SAS join mercy mission to rescue 6,000 from Kabul

SAS join mercy mission to rescue 6,000: British Special Forces troops will be sent to Kabul in a frantic bid to rescue UK citizens and Afghanis from war-torn country

  • Elite troops to provide close protection for Home Office staff in Afghanistan  
  • British contingent up to 900 after 600 paras from 16 Air Assault Brigade arrived
  • According to senior UK defence sources the US is also increasing its presence 

Britain is sending an additional 300 Special Forces troops and officials to Kabul in a frantic bid to rescue 6,000 UK citizens and eligible Afghans, the Daily Mail has learned.

The elite troops will provide close protection for Home Office staff sent there to sift through applications from individuals seeking sanctuary in the UK. Those approved will then be flown here on RAF aircraft over the next fortnight – following secret negotiations with Taliban officials in Qatar.

The reinforcements will take the British contingent to 900 following the arrival of 600 paratroopers and supporting soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade. The Mail also learned last night that troops from 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment (3 Para) have been put on standby for immediate transfer to Afghanistan.

Handout photo issued by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of some of the 600 British military personnel boarding a flight 

According to senior UK defence sources the US is also increasing its presence in Kabul to 7,000, with additional marines and 82nd Airborne troops expected to arrive today.

US and UK forces were last night forming a protective cordon around the military airfield at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The US is controlling the airspace around the airport and blocked commercial flights into Kabul yesterday over security fears and so that the military airlift can take precedence.

According to the source the troops are expected to ‘push out’ from the airfield to occupy the ground beneath the flight paths –thereby reducing the threat to US and UK military aircraft from surface to air missiles. As many as 1,000 UK citizens and eligible Afghans will then be flown out every day as part of the RAF’s Dunkirk-style evacuation mission.

For security reasons the Mail cannot report how many aircraft are involved but the operation involves C-17, A400M, Voyager and C-130 transporters. These aircraft have been re-tasked from other duties around the world. Additional aircraft will be chartered if necessary.

According to the source the so-called ‘lifting and shifting’ of accredited persons is the easy part of the mission – the hard part is processing applicants and ensuring they can reach the airport safely.

The source said: ‘There will be more seats than bums once the operation is up and running. We can lift and shift at least 1,000 persons-a-day, almost certainly more than that.

The special forces unit will rally those who are entitled to fly and transport them to an airport which will be secured by paratroopers and US marines

‘While an agreement has been struck with the Taliban that we will not interfere with their takeover of Afghanistan and in return they will not threaten our evacuation mission, we have no control over who has access to the airport.

‘The potentially most limiting factors are those beyond our control; in particular Taliban measures to stop those entitled to leave the country actually doing so.

‘We are receiving reports about the Taliban mounting checkpoints and going door to door in search of eligible Afghans. We also have to prove people are who they claim to be and that they are security-cleared to fly on a RAF aircraft. That is a painstaking process.’

The mercy mission, codenamed Operation Pitting, was set up following talks between US commanders and Taliban representatives. Leaders of the militant group have been told they will face reprisals should they breach their side of the agreement.

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