Afghanistan Diary

We're on joint patrol with the Taliban. It's surreal.

In an exclusive article, UK servicemen describe life in Kabul as they come face to face with Taliban militants. British paratroopers in Afghanistan have found themselves effectively on “joint patrol” with the Taliban who killed their friends, soldiers have said.  

Soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade’s 2 Para are on the frontline in Kabul as part of the UK’s effort to rescue British nationals and eligible Afghans. As each city fell to the Taliban, the soldiers were dropped in under the cover of darkness to save as many as they could.  

Thursday 12 August:  UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace orders a Non-combatant Evacuation. 

Friday 13 August :  Soldier A did not expect to be packing his bags to deploy for a rescue mission to Kabul. He was due to be enjoying summer leave, but on Thursday, he was back on a C-17 Globemaster to Afghanistan, a place he had fought in many times before and thought he could leave behind. 

Saturday 14 August: “It’s crazy out here,” Soldier A texted. Within 2 hours of touching down in Kabul, he had taken to the streets to rescue people.  “Everyone from 2 Para landed and went straight into it, we had no choice,” he said. “It was really chaotic as Kabul was falling.” The streets were busy, the night hot, and at times personnel were forced to dismount their military vehicles to move displaced people out of their way so that they could find those they had been sent to rescue.  

The passengers, a combination of expats, dual nationals and people working with NGOs and contractors, had been instructed to report to a secure location, where they were picked up by the soldiers. “We scooped up most of the British nationals on the first day, but I believe there are a few still out there,” he said. Among them were blind, pregnant and disabled people. 


Sunday 15 August: Early in the morning, the evacuees were brought to the airfield. Ensuring the safe passage of the civilians to the airport required coordination between the RAF, US Military, Afghan police and Foreign Office. Here the evacuees were fed and rested. Soldier A said “conditions were basic, reflecting the emergency nature of the extraction”. Those who had been rescued were “relieved to be getting out”. By nightfall, the capital had fallen to the Taliban.  


Monday 16 August: At around 11.30am, 2 Para had completed their first evacuation of around 200 British nationals from Afghanistan. Packed into a military aircraft, the evacuees travelled to the UK via another location in the Middle East. “The guys and girls here have been exceptional,” Soldier A said. “Likewise, some of the Afghans have been unbelievably brave.” 

With the first evacuees safely in the air, the soldiers went on to occupy the Baron Hotel complex around 600 metres from the perimeter of the airport, working around the clock. “I’m sleeping less than an hour at a time,” Soldier A said. “I’ve completely lost track of days.” 


Tuesday 17 August: Crowds of people swelled around the airport entrance. “It’s chaos,” Soldier A explained. 

“People are fighting for their lives to get in and British soldiers are at the front of it.” The Taliban appeared to be making it extremely difficult for those seeking evacuation. “People are shaking with fear when they get to us because of the ordeal of getting past the Taliban to reach us,” he added. 

The emotional strain of what they are seeing - men and women sobbing, pleading for their lives - takes its toll on the soldiers. “We do a job that volunteers us for some of the most extreme environments on earth,” Soldier A said. “We understand that when we sign on the dotted line, and we do what we have to do. But it doesn’t mean we always enjoy it.” 


Wednesday 18 August: It is not lost on the soldiers just how unprecedented it is to be operating in a way with the Taliban. Many on the ground fought them over the 20-year war and lost mates along the way. However, today, they are not being obstructive.  “I’m pretty much on a joint patrol with them,” Soldier A said. “It means we stand about 2 metres away from them. It’s surreal and I am a little concerned, perhaps less about the Taliban’s behaviour changing, more about people becoming desperate,” he said. 


Thursday 19 August: Flights have started to leave regularly and Soldier A is confident that the UK has developed “a really good system to transition chaos” in order to enable orderly departures. They have also picked up people from a number of other nations.  


Friday 20 August: Since Sunday 15th, Britain has evacuated more than 2,400 people, 599 of them UK nationals. However, frustration has been brewing on the ground as to why the mission was left so “last minute”. “Why we didn’t do it a month ago when the rest of the UK mission withdrew is beyond me,” Solider A said.  “The country was stable then. Yes, it was the plan to send us in, but it doesn’t make sense – take a load of people and their kit out of a place, to send different people and kit to the same place a month later.” 


The soldiers are the ones who have the difficult job of turning desperate people away at the gates of the airport.  “They really are doing an awesome job,” Soldier A said.

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