UK evacuation from Kabul to end in ‘a matter of hours’

Defence secretary says up to 1,100 eligible Afghans to be left behind, as UK stops taking people into Kabul airport

The UK has stopped taking people into Kabul airport to remove them from Afghanistan, the defence secretary, Ben Wallace has said, and the evacuation process will end in “a matter of hours”.

Accepting that there would be Afghan translators or others who worked with UK forces who would not get out, Wallace said these people would be advised to seek access to third countries or offered advice on “how they can look after themselves” under Taliban rule.

“We at 4.30 this morning, UK time, closed the Baron’s hotel, shut the processing centre, and the gates were closed at Abbey gate,” Wallace told Sky News, referring to the Kabul hotel where those leaving were checked, and the gate leading to the airport.

“We will process those people that we’ve brought with us, the 1,000 people approximately inside the airfield now, and we will seek a way to continue to find a few people in the crowds where we can, but overall the main processing is now closed and we have a matter of hours,” he added.

In another interview, Wallace said that up to 1,100 Afghan nationals who could be eligible for evacuation would be left behind.

He told LBC that more than 10,000 people would be removed under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) scheme, to help those who had worked with UK forces or other organisations, adding: “We think there will be circa between 800 and 1,100 Arap that didn’t make it.”

Wallace added: “We think down to approximately 100-150 British nationals left in the estimated pot, some of those are willingly staying.”

On Thursday, a suicide bomb and gun attack on crowds waiting outside the airport killed at least 72 Afghan civilians and 13 US troops.

Wallace said the end of the processing of evacuees would have happened at this point regardless of the attack, given the final US departure from Kabul on Tuesday.

“We closed the Baron’s hotel almost exactly on schedule,” he said. “The explosion was horrendous, but it didn’t hasten our departure. We were going last night, and that was always going to be, once the US had decided 31 August was the final day.”

Asked on Sky about the fate of people such as a translator for UK forces and his family who had not been able to reach the airport, Wallace said: “We can help him. We can’t help him as optimally as we like right now. Obviously, we’ve had to close the hotel where we did the processing.”

Such people, he said, should try to reach neighbouring countries and then apply to reach the UK. “We will give them advice about how they make their way somewhere, but also how they can look after themselves at the moment.”

The UK had removed about 13,000 Afghans since the airlift started, among 16,000 people taken out since April, Wallace said. “But as I’ve said repeatedly for really the last two weeks, the sad fact is not every single one will get out.”

Boris Johnson, speaking after he chaired a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee following the attack on the airport, said the UK would “keep going up until the last moment” with the airlift.

He said: “The conclusion is that we’re able to continue with the programme in the way that we’ve been running it, according to the timetable that we’ve got.”

He added: “We’re now coming towards the very end of it in any event, and we’ve already extracted the overwhelming majority of those under both the schemes – the eligible persons, UK nationals, the Afghan interpreters and others. And it’s been totally phenomenal effort by the UK. There’s been nothing like it for decades and decades.”

However, a number of MPs have queried whether the majority of eligible people have left, saying that of family members of constituents, almost none had been removed.

Harriet Harman, the Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham in south London, said that of 228 family members of 34 constituents, including UK nationals, joint UK-Afghan nationals and relatives of UK nationals, none had managed to leave since the Taliban took over.


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Row erupts in cabinet over evacuation of UK diplomats from Kabul
Exclusive: defence secretary accuses Foreign Office of leaving MoD staff to handle visa fallout, say sources

Dan Sabbagh, Rowena Mason and Jessica Elgot

16, Aug, 2021 @6:53 PM

Article image
Fear and fury in Kabul as thousands face being abandoned by UK
People eligible to travel but left behind tell of ‘hugely mismanaged’ rescue effort as airlift draws to an end

Peter Walker, Aubrey Allegretti and Amelia Gentleman

27, Aug, 2021 @5:38 PM

Article image
Taliban could close Kabul airport if allies delay exit, says Wallace
UK defence secretary says extending Afghan rescue operation into September is ‘unlikely’

Andrew Sparrow Political correspondent

24, Aug, 2021 @10:53 AM

Article image
Too little, too late: why it was panic stations in Whitehall as Kabul fell
How the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan precipitated a political one at the heart of UK government

Dan Sabbagh Defence and security editor

20, Aug, 2021 @3:14 PM

Article image
Raab rejects whistleblower’s claims over Kabul evacuation
Former foreign secretary defends record, saying UK brought out 15,000 people in two weeks

Jessica Elgot and Patrick Wintour

07, Dec, 2021 @9:28 AM

Article image
Fresh hope for ex-marine’s efforts to rescue 200 cats and dogs from Kabul
UK defence secretary says Paul Farthing, his team and animals can leave on chartered plane

Kevin Rawlinson and agency

25, Aug, 2021 @8:25 AM

Article image
UK evacuation from Afghanistan ‘down to hours not weeks’
Defence secretary says British evacuation effort cannot continue once US troops leave Kabul

Matthew Weaver Andrew Sparrow and Aubrey Allegretti

23, Aug, 2021 @10:56 AM

Article image
West has two weeks to complete Afghanistan evacuation, say sources
UK defence secretary has conceded Britain will not be able to extract all eligible Afghan allies from country

Rowena Mason and Jessica Elgot

16, Aug, 2021 @12:58 PM

Article image
UK defence secretary complains about pleas to rescue animals from Kabul
Ben Wallace says he won’t ‘prioritise pets over people’ in evacuation and vents frustration over Nowzad animal charity

Andrew Sparrow

25, Aug, 2021 @11:16 PM

Article image
UK defence secretary suggests US is no longer a superpower
Ben Wallace also contrasts his department’s handling of Afghanistan crisis with Foreign Office response

Dan Sabbagh and Patrick Wintour

02, Sep, 2021 @5:30 PM