Afghan refugees wait to be processed after arriving at Heathrow
After chairing a meeting of his Cobra emergency planning committee, the Prime Minister said: “I can confirm that there’s been a barbaric terrorist attack in Kabul. On the airport, on the crowds at the airport, in which members of the US military, very sadly have lost their lives and many Afghan casualties as well.”
He added: “What this attack shows is the importance of continuing that work in as fast and as efficient manner as possible in the hours that remain to us, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
British forces are battling to evacuate as many people as possible from Afghanistan before Tuesday’s deadline. But the explosions at Hamid Karzai International Airport reignited calls that they be brought out of the country immediately.
Last night, a Ministry of Defence spokesman confirmed to the Daily Express that around 1,000 military personnel and affiliated staff remained in Kabul, but declined to comment on plans to remove them.
The Prime Minister said: “I want to stress that this threat of a terrorist attack is one of the constraints that we’ve been operating under in Operation Pitting ‑ in the big extraction that’s been going on. We’ve been prepared for it.
“I want to stress that we’re going to continue with that operation ‑ and we’re now coming towards the end of it.”
A flight from Afghanistan arrives at RAF Brize Norton
Speaking before the attack, Mr Johnson said: “We’ll keep going, obviously, for as long as we can and I think what people should also understand is, what an incredible achievement this has been by the UK military, just in the last 10 days or so.
“The operation has airlifted 15,000 people to this country from Afghanistan.
“There’s been nothing like it in terms of speed and scale in our lifetimes, certainly in my memory.”
He added: “We owe them a debt. They’re people who looked after our Armed Forces, helped for the 20 years of the UK’s engagement in Afghanistan. It’s absolutely the right thing to do.”
Mr Johnson said the evacuation phase was ending after the “overwhelming majority” of Afghans eligible to come to the UK had been airlifted out of Kabul.
He said: “We think we’ve done the lion’s share.”
Although Mr Johnson said 15,000 people have been airlifted to the UK, authorities claimed the figure is 12,000. But the situation in Kabul was increasingly desperate even before yesterday’s explosions.
And with the hours ticking down, British troops are also starting to pack up ahead of Tuesday’s planned mass withdrawal from the city.
Afghan refugees heading to UK
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last night advised airlines to avoid Afghan air space.
On Twitter, he said: “Following the shocking scenes in Afghanistan today, I have issued a NOTAM (Notice to Aviation) further advising airlines to avoid Afghan airspace under 25,000ft. We will continue to keep this under review.”
Away from the logjam in Kabul, possible other routes out of the country are being sought by ever more desperate Afghan civilians.
A video released online showed thousands of people attempting to flee the country via the border with Pakistan.
The heartbreaking footage showed a huge crowd of people in the village of Spin Boldak queuing up at the border gates.
Such alternative routes out are becoming ever more popular, amid reports that even those Britons and Afghans cleared for evacuation are still trapped in Kabul.
They are believed to be being charged more than £5,000 by local “private security firms” to help them escape the Taliban.
People are also fleeing via the Pakistan-Afghanistan border
Tired but relieved at reaching safety
A planeload of rescued Afghans were given a warm Army welcome in the chilly early hours of yesterday, writes Cyril Dixon.
Exhausted but relieved to have reached safety, the 250 evacuees received food, blankets and medical treatment.
The newcomers were tended at RAF Brize Norton, Oxon, after touching down shortly after midnight in an RAF Voyager aircraft.
One young girl was handed a cuddly unicorn soft toy by a soldier while a tiny baby was checked over by two female personnel.
A soldier hands a cuddly unicorn soft toy to a young Afghan refugee
As of yesterday, more than 11,500 people have been out of the besieged capital under Operation Pitting.
They include locals eligible under the Afghan relocation and assistance policy programme (Arap), alongside embassy staff and other British nationals.
Arap is for Afghans under threat from the Taliban because of their loyalty to the British.
As well as Brize Norton, Birmingham has been used as part of the airlift and Heathrow is also processing refugees.
Up to six flights have been arriving daily at the London airport’s Terminal 4, carrying more than 1,000 people.