British soldiers were “just yards” from a deadly bomb explosion at Kabul airport last week – and are participating in decompression therapy to help cope with any trauma they suffered during the the dangerous two-week evacuation.
The commanders, speaking for the first time after returning from the Afghan capital, said it was pure luck that prevented British troops from being killed in the attack alongside 170 Afghans and 13 Americans .
Lieutenant Colonel David Middleton, a parachute commander, said that “the proximity between us and the Americans was only a matter of meters” and that “the position by which the explosion was triggered was precisely in the American zone ”.
A leaked account of preparations for the Pentagon attack appears to accuse the British of wanting to keep open the door to the abbey, where one of the two bombs exploded, so that the UK can complete the final phase of its evacuation.
Middleton sought to put aside suggestions of Anglo-American disagreements, saying it was “in both of our interests” to keep the door open. “We are sincerely sorry for the Americans with whom we were so close and with whom we controlled this terrain,” he added.
Islamic State of Afghanistan affiliate ISKP claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place in the area outside the airport where people hoping to come to Britain were processed. A second bomb exploded near the Baron Hotel, which was used by British diplomats until the day before.
Following a warning of a likely attack, Western soldiers were repositioned outside the airport, the British officer said. He added: “If you had looked at where our forces were deployed 24 hours earlier, they would have been much more exposed. “
A thousand British paratroopers joined more than 5,000 American and other troops to help secure Kabul airport for a fortnight to allow emergency airlift to more than 114,000 Westerners and Afghans threatened by the Taliban to the following the rapid and unexpected fall of the Afghan capital in the middle of August.
Field Commanding Officer Brigadier James Martin said the soldiers, some as young as 18, had to deal with a series of “traumatic scenes” during the chaotic evacuation, where thousands Desperate Afghans converged at the airport, not all of them. who were eligible to fly west.
Martin said troops witnessed “dead women, dead children, people crushed to death” outside the Abbey Gates and Baron Hotel in an environment over which the soldiers believed they had very little control .
“The dominant situation was very difficult to influence,” he said.
Middleton said it was also “in practice quite difficult” for British soldiers to have to refuse people, especially in the case of Afghans who believed they had the right to come to the UK but were not going to be accepted. . “My soldiers kind of made some of these decisions, basically having to turn people away,” he said.
As a result of what they witnessed, Middleton said the troops were engaged in a decompression after their return to the UK, involving a series of “relatively light lectures and guest speakers” advising young troops “on what point it’s important to somehow share your feelings and open up.
The troops were divided into small groups, with their teammates, the officer said, to use this as a place to raise issues “in the first place” because “the last thing we would like to do is get someone away from home. ‘have a suppressed emotion charge’.
Thousands of Afghans potentially eligible to come to Britain could not be airlifted in time, while thousands more could not prove their eligibility, many of whom nonetheless gathered outside the Abbey Gate hotel and Baron in the hope of being summoned. evacuation. Twenty people were killed in crashes during the airlift.