The final UK evacuation flight purely for Afghan nationals has left Kabul airport, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.
Any further flights which will now leave Kabul under the UK’s evacuation operation will have UK diplomatic and military personnel on board.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the final flight purely for evacuations under Operation Pitting had departed from Kabul.
It is understood any further flights would be able to transport those still needing evacuation, but would now also include personnel travelling back to the UK.
It comes as British ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow said it was “time to close this phase” of the evacuation effort.
In a video posted on Twitter, Sir Laurie – who has remained in Afghanistan processing those who needed to leave the country – said: “The team here have been working until the very last moment to evacuate British nationals, Afghans and others at risk.
“Since the 13th of August, we’ve brought nearly 15,000 people to safety, and about 1,000 military, diplomatic, civilian personnel have worked on Operation Pitting in Kabul, many, many more elsewhere.
“Thursday’s terrorist attack was a reminder of the difficult and dangerous conditions in which Operation Pitting has been done. And sadly I attended here yesterday the ceremony to pay our respects to the 13 US soldiers who died.”
General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said Operation Pitting – the effort to evacuate UK nationals and eligible Afghans from Kabul airport – had “gone as well as it could do in the circumstances”.
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the head of the UK armed forces spoke of the “heartbreaking” judgment calls military personnel had been forced to make.
“We haven’t been able to bring everybody out and that has been heartbreaking, and there have been some very challenging judgments that have had to be made on the ground,” Sir Nick said.
“And I think that, you know, people like me, who have had a very, very long association with this country, 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.”
Analysis — By Paul Waugh
What Keir Starmer called “a sad and a dark day” for the UK’s role in Afghanistan just got sadder and darker. The latest news, that two British nationals and the child of a British national were among those killed by the suicide bomb attacks outside Kabul airport, underlined the sense of unfolding tragedy.
While the primary responsibility for the murders undeniably lies with barbaric Islamist terrorists, Boris Johnson is now facing even greater political pressure over his own handling of the wider policy on Afghanistan.
In many ways, Johnson’s hands have of course been tied by his heavy reliance on the Americans. Joe Biden’s refusal to shift his political commitment to the August 31 withdrawal deadline has driven events, though the US president’s failure to keep allies like the UK in the loop has left a bitter taste for many of them.
As for the so-called “special relationship” between the UK and US, the phrase feels even more of a polite fiction than usual. Despite British ministers having gone public in calling for an extension to the airport evacuation, it took Biden just seven minutes into his conference call with the G7 this week to announce he was not budging.
As the evacuation flights to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire came to an end, Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey told Sky News: “This is the brutal truth, despite getting more than 14,000 people out, there are probably 1,000 Afghans who have worked with us over two decades in Afghanistan, helped our troops, our aid workers, our diplomats, that we promised to protect, but we’re leaving behind.
“And I know those troops in particular will feel our failure on this as a country is a betrayal of many of those who risked their own lives to work alongside us.”
Tom Tugendhat, a Tory MP who fought in Afghanistan, said he was disappointed the evacuation effort was coming to an end.
The former army officer and now chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee told BBC Breakfast: “I’m extremely sad about this and I very much hope that it might go beyond the August deadline but we found out a few days ago that it wasn’t, so I was expecting it.
“It still leaves me extremely sad that so many of my friends have been left behind.”
Questioned over whether the UK could have done better when withdrawing personnel from Afghanistan, Mr Tugendhat said: “In the last week, probably not, but this has been a sprint finish after a not exactly sprint start.”
“There are going to be questions to be asked to the Foreign Secretary about the processing in the UK in recent weeks that we’re going to have to see what the answers are.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace previously admitted there were between 800 and 1,100 Afghans eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme who would be left behind, while around 100 and 150 UK nationals will remain in Afghanistan, although Mr Wallace said some of those were staying willingly.
But a number of MPs have said that based on the correspondence they had received asking for help, they thought this was an underestimation.
In the early hours of Saturday, the US military conducted an airstrike against a member of so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan who was believed to be involved in planning attacks against the US in Kabul.
The strike killed one individual, and US spokesman navy captain William Urban said they knew of no civilian casualties.
It comes after two British adults and the child of a British national – understood to be a teenager – were killed in a bombing on Thursday, with another adult and child injured.
The BBC reported a London taxi driver, Mohammad Niazi, had been killed in the Kabul attack after flying out to help his family return home, but it was not confirmed if he was one of the UK nationals referred to by the Foreign Office.
Meanwhile, The Times reported that the injured child, believed to be aged under 10, was related to one of the adults killed.