Channel 4 – ‘Evacuation’ and the 2nd Battalion’s Contribution

An excellent documentary recently from Channel 4 that covered the events of Op PITTING in late Summer 2021.  Many of you will have been watching and perhaps were disapponted that the contribution of 2 YORKS did not get mentioned.

Members of 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment were deployed at short notice from Cyprus in support of Op PITTING into Hamid Karzai Airport, Kabul, to assist with the evacuation effort from 21-29 August 2021, and were some of the last British soldiers to leave Afghanistan.

Whilst based in Cyprus, 2 YORKS fulfilled force protection duties for UK strategic assets as the Resident Infantry Battalion and is also held at very high readiness as the Regional Standby Battalion with a Lead Company Group held at 48 hours to move.   At the time that it was deployed to Afghanistan, 2 YORKS were also providing a force protection capability for naval assets in Bahrain.

So, in August 2021, 2 YORKS had the distinction of being deployed on three operations in four different countries.

Initially the unit was deployed forward into the United Arab Emirates, but on arrival were immediately sent forward to Kabul thinking they would be providing force protection at Hamid Karzai International Airport.  But on arrival they were placed directly in the front-line of the evacuation effort, managing the flow of Britain’s processing stream involving vehicle convoys across unfamiliar ground, a challenging and changing security threat, to say nothing of face-to face interaction with literally thousands of distressed and displaced people.

Spotting that the movement and flow of evacuees was a limiting factor, the Yorkshire soldiers grasped the situation, using their initiative and Yorkshire guile to beg, steal and borrow a fleet of vehicles, which became referred to as the ‘White Rose Taxis’ to facilitate the movement of over 12,000 people in just a few short days.  A Private soldier who prefers not to be named, proved to be very adept at ‘hot-wiring’ several abandoned and parked vehicles to join the 2 YORKS ‘White Rose Taxi’ fleet.

After a period of COVID isolation on their return to Cyprus, 2 YORKS re grouped as a battalion and resumed their regional responsibilities and their role as leaders of the Army’s Future Soldier experimentation and trials program, before rturning to dale barracks in Chester.

Heres a transcript of the Diary of Events sent back from Kabul by the CO.  It makes for interesting reading:

Sun 22 August – The last 24 hours has seen 2 YORKS do brilliant things. Those forward in Kabul are working tirelessly, in the most desperate and testing of conditions, to get people out. It is no coincidence that yesterday saw the highest number of people evacuated in a single day so far. Described by the senior British commander on the ground as the ‘stars of the day’, 2 YORKS have had an immediate impact.  It is still unclear how long the operation will go on for. Because of that, more members of 2 YORKS have flown forward this morning to a staging area just outside of Afghanistan. They are set ready to answer the call to help however they are needed. Those back in Cyprus, and those deployed to elsewhere (Bahrain &UAE), are also working incredibly hard in support of this evacuation as well continuing our existing mission protecting bases directly involved. We are also planning how we will best recover everyone back to Cyprus knowing that those deployed will have to isolate and decompress on return.

It is remarkable that 2 YORKS are delivering operations in four countries all at the same time. Thank you so much for your understanding, your support and for simply being part of this incredible team. Please continue to look after each other. I know for some this will be a very difficult and uncertain time but please feel immensely proud of what we are all doing at the moment – everyone in the 2 YORKS family are playing their part.

Mon 23 Aug – We’ve had what I would describe as our first calm and orderly day.  Those in Kabul continue to work around the clock helping families escape. One of their roles is moving evacuees by vehicles from the handling centre to the airport. Known affectionately as ‘White Rose Taxis’, they are in a good routine, know what they are doing and continue to receive praise across the whole of Defence for their efforts.  Our soldiers deployed elsewhere are also directly supporting evacuees who are coming through American bases there while continuing with their security tasks. Another example of our soldiers helping people in real need.

Tue 24 August  Another hugely busy but safe day for those deployed overseas in Afghanistan, UAE and Bahrain. There have been no changes to where everyone is, with the focus still on getting as many people out of Afghanistan as possible as the operation draws towards a close. Every minute counts and everybody is playing an essential part.

We don’t know when the operation will finish but I do know that those deployed from 2 YORKS will be involved right to the very end. That reflects what an important and impressive job the soldiers are doing.  As well as keeping key areas around the airfield safe, 2 YORKS have the direct responsibility for moving, processing and supporting each evacuee from the Handling Centre onto the RAF aircraft. The team are playing a vital role and yesterday saw the highest number of evacuees rescued in a single day so far.

The team back in Cyprus have done a superb job planning everyone’s return to Cyprus whenever it happens. Those in Afghanistan will have to isolate together in Radio Sonde Camp (near South Paramali) and have a negative COVID test before being released. But this time will also be used to  help our soldiers to decompress after what has have been a very demanding deployment, both emotionally and physically.

As such, we’ll work hard to return people back to both their families and their interrupted leave as soon as we can but we must properly look after everyone with regards COVID and managing the strains and stresses of the operation. Thank you for all the well wishes. They mean a great deal and are relayed to those forward in Afghanistan who are without their phones.  We can’t wait to see you all soon but until then, please know the soldiers are doing truly amazing things.  A sub-unit (group) of 2 YORKS are sat ready as a reserve to support however the situation requires. The team is well rested and ready to move at a moments notice. The team back in Cyprus continues to do the vital work securing the home base and preparing for our return – whenever that may be. Finally, everyone is well and doing a brilliant job. Delivering three operations in four countries is a remarkable achievement but only possible due to the continued and amazing support from the families.

