Posing for the camera in their party dresses, five-year-old twins Asna and Sana yesterday epitomised the successes of British rescue missions from Kabul as they prepared to begin a new life in England.
The young sisters may not yet understand just how fortunate they are to escape Afghanistan amid fears that up to 1,000 face being left behind.
But for their translator father, the RAF evacuation flight to Britain from Kabul was a lifeline, as he admitted the Taliban would have killed him because of his vital support for the Army.
The ecstasy of the family – interpreter Nooragha Hashimi, his wife, the twins and their brother – was in stark contrast to the desperate scenes unfolding outside a temporary British processing unit at Kabul’s airport, illustrating the lottery faced by those trying to reach the UK.
Afghan twins Asna and Sana have been successfully evacuated from Afghanistan to the UK
Pictured: The five-year-old twins are seen on their evacuation flight in a British plane
Two children separated from parents at Kabul airportin Afghanistan
Under a volley of warning gunfire from troops and Taliban militia, British passport holders found themselves stranded behind a locked door blocked by soldiers wielding rifles.
Distressingly, an ITN news team even filmed two crying children reportedly left behind in the chaotic scramble outside the airport when their parents were admitted entrance.
Mr Hashimi and his family were among the lucky ones.
Speaking to Sky News, the former translator who served alongside the Royal Engineers in the former Taliban stronghold of Helmand Province said that without intervention he almost certainly would have been killed.
As uniformed British troops fussed over Asna and Sana while scanning them with metal detectors, he said: ‘Everyone knows about me – ‘He’s an interpreter’ – so that’s why this was dangerous for me.’
Reflecting on the Taliban’s pledge of an ‘amnesty’ for those who served alongside Western forces, he added: ‘Everybody was scared about what they’re going to do, and the first time they’re saying ‘we’re gonna do nothing [to] anybody’, but nobody knows if it will be the same as 1996.’
Under the Taliban’s previous iron-fisted rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women were banned from work and education and those deemed criminals and traitors were stoned, executed or tortured to death.
The Hashimi family were placed on an RAF aircraft and evacuated alongside around 130 others yesterday.
Former UK Army interpreter Nooragha Hashmi, father of Afghan twins Asna and Sana, pictured in a safe area of Kabul Airport prior to evacuation to Britain
Two children separated from parents at Kabul airportin Afghanistan
Such was the clamour to process as many desperate Afghans as possible that some were placed on the floor with cargo ropes used as makeshift seatbelts.
Mr Hashimi said the family planned to settle in southern England, where he hopes the weather is warmer than in the North.
However, at the makeshift processing unit at Hamid Karzai International Airport, which has been besieged by thousands of Afghans hoping to be evacuated, hundreds with links to Britain faced another day of desperation yesterday.
Speaking to ITV News, one man, with a Yorkshire accent and waving a British passport, said he was ‘stuck’ in Afghanistan alongside his children. He spoke shortly after warning gun shots forced the crowds to cower. ‘I’m a British citizen, my kids are British, and they’re stuck here,’ he said, in visible distress.
‘They closed the door on us and they’re shooting back at us. My message for the Prime Minister is just to get us out of here.
Pictured: A father trapped in Kabul with his children
‘Otherwise our kids are struggling and we’re all in a big mess here. The British Army is right behind this fence, they’ve closed the gate and they’re not letting no one in.’
One man pointed to a boy of around five and a girl of around three and said they had been left behind by their parents in the rush to board evacuation flights to Britain. He told the channel’s John Irvine: ‘Mr Biden, you did this. You planned this. You made the deal with the Taliban. This is the consequence of it. This is the repercussions of it. Go to hell, Biden!’
Another British interpreter from Helmand who worked with troops said he had been waiting all night with his wife and children. ‘I need help from the UK,’ he said.
It came as journalists reported feeling threatened by the Taliban for covering such scenes.
Sami Patman, who is working with Sema News, a local media outlet in Kabul, said: ‘I reached the airport of Kabul to cover the rush on the gate. I asked the Taliban fighter at the scene to get permission and to shoot some pictures and footage.
‘His behaviour was aggressive, he threatened me and said, ‘Leave the area, otherwise I’ll break your camera and kill you.’
Abdul Razzaq, a Kabul resident hoping for an evacuation flight, said: ‘The situation at times gets worse and Taliban militants open fire every single moment when there is some mismanagement in the crowd. These are scary scenes for all, particularly children who are crying and terrified.’
A THOUSAND Afghan evacuees face being left behind by Britain: Workers and their families who cannot make it through chaos at airport will be left to Taliban when ‘freedom flights’ end on Thursday
More than 1,000 brave Afghans who stood shoulder to shoulder with British troops against the Taliban face being left behind when mercy flights cease.
