The UK’s evacuation mission at Kabul’s airport has “a matter of hours” left and no more people will be called forward, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said.
Mr Wallace told Kay Burley on Sky News the effort was into its “final hours” after the closure of the main processing centre in Kabul at the Baron Hotel near the airport.
He said: “We, at 4.30 this morning, UK-time, closed the Baron Hotel, shut the processing centre and the gates were closed at Abbey Gate.
“We will process the people that we’ve brought with us, the 1,000 people approximately in the airfield now and we will seek a way to continue to find a few people in the crowds where we can, but overall the main processing is now closed and we have a matter of hours.
“The sad fact is not every single one will get out.
“The threat is obviously going to grow the closer we get to leaving.”
Afghanistan latest – live updates as UK’s Kabul evacuation enters ‘final hours’
Defence sources have told Sky News British troops have also started to leave Afghanistan, with about 100 out of the 1,000 there having already left.
The Ministry of Defence said 13,708 people have so far been evacuated since 13 August, including 7,975 under the Afghanistan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) for Afghans currently and formerly employed by the UK, and their families.
The Baron Hotel was closed just hours after two attacks, claimed by terror group ISIS-K, outside the airport killed 13 US troops and 95 Afghans.
US President Joe Biden warned those behind the terror attacks at Kabul’s airport: “We will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay.”
As evacuation flights resumed on Friday, General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said further attempted attacks are expected ahead of the Tuesday deadline for foreign troops to leave.
Mr Wallace said he had authorised the loosening of regulations on numbers “to pack people in” on the final flights out. It is expected about 600 people will now be able to board military transporters.
He also revealed the UK closed the processing centre at the Baron Hotel “almost on time – we were always going to close it then”.
The defence secretary said the night before the attack the British Army had pushed a perimeter away from the hotel by about 300 metres.
“If they hadn’t pushed that perimeter further out we’d be in a worse place,” he added.
“It could have been us.”
Boris Johnson tweeted on Friday that teams in the UK are working hard to help those Afghans that were successfully evacuated to the UK.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was a “dark day” for Afghanistan as he called for an “urgent plan” for those eligible Afghans who were left behind.
He said the situation was a “huge setback” for the UK on the world stage and said the government has “really serious questions” to answer, but the immediate issue was how to protect those that worked for UK troops and have been left behind.
Defence sources told Sky News up to half of those crowding into the Baron Hotel yesterday for processing were not cleared under the Afghanistan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) for interpreters or the Leave Outside the Immigration Rules (LOTR) scheme, making processing difficult.
Mr Wallace would not confirm whether some British troops would remain in Kabul until the 31 August deadline the US has set.
People who were unable to get processed should make their way to land borders and the UK will make sure its visa processing facilities in neighbouring countries are working hard to get Afghans to the UK, Mr Wallace said.
After the US warned of an imminent terror attack on Wednesday, most countries ended their evacuation efforts on Thursday ahead of the bombing.