Wednesday 25th August  Everyone is safe and well – even if a little tired.  It’s been another similar day as before. The Lead Company Group working at the Kabul airport continue to pull out all the stops to get people out. The last two days have seen the highest numbers rescued so far.  Those of us stood by to assist just outside of Afghanistan as the UK’s forward reserve, are watching events carefully as we know the situation remains uncertain. We may be needed at any moment and the soldiers are focused and ready to go.  It’s brilliant to hear how the Regimental family and everyone back in Cyprus is pulling together and looking after one another. It allows those deployed to stay focused on their mission.

Thursday 26thIt’s been nearly a week since we first deployed forward in support of the mission and five full days with our soldiers on the ground in Kabul.  Since then, 8,076 people have been evacuated by UK forces. An amazing testament to the collective efforts of the Battalion. There are very few missions where you can define so clearly the number of people helped and saved.  As it is, everyone is safe and well. The team are working hard to the very end knowing that every moment counts and the end is getting closer.  Finally, I just want to acknowledge that we had 15 soldiers fit, trained and ready to deploy with their respective teams but weren’t allowed due to not being UK passport holders. Although this was due to another country’s immigration rules, I remain frustrated and annoyed about this. Our Battalion is better because we have a really diverse mix of people in it. I love the different cultures and representation bound together under the 2 YORKS banner. Everyone counts and I am sorry not everyone has had the chance to deploy as they wished and deserved.  Please be assured it has been raised to the very highest level. We will tackle this issue and come back together as a tight knit Battalion.

Friday 27thA long night but I’ll start by saying that everyone in 2 YORKS, whether deployed or in Cyprus, is safe and well.  The work put in by our soldiers forward in Kabul was extraordinary. Under the most challenging of circumstances, their response and professionalism has saved lives and helped keep the mission on track. Our thoughts and prayers are clearly with the Afghanis and US Marine Corps, including their families, who have been impacted by yesterday’s tragic events.

Saturday 28th August – Everyone remains safe and is working hard to continue to evacuate people from Kabul, but the balance is now shifting such that British soldiers are getting ready to come home.  I will update you once all 2 YORKS are safely out of Kabul.  I know a number of you have understandably been asking what is the plan when we return to Cyprus.  As you all know, those who have deployed to Kabul have been exposed to some very emotionally and psychologically draining events. They have also been in a high-risk COVID environment. Whilst everyone is double-vaccinated, this will need careful management to ensure we do not become a source of COVID infection on our return – including to you, their families and loved-ones.  We must also look after our physical and mental health to ensure we re-integrate as smoothly as possible.

Everyone who deployed to Kabul will go into a period of COVID isolation and Post Operational Stress Management (POSM) to ensure a safe return.  Both are mandated, but I personally believe they are essential to ensure our long term health and well being.  COVID isolation will be governed by existing BFC rules and decompression will be a five day package.  This will see a programme of sport, discussion sessions and central lectures, all to help them decompress. This will also include a social event but unfortunately, due to COVID rules, this programme will not include families.

Once decompression finishes and as soon as COVID rules allow people to be released, they will be.  But, we must be prepared for positive COVID results and associated close contacts.  I believe this will likely effect many of those who deployed to Afghanistan.  This will sadly require a longer period of isolation but we will do all we can to minimise the number of close contacts and the time spent in isolation.  To reassure you all, soldiers will get the additional financial allowance for this deployment for as long as they remain in post-deployment COVID isolation.

Everyone who went to Kabul will get some leave.  The amount depends on which Company they are in but this will ideally start after work on Friday 10th September.  I should also say that no one is allowed to fly until 14 days after a positive COVID test, in case people are planning to return to the UK.

For those who did not go to Kabul, but did deploy forward, a different reception is arranged.  There is no need for a decompression package but we will still need to COVID test on return, albeit a LFT.  This group will get two days off after being cleared as COVID negative before returning to work.

Once again, thank you for your incredible support and continued patience.  Between soldiers, family and friends, we make an incredible 2 YORKS team that together has played a vital part in an operation that has evacuated over 14,500 from Kabul and will be remembered for decades to come.  As we approach the end of this operation we should be exceptionally proud of what we have collectively all achieved.

Sunday 29th August –  I’m pleased to say that is now every member of 2 YORKS back from Afghanistan. They are exhausted, emotionally and physically, but clearly proud of what they have accomplished.  Those who were in Kabul will return to Cyprus today (Sunday) and go into isolation.

But this is not the end of the mission for 2 YORKS with those held in reserve outside of Afghanistan continuing on task, stood by to support the final evacuation by the US if needed.  Thanks again for all your support and we’re looking forward to seeing you all soon.

Monday 30thIt was wonderful to see those who had been to Kabul get back to Cyprus last night.  It has been reaffirming to witness the outpouring of thanks and appreciation for what our soldiers have done now that it is widely known the role they played. But of course we still have a company forward staying on as reserve. So we remain focused on them and situation in Kabul until the last US forces are safely out

Tuesday 31stMy penultimate message with regards our deployment to support the evacuation from Kabul.  You will have seen that the US have now completed their withdrawal such that those we have forward in reserve can return home to Cyprus.   Most will return today but sadly there isn’t enough space on the aircraft to get everyone back in a single flight. The remainder will return tomorrow.  This will mark the end of a remarkable operation. Lots will be said about it and no doubt much in the political space will be critical. Likewise, I suspect we will see difficult scenes emerging from Afghanistan in the coming days.