• Quote: ‘Throughout those days in August, all of Spain was trembling along with you. All of Spain was, on some level, right there at the gates of Kabul airport with you’ – defence minister Margarita Robles

By Andrew Atkinson

Armed Forces members who helped evacuate 2,200 people from Afghanistan in August to fly them to Spain have been awarded medals in recognition of their excellent humanitarian work in the face of extreme danger.

Spain’s military were called into action this summer putting their lives at risk to shelter Afghan families from Taliban attacks at Kabul airport.

They also accompanied them in flight, and greeted them on arrival in Madrid, co-ordinating their transport to safe accommodation.

The highly-dangerous evacuation operation ran until August 27, with Spanish troops leading the 2,200 onto A400M military aircraft in Kabul, heading for Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Once there, they boarded planes chartered by Spanish carrier Air Europa to take them to the military base in Torrejón de Ardoz, in the Greater Madrid region.

Spain’s foreign and defence ministries were working to ensure all Spanish nationals who wanted to leave Afghanistan were able to do so securely.

The majority of those evacuated in August are Afghan nationals fleeing a régime which had taken over their country.

Many are adults – once children when international troops moved into their country, now in Spain with their immediate families to begin new start lives.

They include a 17-year-old female student who has learned Spanish and is to study medicine at university; a student dentist who spent a year in Madrid whose father and sister were in danger, due to working for the old Afghan government.

Also, the captains of the women’s and men’s national wheelchair basketball teams, Nilofar Bayat, 28, and her husband Ramish, offered similar rôles in the sport in the Basque Country.

Some of the Afghan evacuees were interpreters and other support workers who guided Spanish troops when they were on missions in the western Asian country.

Spain’s government is in ‘informal contact’ with the Taliban through the Spanish embassy in Doha, Qatar, diplomatic sources confirm, but under no circumstances will Spain formally recognise the Taliban as Afghanistan’s ruling régime.

Spain’s Air Force and its Land Army Special Operations unit have all been given the Aeronautical Merit Cross with red distinction in a ceremony presided by defence minister Margarita Robles.

During her speech, Sra Robles remembered the Spaniards who had lost their lives during the long conflict in Afghanistan which began in late 2001, and expressed her gratitude on behalf of both countries for the vital work carried out by Spain’s Forces in Kabul.

“Throughout those days in August, all of Spain was trembling along with you,” Sra Robles told the newly-decorated service personnel.

“All of Spain was, on some level, right there at the gates of Kabul airport with you.

“We feel proud as a country, we feel proud of our Armed Forces.

“This distinction is also for all the other people of Spain filled with goodwill and who believe in peace, who believe a better world is possible and who believe that we have to keep fighting against terrorism.”

Caption: Spain’s Air Force and Land Army Special Operations unit awarded Aeronautical Merit Cross with red distinction.