Afghanistan latest: Boris Johnson says UK departure was 'the culmination of a mission unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes'
The Prime Minister added 'we would not have wished to leave in this way'
The final UK troops and diplomatic staff were airlifted from Kabul on Saturday, drawing to a close Britain’s 20-year engagement in Afghanistan and a two-week operation to rescue UK nationals and Afghan allies.
Named Operation Pitting, it was believed to be the largest evacuation mission since the Second World War.
In a video uploaded to Twitter on Sunday morning, Mr Johnson praised the more than 1,000 military personnel, diplomats and officials who took part in the operation in Afghanistan.
He said: “UK troops and officials have worked around the clock to a remorseless deadline in harrowing conditions.
“They have expended all the patience and care and thought they possess to help people in fear for their lives.
“They’ve seen at first-hand barbaric terrorist attacks on the queues of people they were trying to comfort, as well as on our American friends.
“They didn’t flinch. They kept calm. They got on with the job.
“It’s thanks to their colossal exertions that this country has now processed, checked, vetted and airlifted more than 15,000 people to safety in less than two weeks.”
The Government said of the 15,000 people evacuated since the Taliban seized Kabul, 5,000 of those were British nationals and their families.
More than 8,000 Afghans who helped the British effort as interpreters or in other roles, or who are otherwise vulnerable to persecution by the regime, were also able to flee to safety with their families.
Addressing the families and loved ones of the British troops who “gave their all”, Mr Johnson said: “Your suffering and your hardship were not in vain.”
He added: “It was no accident that there’s been no terrorist attack launched against Britain or any other western country from Afghanistan in the last 20 years.
“It was thanks to the bravery of our Armed Forces who fought to knock out (Osama) Bin Laden’s networks.
“Thanks to the devotion of British troops and aid workers and diplomats and others, we’ve helped educate 3.6 million girls.
“Whatever the future may hold for Afghanistan, they will have that gift for the rest of their lives, a gift they will pass on to their daughters as well as their sons.”
The Prime Minister said: “And though we would not have wished to leave in this way, we have to recognise that we came in with the United States, in defence and support of the US and the US military did the overwhelming bulk of the fighting.
“Though we now leave with the United States, we will remain represented in the region.
“Together with our allies in America and Europe and around the world, we will engage with the Taliban not on the basis of what they say but what they do.
“If the new regime in Kabul wants diplomatic recognition, or to unlock the billions that are currently frozen, they will have to ensure safe passage for those who wish to leave the country, to respect the rights of women and girls, to prevent Afghanistan from, again, becoming an incubator for global terror, because that would be disastrous for Afghanistan.”
Vice Admiral Ben Key, Chief of Joint Operations, who commands Operation Pitting, admitted there was a “sense of sadness” that not all could be saved.
Speaking at RAF Brize Norton on Sunday morning, he said: “Whilst we recognise and I pay testament to the achievement of everything that has been achieved by coalition forces, but particularly the British contingent, over the last two weeks, in the end we know that there are some really sad stories of people who have desperately tried to leave that we have – no matter how hard our efforts – we have been unsuccessful in evacuating.”
He added: “There has been a phenomenal effort achieved in the last two weeks. And I think we always knew that somewhere we would fall just short.
“So, this isn’t a moment of celebration for us at all, this is a moment to mark a tremendous international effort to evacuate as many people as we could in the time available.”