Afghanistan

'Daunting and shocking': Troops deployed on Operation Pitting reflect on Afghanistan evacuation

Forces News spoke to several personnel deployed to Kabul Airport to assist with the UK's evacuation of Afghanistan.

Troops deployed to assist with the UK's evacuation of British nationals and former British staff in Afghanistan have reflected on the "daunting and shocking" situation they were faced with in the country.

Earlier this year 750 personnel from 16 Air Assault Brigade, the UK's Global Response Force, were deployed to Afghanistan to help evacuate UK nationals and former Afghan staff from the country.

Lieutenant Adam Soulby, 13 Air Assault Support Regiment, told Forces News "many of the troops were on their way to leave… back at home with their families" when they received news they would be heading to Kabul.

"Essentially it was just a message that was sent out saying that everyone needs to return to camp within 48 hours to get prepared and ready to go to Kabul," he said.

Once in the Afghan capital, Lieutenant Colonel Justin Baker, Commanding Officer 7th Parachute Regiment RHA, told Forces News the personnel's first task was to "understand the situation they were being presented with on the ground".

Watch: Officer speaks of 'mixed feelings' on Afghanistan 20-year anniversary.

"It was uncertain, it was chaotic," he said.

"There was a large movement of civilian people in and around the airport." 

And Private Shayne Wilkinson, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, told Forces News "the atmosphere changed quite a lot".

"One minute, it felt like they understood why we were trying to segregate certain people and get lanes in place and stuff," he said.

"But then, at other times, it would kick off and it felt like they didn't understand that we were actually trying to help and trying to do what's best for everyone on the ground there - them and ourselves.

"Effectively, you're holding a riot shield and on the other end of that riot shield is a lot of desperate people that are trying to get help and trying to be safe."

And Lt Soulby said "the desperation, when you see it on a first hand basis, person to person, is quite daunting and shocking", but the evacuation felt like "a job well done".

Watch: 'First thing you heard was gunshots' - UK soldiers on Afghanistan evacuation.

"Of course, if we could have had the capabilities to take more out, I would have liked that, but at the end, there was a deadline, we had to leave by that deadline, so we didn't really have a choice," he said.

And Lance Corporal May Percival, 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment, said the troops "got so many more people out than [they] expected to".

"It was heartbreaking in some respects, because we probably did leave some people behind, but I feel like we got so many of the people out," she said.

And Lt Col Baker said the evacuation "was a huge success for the brigades".

"They were sent over at very short notice to do a very difficult job in exceptionally trying and uncertain circumstances," he said.

"Ultimately, I think to judge it on the fact that 15 -20 days later, 15,000 people had been successfully evacuated from Afghanistan to a new life in the United Kingdom."