As the evacuation operation entered its final hours, sources told the Mail that several hundred workers and their families are likely to be left in the country because they cannot get through the chaos in Kabul.
With hopes fading of an extension to President Joe Biden‘s August 31 deadline, sources said that the ‘freedom flights’ may only continue until Thursday – even under the best case scenario.
Yesterday, ministers outlined plans to extract about 6,000 UK nationals and eligible Afghans before the operation is wound up.
But there are about 7,000 who Britain would ideally like to rescue – a scenario which could result in more than 1,000 being left behind.
More than 1,000 brave Afghans who stood shoulder to shoulder with British troops against the Taliban face being left behind when mercy flights cease
Many have already tried to get to sanctuary at Kabul airport but have been unable to make it through the chaotic queues or have simply been turned away. Others are still in hiding, unwilling to run the gauntlet of Taliban checkpoints.
‘Private’ flights to safety set up by US donors
Six wealthy US citizens are funding a private mission by ex-special forces to fly 5,600 Afghans out of Kabul in eight days.
The plan is to extract Afghan soldiers and police officers – along with their families – who are currently in hiding.
Anonymous benefactors have donated more than $500,000 (£365,000) to an operation dubbed the Wings of Eagles, which will fly 700 out of the country each day until the August 31 deadline.
Former US special forces are particularly keen to rescue members of the Afghan commando anti-terrorism units who they trained since 2003.
The operation is being run by Ark Salus, a veterans charity in Alabama.
Its director Peter Quinn, a former helicopter pilot and intelligence officer who served five tours in Afghanistan, said: ‘We have a moral obligation to our fellow Afghan warriors to safeguard them, their wives and children, and rescue them from Kabul, just as they have brought us home to our families.’
He said local soldiers are currently communicating from safe houses until they can be rescued.
‘They’ve shed their uniforms,’ Mr Quinn said. ‘They are in hiding, and waiting to know when to get to the airport.’
The Wings of Eagles mission is not charging Afghan passengers for places on their planes. However, a number of other private operations have been selling seats for up to £75,000 each.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, Mr Quinn said: ‘We’re constantly flying aircraft. We’re going to be doing as many as we can, as long as we can, until the US government pulls out of Kabul. That’s 700 Afghans a day for the next eight days.
‘We have six private investors who are fed up with what is happening in Afghanistan. We are not waiting for permission, we are taking action.’
Among the 1,000 whose fate is uncertain are as many as 100 interpreters who served with British forces.
According to campaigners, these translators and their families could number 600 in total.
About another 50 translators have not replied to requests from UK officials to report to Kabul airport, raising fears they are missing or may too scared to travel.
One translator, Shir, 46, said last night: ‘The risk is so great to my family that I don’t know if we can leave our hiding place.
‘The Taliban are knocking on doors and beating people to find out where the translators are.’
Meanwhile, 12 who had been told they can relocate to the UK only for their approval to be withdrawn are planning a legal challenge. But their cases are unlikely to be resolved in time.
That is the tragic reality now facing UK ministers and military chiefs as the hours tick down towards the deadline for Western forces to leave the country.
Unless Boris Johnson can persuade Mr Biden to extend the deadline, British military planners will stop processing these additional cases in the coming days and will focus on their own plans to pull out.
The end game was also spelled out by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace who described the timeframe available yesterday as ‘hours not weeks’ and urged already overworked officials at Kabul airport to ‘exploit every minute’.
The Mail learned last night that the best case scenario for ‘freedom flights’ is that they are able to continue until Thursday or Friday.
But according to sources this depends on highly complex plans for the withdrawal from Afghanistan of about 10,000 international military personnel being approved by the Pentagon.
Late last night, British ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow warned that staying past the current deadline may not be realistic and risked provoking the Taliban.
He said that the militant group’s leaders were being ‘pretty uncompromising’ in wanting the evacuations to cease by Mr Biden’s August 31 deadline.
Hopes of an extension hinge on today’s G7 meeting at which the PM will urge Mr Biden not to withdraw his troops on August 31.
US officials said yesterday that while they are in dialogue with the Taliban, no ‘specific discussions’ had taken place with the militants about the evacuation programme being extended into September.
Taliban leaders yesterday described August 31 as a ‘red line’ and warned Western forces would face reprisals if they sought seek to continue their ‘occupation’.
The pace at which UK forces are able to process applications and get British citizens and Afghans continued to accelerate yesterday with the Government confirming 1,300 had been evacuated in the previous 24 hours.
As the evacuation operation entered its final hours, sources told the Mail that several hundred workers and their families are likely to be left in the country because they cannot get through the chaos in Kabul
This was achieved in spite of security at the airport deteriorating.
