The Armed Forces minister has said the UK will continue to bring Afghans to the UK “for as long as people who are eligible want to come” as troops who airlifted more than 15,000 people from the country are set to receive a medal for their efforts.
James Heappey told LBC that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) continued to bring around 250 people a week out of Afghanistan, mostly through Pakistan, despite the winding down of Operation Pitting in August last year, and that this would continue “indefinitely”.
The MoD announced on Wednesday that personnel will receive the existing Operational Service Medal Afghanistan, featuring a new clasp reading “Operation Pitting”, recognising their contribution to the evacuation of Afghan and British nationals.But Mr Heappey insisted the effort was not over, despite troops having left Kabul.
He told LBC: “I would love to be able to fly a load of planes in Kabul, scoop up 1,000 people in one go, and bring them out – it’s not realistic.
“People are having to get out through a number of routes.”
He said: “Our commitment to those who served alongside our Armed Forces during our time in Afghanistan is absolute and we will keep bringing people here for as long as people who are eligible want to come.”
Approximately 600 soldiers were deployed to Kabul airport during Operation Pitting, providing food, water, and medical assistance to evacuees after the Taliban took control of the country.
Evacuees were flown out of Kabul by the Royal Air Force in what Defence Secretary Ben Wallace described as “the largest British evacuation since the Second World War”.
One flight set a new record for the highest number of people carried in an RAF C-17 aircraft, at 439.
The Prime Minister said: “I’m delighted that Her Majesty The Queen has given permission for a special medal to be awarded to all those who deployed to Kabul, to honour their heroism in the face of extreme adversity.
“Operation Pitting will go down as one of the great achievements of our UK Armed Services and their civilian counterparts in the post-war era. The whole country can be immensely proud of their tireless work to bring men, women and children to safety. They represent the very best of us.”
Mr Wallace hailed the Armed Forces’ “true heroism, bravery and dedication”, adding: “As the security situation worsened by the hour, our service men and women stepped up and delivered the largest British evacuation since the Second World War. They will rightly receive medallic recognition for their efforts.
“Following approval from Her Majesty The Queen, they will now receive the medallic recognition their efforts deserve.”
Shadow defence secretary John Healey praised the decision, saying: “Troops involved in the Kabul airlift totally deserve a medal, and Labour have argued this since early September.
“The military medal is a fitting recognition of their bravery and professionalism, as well as expressing the pride and respect the nation feels in their service.”