UNITED KINGDOM: No plane carrying Britons and Afghans from the Kabul airport has left empty, the U.K. defence secretary Ben Wallace has said.
The statement came after some reports that flights from Kabul contained only a few people, saying the U.K. was “absolutely ploughing through the numbers”.
Wallace told BBC Breakfast “every hour counts” and confirmed “the Taliban are letting our people through”.
Wallace said a plane left Kabul on Thursday morning carrying “115 people and their families – those are the Afghans on there as opposed to other personnel”.
He added: “None of our planes are leaving empty… our planes never leave empty. If we have spaces on them, we offer them up to other nations.”
About 4,500 U.S. troops are in temporary control of Karzai International Airport, Kabul with about 900 British soldiers also on patrol at the site as part of efforts to secure the evacuation flights.
The Taliban are blocking Afghans without travel documents from entering. Twelve people have been killed in and around Kabul airport since Sunday, according to a Taliban official quoted by the Reuters news agency.
But even those with valid papers have struggled to get to the airport, with reports that some have been beaten by Taliban guards.
An Afghan interpreter who worked for the British army said he was permitted to come to the U.K. last week, however was now in hiding and would “face death” if the Taliban found him.
The defence secretary said the U.K. would continue to stay in Afghanistan as long as the airport was backed up by the U.S., but said the government was also already investing in “third country hubs” for processing people “if they get out to other countries in the region”.
Wallace said seven to 10 RAF planes were taking off every day, with at least 138 due on the next flight out.
He said the passengers on the flights out of Afghanistan this week have included British government personnel, British citizens, media and human rights staff and Afghans who had worked for the U.K.