Operation Pitting was the British military operation to evacuate British nationals and eligible Afghans from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the country.
In the end, 13,708 eligible Afghans and British nationals were successfully evacuated in 100 flights but 800–1,100 eligible Afghans and 100–150 British nationals were left behind.
With 100 flights, the effort was the largest British evacuation since the Second World War and largest airlift since the Berlin Blockade of 1948-9.
- 15th of August, British troops arrived at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport aboard a C-17. These troops, elements of 16 Air Assault Brigade, worked with US forces to secure the airport. During the same day, Kabul, the capital and largest city of Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban shortly after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. The Taliban subsequently requested a peaceful transfer of power.
- 16th of August, the first flight of 370 evacuees arrived at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, England via an RAF Voyager aircraft. A total of 11 RAF aircraft, consisting of four Voyagers, four C-17s, two Atlas C1s and one Lockheed C-130 Hercules were involved in operations during the same day. The RAF also began diverting aircraft from other operations to assist. The UK Border Force also became involved with the operation to help process evacuees.
- 17th of August, US forces, with the support of British and allied forces, had successfully taken control of the airport. The airport subsequently became more stable, allowing the RAF to begin mass airlifts.
- 18th of August, reports began to emerge that Taliban checkpoints outside the airport were refusing entry to some Afghans and beating women and children. During the same day, two RAF evacuation flights took place, carrying a potential maximum of 250 passengers each, which also included 76 Australians.
- 19th of August, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced that no unattended children would be permitted to fly after footage was released of desperate Afghan families handing over their children to British and US forces. It also emerged that British forces had been travelling around Kabul to collect people entitled unable to reach the airport.
- 20th of August, a report from The Times claimed UK Special Forces were active in Kabul and seeking out those unable to access the airport due to the Taliban. In the previous 24 hours, the RAF had evacuated 963 people.
- 23rd of August, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced that the UK had “hours not weeks” to complete its evacuations after the US announced its intensions to withdraw on the 31st of August. Around 200 members of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland prepared to deploy. In total, over 1,000 British military personnel were now involved with operations.
- 24th of August, the UK hosted an emergency meeting for G7 leaders which Prime Minister Boris Johnson used to request an extension of the US deadline, backed by the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan. In response, the Taliban reiterated its position, describing a deadline extension as a “violation” which it would respond to. Following the G7 leaders meeting, the US announced that the deadline would remain in place.
- 26th of August, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated the “overwhelming majority” of eligible people had been evacuated by the UK, amounting to a total of around 15,000 people, however around 2,000 remained. Defence Minister James Heappey admitted that some people would not be evacuated by the 31 August deadline. Heappey also warned of the risk posed by Islamic State and claimed there was “now very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack”. During the same day, a suicide bombing occurred on the outskirts of the airport which resulted in the deaths of at least 182 people, including 13 US military personnel, and injuries to over 150. Two British nationals and the child of a British national were also killed. 2nd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment (2 YORKS) had arrived in Kabul on the same day, deploying from Cyprus.
- 27th of August, the UK government announced the Kabul evacuation had entered its final stage. As part of the drawdown, the processing centre at Baron Hotel was closed and the focus shifted to evacuating those already processed. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace described his “deep regret” that not everyone would be able to evacuate but praised the efforts of those involved in evacuating over 13,000 people in 14 days. Wallace also disclosed that timetables had been “squeezed” and military equipment was under consideration to be left behind or destroyed to free up capacity for more Afghans and British nationals.
- 28th of August, Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Nick Carter confirmed that evacuation operations were ending that same day, stating that it was “heartbreaking” that they had failed to evacuate everyone who wanted to get out. The final evacuation flight for civilians left on that same day, followed by the very final evacuation flight, carrying military personnel, later in the day, marking the end of the operation.