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(REUTERS): The final UK flight has left Kabul airport after evacuating more than 15,000 people in the two weeks since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, ending nearly 20 years of British military presence in the country.
“The final flight carrying UK Armed Forces personnel has left Kabul,” Britain’s Ministry of Defence said. UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said now was a time to reflect on the UK’s mission in Afghanistan.
“Twenty years ago, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the first British soldier set foot on Afghan soil aiming to create a brighter future for the country and all its people,” the premier said.
He further said, “The departure of the last British soldiers from the country is a moment to reflect on everything we have sacrificed and everything we have achieved in the last two decades.”
“The nature of our engagement in Afghanistan may have changed, but our goals for the country have not. We will now use all the diplomatic and humanitarian tools at our disposal to preserve the gains of the last 20 years and give the Afghan people the future they deserve,” he added.
Britain on Friday had said its evacuation mission would end within hours and that its military would be unable to fly out any Afghan citizens eligible for resettlement who had not already entered Kabul airport.
Britain was at Washington’s side from the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan that overthrew the then-ruling Taliban in punishment for harbouring the al Qaeda militants behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. More than 450 British armed forces personnel died during two decades of deployment in the country.
President Joe Biden has set an Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. military to leave Afghanistan, while allied forces including Britain have chosen to leave before then. Britain has also suspended embassy operations in Afghanistan.
General Nick Carter, the head of Britain’s armed forces, told the BBC on Saturday that the total would be in the high hundreds. “We are forever receiving messages and texts from our Afghan friends that are very distressing. We’re living this in the most painful way,” Carter said.