“I think history will judge: 17,000 people given safe passage is without precedent”
That was the claim from Dominic Raab yesterday as he defended his handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan.
The 17,000 figure refers to the number of people the UK has brought back from the country since April.
But despite the foreign secretary’s claim, it’s not unprecedented – even in British history.
The evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 saw 338,000 Allied troops rescued from northern France having been surrounded by German forces. The operation took eight days.
Also in 1940, some 24,600 people were evacuated from the Channel Islands to mainland Britain over fears of an imminent German invasion.
There have been more recent examples internationally.
In 1990, more than 170,000 Indians were airlifted from Kuwait after it was invaded by Iraq. The operation was carried out by Air India and overseen by the country’s foreign minister.
The following year, the US military evacuated 20,000 troops from the Philippines in a single month following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.
And even in the Afghanistan evacuation which just ended, America’s record surpasses the UK’s.
On a single day last week, the US military brought 19,000 people out of the country – more than the 17,000 Britain evacuated through the entire mission.
The Foreign Office was contacted for comment.