Biggest airlift in RAF history. C17 jet filled to THREE TIMES capacity

Biggest airlift in RAF history: Military reveals how it crammed its huge C17 cargo planes to THREE TIMES capacity – but the government has NO IDEA how many Afghans it left behind as one interpreter says he has been left to Taliban

  • C-17 cargo planes crammed with more than 400 Afghans – when technically they only had capacity for 138
  • More than 15,000 people have been rescued in the British airlift – but thousands more were left behind
  • PM called UK scuttle from Afghanistan ‘culmination of a mission unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes’ 
  • Last British troops landed in RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire yesterday morning, bringing intervention to end 

The RAF today revealed it crammed more than 400 Afghans onto huge cargo jets – more than three times the aircraft’s normal capacity – during its evacuations flights from Kabul that ended on Sunday.

One RAF C-17 had 436 people aboard, which 99 Squadron said was the biggest capacity flight in RAF history, although the US Air Force managed to get 823 people aboard the same model of aircraft during the evacuation.

However despite the packed flights, Britain has left at least 1,000 people behind and minister admit they have ‘no idea’ how many Afghans with the right to come to the UK have been left to the Taliban after US President Joe Biden abandoned the country and did nothing as the government collapsed in weeks.

The UK says the Taliban has agreed to continue to let people out of the country, although ministers admit they are ‘skeptical’ about whether the hardline Islamist regime has any intention of honoring this agreement.

One interpreter who aided British troops for years said he was turned away from the airport after waiting for four days and said today: ‘I just feel that they don’t care about us.’

Those left behind are now forced to try and make it out of the country by land via so-called ‘Uber escapes’ routes – the going rate is up to $25,000 for a seat on a bus to Pakistan.

Images emerged today showing how every inch of the hold of the RAF cargo planes have been filled with desperate Afghan refugees, British citizens and the meagre possessions they have been able to carry out of the country as it fell to the Taliban.  

In a tweet this morning, the RAF’s 99 Squadron, who have been flying the C-17s, tweeted: ‘Our normal limit for persons on board (POB) is a total of 138, which is limited by life raft capacity (46 x 3 or surge of 69 x 2 = 138 if one is damaged on ditching). 138 – 6 crew = 132 passengers. We more than tripled this on a daily basis for the last 2 weeks’.

The RAF has been lauded for its efforts to fly people out of Kabul international airport, but such are the number of  US personnel in the capital the Americans have had up to 800 people on their C-17s.

There are claims that at least 5,000 people with a right to settle in the UK may be still in Afghanistan, but some fear the true number is much higher, including hundreds of interpreters who aided British troops over the past two decades.

This incredible picture shows a RoyalAirForce C-17 Globemaster leaving Kabul last week carrying 436 people – the single biggest capacity flight in RAF history.

People disembark off a Royal Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster III military transport aircraft carrying evacuees from Afghanistan and arriving at Al-Maktoum International Airport in the United Arab Emirates on August 19

One Afghan who aided the British Embassy, the British Council and came on foot patrols with British troops told BBC Radio 4 today: ‘I tried for four days and four nights. I tried every possible way to get in the airport but I couldn’t even get within 10 metres of the gate.

Taliban promises UK government to allow Afghans ‘safe passage’ to leave after August 31

The UK Government has received assurances from the Taliban that anybody wishing to leave Afghanistan after August 31 will be allowed to do so.

British troops have already left Kabul and US military personnel will be out of Afghanistan before the August 31 deadline set by US President Joe Biden.

But there have been fears over the potentially thousands of Afghans who may have been eligible for resettlement schemes, who could not make it to Kabul airport for evacuation or were not processed in time.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday that if the Taliban regime wanted diplomatic recognition and aid funding, they would have to ensure ‘safe passage’ for those who want to leave.

And in a joint statement with the US and more than 90 other countries, it was confirmed that the Taliban had said anyone who wished to leave the country could do so.

The joint statement said: ‘We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorisation from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country.’

