BRITAIN completed the biggest military evacuation in 80 years tonight— as one fleeing Afghan woman told of her escape from the Taliban “in scenes straight out a Hollywood movie”.
After 20 years’ engagement in the war-torn country, the UK’s few remaining troops and diplomats boarded the final flight out of Kabul’s airport.
Troops and diplomats board the last flight out of Kabul to the UKCredit: Reuters
Soldiers crammed into an A400 on their way home from Afghanistan
In less than two weeks, more than 15,000 people have been airlifted to safety, including 5,000 British nationals, thanks to Operation Pitting.
RAF pilots flew 261,000 miles to carry evacuees to safety — among them 8,000 vulnerable Afghans, many of whom worked for the UK as interpreters or embassy officials.
Crowded on to 100 planes, the lucky ones — 2,200 of them children and the youngest barely a day old — will get the opportunity to build a new life in the UK.
One C-17 transporter plane leaving Kabul this week carried 436 people, the single biggest capacity flight in RAF history.
One of the women to leave told yesterday how she managed to escape after spending six days on the run from the Taliban.
Mum-of-five Shukria Barakzai, who is an Afghan MP and prominent Taliban critic, dodged militants for six days around the airport before she was plucked to safety by British troops.
Shukria, 50, escaped with the help of MP Debbie Abrahams, a long-time friend, who called her at night to tell her of a secret location where she would be met.
Speaking from a hotel in Oxford where she is in quarantine, Shukria, who arrived in the UK on Tuesday, said: “The Taliban were hunting for me. They wanted to vanish me.
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“It was like something out of a Hollywood movie.
“I’m traumatised but I believe Debbie and her team saved my life.”
The women’s rights campaigner is now looking forward to being reunited with her children and mum, who are already in the UK.
Shukria — who was on the UK list of approved evacuees — should have been leaving Afghanistan two weeks ago today when Kabul fell suddenly to the Taliban.
She had travelled to the airport to board a commercial flight to Turkey and was waiting for take-off when thousands of people trying to flee surged into the site.
Hundreds of desperate people forced their way on to her plane without tickets so the pilot abandoned the flight — leaving terrified Shukria and other passengers stranded.
She added: “I hoped the pilot would return. Then I took a call telling me the Taliban were at my home, looking for me.”
Shukria said she waited on the plane for 14 hours alongside others fearful of Taliban retribution before heading into the airport building.
She had covered her face with three layers to hide her identity.
She said: “Taliban were at the airport looking for people. It was very scary and I realised it wasn’t safe. They were beating people and shooting and the crowd was helpless.
“The Taliban knew that government employees and security staff were hiding at the airport because they started demanding to see people’s faces.”
Shukria said that she was able to leave the airport because her legs were injured in the crush.
Guards there thought that she was going for medical help.
It was like something out of a Hollywood movie.
But for the next six days, she dotted from place to place, including deserted houses.
She sent WhatsApp messages pleading for help to politicians in Afghanistan and the UK.
One of the recipients was Oldham East Labour MP Debbie, who Shukria has known for years. She promised to try to help.
Shukria said: “The Taliban were next door in the last place we hid, just metres away from us.
“The pressure was on Debbie but she managed to give me courage, support and hope.”
Then, last Sunday, Shukria had a call in the dead of night, telling her to move to a secret location.
Once there, she clambered over a wall into the hands of British troops on the other side.
All that Shukria had with her was her laptop, phone, the clothes she stood in, a small bag and her papers.
She added: “I climbed on top of the wall to get into the airport.
“Some hands came and pulled me to the other side.
“As soon as I was inside I rang Debbie and told her, ‘I’m safe’.
“The airport was like a refugee camp with women and kids crying.
“It was very sad to see all those desperate people.”
The following day, she flew to freedom on a crammed military plane, landing on Tuesday.
Shukria said: “I had mixed feelings — relief at being safe, but also it was like part of my body has been taken away from me as you are leaving everything behind.
“It was not an easy decision after all the hard work of my career, helping to launch underground schools and working for girls’ education.”
Shukria said she cannot wait to reunite with her children and mum.
She added: “I am looking forward to hugging them and telling them how much I love them.
“And, after that, my next meeting will be with Debbie so I can give her a hug as well as my heartfelt thanks.”
Operation Pitting was the largest UK military evacuation since World War Two.
The number of Afghans brought to the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) since it was established in April is around 10,000, double the expected number.
In the last fortnight, British Armed Forces have also flown in and distributed vital supplies to support people moving through the evacuation process, including vegetarian and halal meals and 250,000 litres of bottled water.
Last night, Boris Johnson told of his determination to cement the gains made during Britain’s two-decade presence in Afghanistan.
The PM said solemnly: “Twenty years ago, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the first British soldier set foot on Afghan soil aiming to create a brighter future for the country and all its people.
“The departure of the last British soldiers from the country is a moment to reflect on everything we have sacrificed and everything we have achieved in the last two decades.
“The nature of our engagement in Afghanistan may have changed, but our goals for the country have not.
“We will now use all the diplomatic and humanitarian tools at our disposal to preserve the gains of the last 20 years and give the Afghan people the future they deserve.”
The departure of the last British soldiers from the country is a moment to reflect on everything we have sacrificed and everything we have achieved in the last two decades.
The UK’s diplomatic efforts will now shift to supporting the people of Afghanistan from outside the country. Our Embassy and Ambassador to Afghanistan Laurie Bristow will temporarily relocate to Qatar to lead the UK’s diplomatic, security and humanitarian engagement.
The plan is to re-establish a diplomatic presence in Kabul as soon as the security and political situation in the country allows.
Officials say this will help Britain to deliver on a commitment to the people of Afghanistan, including through the delivery of humanitarian aid and by bringing more vulnerable Afghan people to the UK through ARAP and the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme.
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