Russia’s economic and political influence. I suppose we could try taking people into Pakistan, a nation that is supposedly still one of our “allies,” but they’re dubious on the best of days. Also, the trek from Kabul to the Pakistan border is no picnic.
Meanwhile, Italy’s final evacuation flight of refugees from Afghanistan arrived in Rome this morning. They also have more Afghan citizens they need to extract and their Foreign Minister said today that they are working with the United Nations to set up some sort of arrangement with bordering nations for what he called “the more difficult phase” of the evacuation. Italy’s last soldiers in Kabul flew out last night and have arrived in Kuwait.
As for the United States, it now seems obvious that we aren’t even going to get all of our American citizens out of the country before the evacuation is completely cut off. That’s to say nothing of the thousands of translators and helpers who won’t make it out. How we’re going to get the last of our troops boarded and safely off the ground for the final flight is also uncertain. With the Taliban and now ISIS-K on the ground at the airport, it’s going to be a tense moment, assuming we manage it at all.
We allowed the Taliban to dictate the terms of our withdrawal based on promises they made to us. That’s proven to be foolish in the extreme. We’re scheduled to be finished by Tuesday, so we still have several days to hold our breath and see if this manages to not turn into an even bigger disaster than it’s already been.