It comes after 15,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan by UK troops over the course of nearly two weeks in Operation Pitting, which is believed to be the largest evacuation mission since the Second World War.

British ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow, who had remained in the country and relocated the embassy to Kabul airport to process as many evacuees as possible, arrived back in the UK on Sunday.

He vowed to continue to help British nationals and Afghans who remain in the country and still need help.

Speaking on the runway at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, he said: ‘We’ve had to leave Afghanistan for now and the embassy will operate from Qatar for the time being.

‘We will continue to stand by the people of Afghanistan, working on humanitarian, diplomatic and security work, and above all bringing to the UK Afghans and British nationals who still need our support, and we will be putting pressure on the Taliban to allow safe passage for those people.

‘We will reopen the embassy as soon as we can. We will do everything we can to protect the gains of the last 20 years and above all to help the Afghan people achieve the security and the peace that they deserve.’

‘It was not just the number of people. The Taliban were hitting people, they hit me and my wife, I got an injury and she was left unconscious.

‘They weren’t letting people going through. I had no choice but to show them the email showing my job. They shoved an AK47 in my face, abused me and hit me with a stick.

‘The email said I was eligible to go to the UK. It was horrible for me [knowing the last flights had left]. I cannot even believe it. I’ve been asking my friends whether it’s true if the last UK flight has left.

‘I have no help, no shelter or anything. My house is now a rest area for the Taliban.

‘I’ve got some emails saying that the evacuation has ended. Now you have to go to a second country. Pakistan’s border has closed, there’s one open, smuggling people, but that’s only for the locals.

‘The MoD’s biometric system is now with the Taliban. Some of the them know my face. They will capture me and kill all my family.

‘I cannot walk to the shop to buy something right now.

‘I had a lot in the British government because they are powerful and I thought they would care about me. But I just feel that they don’t care about us.’ 

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said it was impossible to say how many people were left in Afghanistan who were eligible to come to the UK.

‘That’s an impossible number to put a figure on,’ he told Sky News.

The ‘vast, vast bulk’ of British nationals had left Afghanistan, he said, but there were also eligible people under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme – for people who helped UK forces – and others who could be under threat from the Taliban.

‘We are going to continue working to get people out who fall into those groups – predominantly now, of course, it will be in that third group – people at risk of reprisals, whether they be high-profile individuals, of religious minorities or others who may be under severe risk of reprisals from the Taliban.’   

Mr Cleverly also acknowledged that emails from Afghans desperate to leave the country may not have been read.

Asked if he had unread emails in his inbox, Mr Cleverly told the BBC: ‘I suspect everybody has.’

The Government had received a ‘huge number of emails directly from Afghanistan and from third parties’ after announcing it would help Afghans at risk of reprisals from the Taliban.

‘Obviously we had a limited time window and limited flight availability in Kabul airport. We of course were prioritising getting people who had been processed, who were at the airport, on to planes and out of the country.

‘We will continue to work with those Afghans in other parts of Afghanistan who had not been processed when the airport closed and we will continue working to get them out of the country.

‘We have been and will continue to work through the significant number of emails that we have received to try to get as many other people out of Afghanistan as possible.’ 

Mr Cleverly defended the response of the department and his boss Dominic Raab to the crisis in Afghanistan.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘This was, at every level – from senior ministerial level right through to the people on the ground in Afghanistan – a team effort and every bit of the team pulled out the stops.

‘It could never be a perfect operation because of the circumstances that we were operating in.’

The UK Government today said it had received assurances from the Taliban that anybody wishing to leave Afghanistan after August 31 will be allowed to do so.

British troops have already left Kabul and US military personnel will be out of Afghanistan before the August 31 deadline set by US President Joe Biden.

But there have been fears over the potentially thousands of Afghans who may have been eligible for resettlement schemes, who could not make it to Kabul airport for evacuation or were not processed in time.

Taliban stand guard outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul today 

Crowds of people wait outside the airport in Kabul in a photo taken on August 25 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday that if the Taliban regime wanted diplomatic recognition and aid funding, they would have to ensure ‘safe passage’ for those who want to leave.

