After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan’s final major city, Kabul, in 2021, the British government conducted the greatest evacuation since World War II.
For two weeks in August, soldiers were despatched to the terror-stricken city to process as many qualified residents and British nationals as possible in order to airlift them back to safety in the UK.
Over 15,000 individuals were finally airlifted out of Kabul on more than 100 planes as part of the Operation Pitting expedition.
The military campaign’s overwhelming confusion and desperation, as well as the sad humanitarian loss of life, will be examined in the upcoming Channel 4 documentary Evacuation.
In the three-part series, sergeants and other military members reveal their personal experiences in Kabul, including 26-year-old David, who also talked.
Lance Corporal David, who joined the army to follow in his uncle’s footsteps, claimed he had no clue what awaited him in Afghanistan and assumed the evacuation would be straightforward – a matter of procedure.
‘I thought it was probably going to be like a little call centre and all very chilled out and [simple] to process [the eligible] people type thing. But obviously, it was the complete opposite,’ he said.
In addition to qualified locals and British citizens, many of additional Afghan people were anxious to leave the Taliban, crowding the airports and attempting to board aircraft.
Several Afghans risked their lives to flee Kabul, grabbing onto the sides of planes as they took off and plunging to their deaths.
‘I didn’t believe it was going to be anything like that,’ David recounted. But there was nothing but turmoil and desperation everywhere.’
As the documentary depicts, several Afghans were killed or injured after being crushed to death in the masses that had gathered around the airport.
David slid through a gap by accident and was almost damaged in the surge of individuals vying for a position on a site and struggling for survival.
‘I slipped into the gap because I’m not a big fella,’ he added. ‘I’m just 5ft6 or so, so I popped into the gap.’
David stated that he was taken away from his fellow troops, but he originally felt he would be able to find his own way back.
‘But obviously, I couldn’t, and then it was getting tighter and tighter. And then I was like crushing down with people.’
David stated that his “primary issue” was that he had his guns on him and was worried that someone might steal his handgun out of his holder and inflict him damage.
He went on to say that as he became ‘lower and lower’ in the mob, his fellow troops, who had been yelling for him, used their wooden battons to pull him out safely.
‘They managed to grip me by my collar and drag me through the gap,’ David said. ‘But yeah, I was kind of rescued with a stick.’
Asked how he felt during the stampede, David replied: ‘I did have a flap but, to be fair, I wasn’t thinking like, “I’m gonna die,” or anything like that.
‘But I was thinking, “This is getting a bit close now.” Like I was starting to well flap. And it was only when I was going down to the floor that I thought this is getting a bit spicy now because you’ll start getting crushed and there were loads of people getting crushed to death until but at the time you don’t think like, “Oh, this is it or anything.”’
David also befriended a native in Kabul who knew some English and functioned as his interpreter.
After bonding, David promised to find his friend, who hoped to start a phone store in London as a way out of Afghanistan.
It was’stressful,’ David recalled, attempting to get his friend on a flight, but he ultimately found a family prepared to take him on.
‘Yeah, I liked the kid. I thought he were mega. And obviously, he helped me out a lot with my job. So we had like a little thing going on,’ he said of him warmly.
David said he would have had to keep trying if he hadn’t been able to secure him a seat on the plane.
‘I would have felt well jacked if I’d had to have ditched him,’ he said.
David hasn’t heard from him since he arrived, but he did give him his phone number so they can remain in touch.
Unfortunately, at least 100,000 people were left behind in Kabul after the last evacuation flight left.
David was in Kabul for two weeks for Operation Pilling and says his final picture was sitting on his equipment, ‘buzzing to get back home.’
‘Nothing will ever be similar to [Operation Pilling],’ he said. ‘Nothing ever will, ever again.’
Evacuation begins on Channel 4 at 9pm on Sunday.