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After the hasty withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, Taliban militants launched a swift offensive seeking to reclaim territory from government forces. They completed their mission by seizing Kabul on 15 August, prompting Western nations to rush to evacuate diplomatic staff, citizens and vulnerable Afghans.
British special forces in Afghanistan had to resort to a cunning strategy to slip through Taliban-controlled check posts to reach Kabul, reports the Daily Star.
A unit of up to 20 soldiers from the British Army’s Special Air Service (SAS) was ostensibly ordered to gear up for an extraction to Kabul amid the lighting-swift offensive of the Islamist militants in the wake of withdrawing US and NATO troops.
They were warned that no helicopters were available to fly them out of the south of the country, where they were stationed for their secret mission, says the report.
“The SAS team had been in Afghanistan for months on a secret reconnaissance mission when everything went belly-up. They were told to abort the operation and to get ready for an immediate extraction to Kabul,” a source is cited as revealing.
Forced to leave behind most of their military gear, the elite soldiers, whose motto is “Who Dares Wins”, opted for subterfuge. They bought five taxis to drive the hundreds of miles to the capital, Kabul.
As their route lay through a number of Taliban roadblocks, they are said to have enlisted the help of Afghan counter-terrorist police. The latter provided them with a variety of burqas in different colours – the traditional women’s Islamic garment that covers the entire body and the face, with only a mesh screen allowing the wearer to see in front of her.
“The troops ditched most of their equipment except for their weapons and ammo and covered themselves with the burqas,” said the source cited by the publication.
Thus, the fleet of taxis is described as having driven to their destination, dodging capture at roadblocks by waving Taliban flags and pretending to be devout women on their way to the capital to celebrate the militants’ successful return to power after toppling the government.
Their ruse worked, says the source, adding:
“There were a few dicey moments but even the Taliban were reluctant to remove a burqa from a woman.”
Upon reaching Kabul the soldiers drove as close to the airport as possible prior to abandoning the taxis. Several more checkpoints lay ahead, says the report, but the team finally reached a gate where they revealed themselves to the US guards.
After Kabul fell to the Taliban, the American forces had been guarding and controlling the inner perimeter of Hamid Karzai International Airport. Chaotic scenes played out around the airport as thousands of people desperate to leave Afghanistan tried to get on one of the evacuation flights being carried out by western nations for their citizens and vulnerable locals. An SAS sergeant major walked up to one of the American soldiers at the gate and revealed the team to be “British special forces on operations.”
“The American soldier was dumbstruck and said, ‘Say again’, said the source.
After that, the special forces unit was led into a room where they could finally ditch their burqas and get in touch with a British officer.
In the days following the fall of Kabul and collapse of the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai, who fled the country, frantic military and diplomatic efforts had been underway to ensure safe passage for those trying to reach the airport. Thousands of people were airlifted out of the war-torn nation in a massive evacuation effort ahead of the August 31 deadline for US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan.
The UK has evacuated over 15,000 people from Afghanistan, including more than 5,000 British nationals, with the last RAF plane taking off from Hamid Karzai International Airport on 28 August and arriving at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. However, it is believed that thousands of people eligible for relocation, including Afghans who worked for the British and their families, have been left behind.