Kabul airlift personnel 'probably should' receive medals, Army chief says

The head of the Army has told Forces News "the feel is" that personnel involved in the Op Pitting Afghanistan evacuation "probably should" receive medals – and says a wider review of the criteria for medallic recognition is "appropriate".

Operation Pitting saw hundreds of troops travel to Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover, helping individuals flee the troubled country.

General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith visited Cyprus and in doing so became the first Chief of the General staff to visit troops on the island in almost a decade.

In a rare interview, he spoke exclusively to Forces News' Cyprus reporter Sian Grzeszczyk and praised soldiers based on the island who were sent to Kabul for the evacuation.

In a message to the personnel who were deployed to Afghanistan, he said: "Well done, and on behalf of the near 100,000 British Army veterans who had served in Afghanistan before them, I think we looked in with pride that they were able to bring to a satisfactory conclusion a near 20-year military commitment."

On the discussion around medals being awarded to those involved in Operation Pitting, General Carleton-Smith said: "Well, I think there's certainly an active discussion, the degree to which the contribution over that two-week period merits medallic recognition.

"I think that 'the feel' is it probably should.

"Now the debate needs to focus really on the nature of that medallic recognition, so we'll need the system to work through the relative advantages."

Op Pitting currently ongoing to evacuate British nationals and eligible Afghans from Afghanistan following the 2021 Taliban offensive 21082021 CREDIT MOD.jpg
Op Pitting personnel organised the evacuation of British nationals and eligible Afghans from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover (Picture: MOD).

The Op Pitting mission lasted two weeks, with Boris Johnson praising "around-the-clock" efforts from troops, but deployments must normally last 30 days to qualify for service medal recognition.

The head of the Army's response to whether the medal recognition process needs to be looked at, in general, was "I think that's appropriate".

He said: "Soldiers prize their medals very greatly, and most of today's Army don't have a medal, so there is always an active debate as to what the medal criteria should be.

"I think, as an Army, we feel medals are important, but so is their significance, and so the criteria need to be very carefully judged.

 "We don't want to undermine the value of a medal, but we need to recognise that today's generation do put a great deal of merit on medallic reward."

Watch: Captain David Kellett, 2nd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, spoke to Forces News about the Kabul evacuation.

During the exclusive interview with Forces News, the British Army chief also reflected on the end to the 20-year involvement of the UK military in Afghanistan and the huge changes that have taken place in the country in that period.

From a tactical perspective, he said, the evacuation from Kabul airport "went about as well as they could have hoped".

"I'm sure that none of us had assumed that the campaign would conclude quite in the manner that it did, but personally, I look back and Afghanistan today is a very different country from the one that we were introduced to in 2001," he said.

"Two-thirds of a very young population have no material experience of either living under the Taliban or of being born since and really can't remember it."

And "the country itself has moved on", he says, with "two generations of education under their belt".

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