Daughter of British shopkeeper killed in ISIS-K Kabul airport terror attack begs the UK Government to help bring her mother home 

Mr Popals’ 14-year-old grandson, Hameed (pictured), who lived in Afghanistan and acted as an interpreter for his grandparents, is missing and feared dead

The daughter of a British shopkeeper who was killed in the attack on Kabul airport is begging the UK Government to help bring her mother home.

Zohra Popal, 23, said the family feel ‘ignored’ by the Foreign Office, which she said has not made contact since news of her father’s death was confirmed.

Musa Popal, 60, was pushing through the crowd trying to attract the attention of soldiers by waving his British passport when he was killed by the suicide bomber, it was reported last night.

His wife Saleema managed to crawl away from the carnage. 

Their 14-year-old grandson, Hameed, who lived in Afghanistan and acted as an interpreter for his grandparents, is missing and feared dead. 

Ms Popal said she fears for the life of her mother, 60, who remains in Afghanistan, and members of her family who she believes could be targeted by the Taliban. 

‘My mum, she has no documents now because my dad was holding everything when he died.  

‘She and the rest of my family are still in danger, and we still might lose them. And yet we can’t get through to the Foreign Office.

‘Their number is constantly engaged. We feel completely ignored.

‘But we must get them to safety. I can’t live without them. We need the Government’s help.’ 

And in a joint statement with the US and more than 90 other countries, it was confirmed that the Taliban had said anyone who wished to leave the country could do so.

The joint statement said: ‘We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorisation from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country.’

It comes after 15,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan by UK troops over the course of nearly two weeks in Operation Pitting, which is believed to be the largest evacuation mission since the Second World War.

British ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow, who had remained in the country and relocated the embassy to Kabul airport to process as many evacuees as possible, arrived back in the UK on Sunday.

He vowed to continue to help British nationals and Afghans who remain in the country and still need help.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said yesterday that 1,000 eligible Afghans and 150 Britons had been left behind.  

Speaking on the runway at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, he said: ‘We’ve had to leave Afghanistan for now and the embassy will operate from Qatar for the time being.

‘We will continue to stand by the people of Afghanistan, working on humanitarian, diplomatic and security work, and above all bringing to the UK Afghans and British nationals who still need our support, and we will be putting pressure on the Taliban to allow safe passage for those people.

‘We will reopen the embassy as soon as we can. We will do everything we can to protect the gains of the last 20 years and above all to help the Afghan people achieve the security and the peace that they deserve.’

Vice Admiral Ben Key, Chief of Joint Operations, who commanded Operation Pitting, admitted there was a ‘sense of sadness’ that not all could be saved.

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.’

After official advice earlier in the week changed to advise people to stay away from Kabul airport due to the threat of a terrorist attack, ministers said anyone who could reach a third country could be processed and flown to the UK from there.

But there were concerns the Taliban would not allow this, amid reports of roadblocks.

Among those stuck in Afghanistan was the wife of a British shopkeeper who was killed in the terror attack on Kabul airport on Thursday.

Zohra Popal, 23, broke down in tears as she described the pain of losing her father, Musa Popal, and begged the Government to help bring her mother home.

She said the family feel ‘ignored’ by the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, which has not made contact since news of his death was confirmed.

Mr Popal, 60, was among three British citizens, including a child, who were killed in the suicide attack.

Mohamed Niazi, 29, an Uber driver from Aldershot, Hampshire, was also among the victims.

Ms Popal said she fears for the life of her mother Saleema, 60, and members of her family who she believes could be targeted by the Taliban.

British military personnel boarding a Royal Air Force (RAF) A400M aircraft ahead of departing Kabul Airport yesterday 

In a video uploaded to Twitter on Sunday, 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.’

Meanwhile, officials said a US airstrike has targeted a vehicle carrying ‘multiple suicide bombers’ from the affiliate of the so-called Islamic State, Isis-K, in Afghanistan before they could target the US military evacuation at Kabul airport, officials said. 

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