DESPERATE crowds braved beatings and waded through sewage to reach Kabul airport for the last mercy flights out.
Their struggle to escape continued as Britain vowed to use “every hour left” to evacuate the Afghanistan capital.
But ministers said it was almost certain that people would be stranded after the Taliban ordered troops to quit by August 31 — and US President Joe Biden agreed.
As those lucky enough to escape the chaos of Kabul had started to arrive at Heathrow, there was growing despair here among Afghan Special Forces soldiers and former British embassy staff still trying to get out.
A former lieutenant in Task Force 24, an elite police response unit that worked with British and New Zealand SAS, said: “I risked my life, I risked my family’s life, to fight with your special forces.
“What am I supposed to do? The Taliban has control of all the biometric systems so there is nowhere for me to hide.”
As tensions grew around the airport, the Taliban battered one foreigner with the butt of a Kalashnikov as he pleaded to pass a blocked checkpoint.
The man, thought to be Australian, was left staggering with blood streaming down his face as defiant militants fired shots over his head.
Elsewhere, British troops were forced to fish men out of a stinking open sewer after they charged in to get close enough to show the soldiers their paperwork.
The group were in an area known as the “hopeful zone” — a holding pen for people thought to qualify for flights.
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The Sun joined hundreds of people — including pregnant women, babes in arms and a child without parents — outside the Baron Hotel that British troops are using as a passenger processing centre.
Fistfuls of British passports were waved as families tried to prove they qualified to fly.
One of the lucky ones was Hamid, on his third day at the gate with his wife and four small children.
He had been there for more than six hours when the gate was opened, allowing him through to the holding pen for the next stage in the process.
The Taliban claim there is a nationwide amnesty and “the past is in the past” — but the crowds outside the Baron Hotel are proof that people do not believe them.
The service to Britain of an electrician called Samangul was more modest but no less important.
For ten years, he worked at the now abandoned British embassy.
Squashed against a compound gate topped with razor wire, he said: “We are 24 embassy staff out here. Seven have made it inside but what about the rest of us. No one tells us anything.”
Bibi Sultan, 12, was there without her parents, who are both in England already.
Her uncle, Awal Jan, an Uber driver from Southall, West London, said they had been staying with cousins in east Afghanistan when the Taliban seized control.
For three days, he showed his British passport but it had not been enough to get in. He was there with his wife who was heavily pregnant. Others had even less hope.
Listless men waved crumpled certificates and letters of thanks from private contractors and obscure NGOs which are unlikely to prove sufficient.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insists the country is working “as fast as we can” to rescue thousands of British nationals and Afghans at risk of reprisals.
But the clock is ticking for the 6,000 US troops and roughly 1,000 Paras who will need time to coordinate their retreat.
The last major RAF civilian airlifts are expected to end tomorrow although experts say Brit troops will try to find slots for fleeing civilians until the last planes take off.
The US marines and 82nd Airborne Division troops are expected to retreat in stages, collapsing their perimeter and ceding ground to the Taliban each time their numbers shrink.
We’re going to keep going for every day and every hour that we’ve got left.
Mr Raab added: “We’re going to keep going for every day and every hour that we’ve got left.”
The Taliban said the deadline of August 31 was a red line and not negotiable.
Sources suggested the military would plan to leave before then in case something went wrong.
At Heathrow, thousands of Afghans began pouring into the UK yesterday as commercial flights opened up a new escape route.
Desperate families fleeing the Taliban — some wearing no shoes and with no belongings — began flooding into Terminal 4.
Troops marshalled their arrival and Army teams set up a processing centre before they were ferried to undisclosed hotel locations.
The first three flights — delayed by the chaos as the airport in Kabul — arrived on Tuesday with eight more due yesterday.
Commercial carriers, including Ethiopian Airlines, were ferrying hundreds into Britain.
Home Secretary Priti Patel had visited the Border Force staff and troops running the operation late on Tuesday evening.
She tweeted her praise for the teams: “Safeguarding brave Afghan staff and their families who risked their lives working with the UK.”
But it was unclear last night how many of those arriving were interpreters and staff who had helped British Forces during the 20-year campaign in Afghanistan.
Safeguarding brave Afghan staff and their families who risked their lives working with the UK.
Home Office staff declined to give details — insisting they were unwilling to “provide a running commentary” — or say where refugees were being taken.
But large groups were pictured being led out of Terminal 4 on to buses yesterday.
Heathrow source said: “Some of the arrivals have luggage and are quite well dressed but others look absolutely desperate — it’s so sad.
“Several have arrived without shoes and the Red Cross are having to find them clothes.
“Hundreds came on Tuesday on three planes but there were supposed to be five, so things obviously are not going entirely to plan.
“There were due to be eight more flights coming on Wednesday but more delays and confusion are expected with time running out.
“The ones we saw looked exhausted but relieved. They know they are the lucky ones.”
Tali flag at UK HQ
THE white flag of the Taliban now flies over the entrance to the former British garrison in Kabul.
Gunmen wearing sandals and turbans stood sentry at what used to be Camp Souter near the southern edge of the capital’s airport.
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