‘We are filling every space on our flights’
AROUND 300 Britons and Afghans landed in the UK yesterday as the Defence Secretary said Britain is using “every space possible” on its evacuation flights.
Ben Wallace was allaying fears that some planes from Kabul carried only a few people.
He stressed “every hour counts” in the evacuation effort while the Taliban is “letting through our people”.
But Mr Wallace insisted the UK would stay in Afghanistan as long as the US ran Kabul airport.
He told the BBC: “We are not sending out any empty planes. We have not sent out [from Afghanistan] a single empty plane so far.
“If we have any spare capacity at any stage we make sure we share it with other nations to fly out their key personnel.
“We flew out some Nato personnel and some of the Nato interpreter Afghans for them to make sure that not a single seat is wasted.
“And we are coordinating with other countries.”
He said: “I can’t speak for other nations but the key here is, when we have a plane, if we have a single empty seat, we will offer it to other nations.
“We took some Japanese people out recently who were in need, so we will use every space.
“It is a 24-hour airport now for military planes and they are getting through.” But he added: “Our soldiers are having to deal with crowd control, which is a different type of threat than an enemy threat or a security threat.”
Mr Wallace said hundreds have already touched down on UK soil because we have a “process that is more mature than some of the other countries”.
Eight RAF transport aircraft – a mix of A400 Atlas planes, C-130 Hercules aircraft and C-17 Globemasters – were due to fly from Kabul yesterday.
The defence chief reported that 120 people and their families were airlifted early in the day and another 138 followed later. Those arriving in the UK looked relieved – the Taliban is continuing to hunt down those who worked for the British and American governments.
Sir Laurie Bristow, the British ambassador to Afghanistan, has said from Kabul that Foreign Office personnel hope to get “at least” 1,000 people out of the country every day.
But he warned there were “days, not weeks” left to complete the mission.
On Wednesday, PM Boris Johnson said the UK had secured the “safe return” of 306 UK nationals and 2,052 Afghan nationals as part of its resettlement programme.
A further 2,000 Afghan applications had been completed with more still being processed.
US President Joe Biden yesterday suggested his troops would stay in the war-torn country until the evacuation of Americans is complete, even if that runs past the August 31 deadline for withdrawal.
Mr Wallace told BBC Breakfast the Americans are “doing everything from the control tower to the firefighters, they are running that airport.
“So in that sense, if the US stays, that gives us an opportunity to continue this scheme.
“I’ve always said our scheme is open-ended and we’re never going to close that scheme.
“So long, long after we are gone, whenever that is, we are starting to invest in third-country hubs already so we can process people if they get out to other countries in the region.”
Meanwhile, a Downing Street spokesman confirmed Mr Johnson spoke to his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison about the crisis and they talked of the need to work together. The source said 76 Australians were on board an RAF flight from the country on Wednesday.