Western diplomats described scenes there as ‘chaotic’ after an Afghan soldier was shot dead by unknown gunmen.
German troops also came under fire.
There were also further reports of Taliban brutality towards British interpreters and their families who are seeking to flee the country.
The UK also announced yesterday that 7,109 individuals had been evacuated from Afghanistan as part of the mission, codenamed Operation Pitting.
With hopes fading of an extension to President Joe Biden’s August 31 deadline, sources said that the ‘freedom flights’ may only continue until Thursday – even under the best case scenario
This includes embassy staff, UK nationals, those eligible under the government Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and nationals from partner nations.
Defence minister James Heappey said: ‘The fact is we will get out as many as we possibly can.
‘But we have been clear throughout that there is a hard reality that we won’t be able to get everyone out that we want to.
‘It is very important that we start to reassure people in Kabul – because I know that people in Afghanistan are acutely aware of what is being said in the UK – that the airlift is not the only route out of Afghanistan and not the only route to the UK.’
Yesterday, ministers outlined plans to extract about 6,000 UK nationals and eligible Afghans before the operation is wound up
There are about 7,000 who Britain would ideally like to rescue – a scenario which could result in more than 1,000 being left behind
Yesterday, Mr Wallace said he would not speculate on the numbers who would be left behind.
He said: ‘If we get more days, we get more people out, if the flow improves at the gates.
‘If there was a security concern and we had to seal the gate, suddenly you lose hours, you lose people, so all of that is up in the air.
‘We have got out a significant number over the last few weeks and we’ll continue to do so.
‘The speed at which we have to leave, the challenges around crowds of many people, who don’t meet any criteria but who are trying to get out of the country, creates real problems for us, and therefore I’ve been very clear – everyone won’t get out.’
Will Joe Biden snub Boris Johnson’s plea to extend Kabul deadline? Fears grow as Taliban warns the West to leave Afghanistan by August 31 deadline… or face consequences
And, in a further blow to the chances of airlifting more vulnerable Afghans to safety, the Taliban issued a chilling warning to the West not to stay longer.
The Prime Minister spoke directly with the President last night. And today – at a virtual meeting of G7 leaders – he will join French president Emmanuel Macron in urging Mr Biden to push back his deadline for Americans soldiers to leave.
Downing Street said Mr Johnson and Mr Biden had last night discussed the evacuation but gave no indication of any breakthrough.
Hopes that Joe Biden would extend America’s August 31 deadline to leave Afghanistan appeared to be fading last night
Hopes that Joe Biden would extend America’s August 31 deadline to leave Afghanistan appeared to be fading last night.
And the chances of an extension to the deadline appeared to be receding as Pentagon chiefs insisted they were ‘focused on getting this done by the end of the month’.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the President was ‘taking this day by day’ and will make his decision on an extension ‘as we go’.
But he insisted the President still believes ‘we have time between now and August 31 to get out any American who wants to get out’.
Yesterday, the Taliban warned that any Western military operation in Afghanistan that continued into September would breach a ‘red line’ and would ‘provoke a reaction’.
Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the militants, told Sky News: ‘If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations – the answer is no.
‘Or there would be consequences. It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation, so it will provoke a reaction.’
In a further warning, a senior Taliban commander last night told the Mail: ‘If American troops… can’t leave on [the] agreed deadline then they will face the consequences. Our fighters are ready to deal with them.’
Desperate British citizens are being blocked from escaping Afghanistan and are waving their passports at officials in a bid to flee
British soldiers are stationed amid the throngs of people who have gathered near the airport in hope of escaping the country
Zakia Khudadadi, 23, would have been the first female to represent Afghanistan at the Paralympics
It emerged last night that Western powers are negotiating with the Taliban on the possibility of civilian flights being used in the evacuation, even if the military flights stopped.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas said: ‘We are holding talks with the US, Turkey and other partners with the goal of allowing the airport to continue to operate a civilian operation to fly these people out.’
Germany will ‘also continue to talk to the Taliban about this and will do this after the withdrawal of US troops’, he added.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘I don’t think there is any likelihood of staying on after the United States.’
Armed Forces minister James Heappey conceded that the Taliban ‘gets a vote’ on the evacuation deadline.
‘We have the military power to just stay there by force, but I don’t know that the humanitarian mission we’re embarked on… is helped by Kabul becoming a war zone,’ he said.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the President was ‘taking this day by day’ and will make his decision on an extension ‘as we go’
Asked about the Taliban spokesman’s remarks, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘I don’t think we’ve had any direct communication to that end.’
He added that ‘discussions on the ground’ have been held with the Taliban over extending the deadline.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said: ‘We’re focused on getting this done before the end of the month.’
But he said the US would ‘absolutely consider the views’ of allies.