Female troops say army has ‘learnt a lot’ from having women deployed to Kabul evacuation

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The British Army is encouraging more women to apply for all roles and says the recent Kabul evacuation shows the value of diversity during sensitive operations.

Around 15,000 people were airlifted during Operation Pitting, following the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in August.

Some 1,050 army personnel were involved and just under 5% were women.

Having just returned from leave, some of the female soldiers at the heart of the operation have spoken to Sky News about their experiences.

Sergeant Ashleigh Fenwick

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Sergeant Ashleigh Fenwick worked at the evacuation handling centre

Captain Rosie Wild is the only woman in history to pass the army's gruelling Parachute Regiment entry test.

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She has been described as a trailblazer but insists she is "just another soldier" and that passing the test "was just the opportunity to go and do the job that I wanted to do".

When her regiment was deployed to Kabul, she says her role as a female soldier took on an "added element of complexity".

More on Afghanistan

Children wait for the next flight out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday after being told they are on the list to depart

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The involvement of female troops allowed the Army to deal with cultural sensitivities and process women and children

Image shows UK military personnel onboard a A400M aircraft departing Kabul, Afghanistan on the 28 August 2021. 

As part of Operation PITTING; eligible Afghans are also being evacuated to the UK via the UAE under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Program (ARAP). Some will land and be processed at RAF Brize Norton (BZZ). This represents a valuable opportunity to showcase the ability of the RAF, and in particular the Air Mobility Force, to deliver large scale Air Transport operations at short n

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British forces evacuated about 15,000 people during Operation Pitting

In all, 20 women were among the 750 troops deployed from 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team.

Captain Wild told Sky News that cultural sensitivities and religious beliefs meant many Afghan women could only be searched by female troops or treated by female medics.

She says that although operations like Pitting are very rare, the brigade "learnt a lot" from it.

"Would it be better to have more women? Potentially, yes," she says, adding that "the 20 women that deployed did an excellent job managing people in Kabul".

Sergeant Ashleigh Fenwick

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Sergeant Fenwick outside The Baron hotel at Kabul airport

She stresses that everyone in the regiment worked tirelessly to overcome the quickly changing situation on the ground.

"I think everyone agrees that it was 16 days of the most intense experiences they had in their life," says Captain Wild.

"Even those that had deployed previously, because it was so unexpected."

Sergeant Ashleigh Fenwick is a military policewoman – in Kabul she was stationed in the evacuation handling centre, searching women and children before they boarded flights.

The army sourced and distributed 25,000 bottles of baby formula and 9,000 nappies to families in and around the airport.

Crowds of people wait outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, 25 August

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Tens of thousands of people descended on the airport when the Taliban took Kabul

Because of the number of women and children compared with the number of female troops, she says her line could be a "lot longer" than her male colleagues.

Sergeant Fenwick says the physical and emotional demands of Operation Pitting were huge, with troops sleeping for one or two hours at a time: "We slept enough to take the edge off, then get straight back in to be able to help the people of Afghanistan."

Both Sergeant Fenwick and Captain Wild say seeing news coverage and photos of people they had helped leave Afghanistan made it "all worthwhile".

An Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: "The opportunities available to women in the army are the same as the opportunities to men.

"In an age of constant global competition, it is the quality and diversity of our people that gives The British Army its unique edge.

"The MOD has made equality, diversity and inclusivity a priority in order to ensure that the army is a leading equal opportunities employer which is capable of recruiting talent from all elements of society."

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