A SENIOR soldier has spoken of a whirlwind 48 hours which began in London’s Sea Life aquarium and ended on a plane to Afghanistan.

Warrant Officer Class 2 soldier Gary McMahon was at the capital attraction when he received an urgent text stating he was needed as soon as possible at Colchester’s Merville Barracks.

Mr McMahon would become one of 750 soldiers from the 16 Air Assault Brigade who returned from summer leave to deploy to Kabul, arriving on August 15.

Their mission, Operation Pitting, was to evacuate British people, entitled Afghans and civilians from partner nations as the Taliban seized control of the war-torn country.

It was to be Mr McMahon’s third visit to Afghanistan, and his “most difficult tour” he had ever been on.

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“This tour was completely different, it was incredibly difficult,” he said. “It was on the cusp of a humanitarian disaster and at points we were absolutely powerless to help.

“We had to be so cut throat, any time you wasted on people who aren’t entitled to get out is time where you’re not helping others. I used to say to people: ‘Look, you’re wasting my time’.

“It was as cut throat as saying to people they had a minute to say goodbye to their family and then they needed to split up.

“At the end of the day we were there to do a job and we had to get on with it. Nobody likes turning away family with children, especially when I’ve got kids myself – they were all I could think about.

“You can always pick holes in the operation but it was absolutely a success. Let’s face it, we were dealt a pretty bad hand being thrown into that situation in Kabul.

"On the first day I was stood inbetween three or four members of the Taliban trying to explain what was going on.

"My team behind me were getting very, very etchy - there were trigger fingers waiting to get involved but it was what it was.

"I don’t think we’ll be going for beers anytime soon but the Taliban kept their side of the bargain.

"We were told to get 3,000 people out and managed to actually get 15,000. It would’ve been more if we had more time.”

During the monumental effort 5,000 of the evacuees were British and 8,000 were entitled Afghans. Some 2,100 were children.

It was a far cry from Mr McMahon’s summer break in London.

“We managed to finish the trip to Sea Life, had a Mexican and then I came back to camp. I definitely didn’t want to miss out on Sea Life – we were already halfway around.

“My wife just sort of looked at me and I had to hold my hands up and admit I’d got the text and I’d need to leave sooner rather than later, thankfully she’s used to it and is pretty forgiving.

“In all honesty I was a bit underwhelmed by Sea Life but the kids loved it. I particularly enjoyed my Mojito as I walked along the Southbank thinking: ‘What can I get the team working on before I get back?’."