Three Colchester-based Paratroopers are being recognised in the latest Operational Awards list for their outstanding bravery and selflessness during the evacuation of British nationals and eligible Afghans from Kabul last summer. Operation Pitting, as the British mission was known, saw personnel deploy at very short notice, to support the evacuation effort.
Two of the soldiers, Private Ahmad Fahim and Corporal Daniel Hoyland, both of 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment (3 PARA), receive a Mention in Despatches (MiD), and Corporal Jamie Found, of 2 PARA receives a Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service (QCVS).
The three men were cited for their roles in the Evacuee Handling Centre at Kabul airport during which time, as thousands of people were desperately trying to flee, a suicide bomb detonated killing dozens including US troops.
Private Ahmad Fahim - MiD
Private Fahim, 36, was born in Afghanistan and after serving as an interpreter with the US Army and on Operation Enduring Freedom, from 2004-2012, moved to the UK and subsequently joined the British Army’s Parachute Regiment in 2018.
He was cited in the latest list for a Mention in Despatches (MiD) as the battlegroup’s interpreter, who “showed outstanding bravery and selfless commitment during Op Pitting”. Without his critical intervention, the clearing of a route between the Evacuee Handling Centre and the airport would not have been possible in the early days of the evacuation.
On learning of his award, Private Fahim said: “I feel really proud, from where I’ve come, to be getting this. I never expected it. I’m feeling happy and overwhelmed at the same time.”
His citation says: “He displayed unflinching courage and compassion amidst specific threats to his person and scenes of unimaginable desperation amongst his fellow countrymen. His actions were utterly critical to the UK mission’s success.”
Private Fahim, whose parents and siblings fled the Taliban last August, was responsible for clearing a route between the Evacuee Handling Centre and the airport and helped to pull people from the crowd to safety.
“When you’re in there, you really know the desperation those people were having,” he said. “I was just imagining my sister and mother being in the crowd. Every family I brought to the gate, I brought them in and helped them. When they said, ‘thank you my son’ and to see the happiness on their faces, that energised me, and I wanted to help even more.”
Private Fahim, who was shot by the Taliban on a previous tour with the US military, was 100 metres away from the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that went off. He ran into the crowd to try and help, without a thought for his own safety. He said: “I was going into the crowd, trying to help these wounded people. Even though I knew there might be a second explosion, I didn’t think about it for a second. I didn’t have body armour on because I was moving so much, and the heat was stifling.”
When Private Fahim knew he was going to be taking part in the operation he felt he would be useful because he knows the ground, the culture, the language and the people. "I felt I could put a lot into that and show my skills. I was very keen to get on it," he said.
Corporal Daniel Hoyland - MiD
Corporal Hoyland, aged 31 and a Rifle Section Commander with C Company 3 PARA, was one of the first to respond to the suicide attack near to where the British soldiers were operating at the Evacuee Handling Centre.
His citation states: “He immediately left the secure zone inside the main gate of the Evacuee Handling Centre to rush towards the blast, despite the potential for a further explosion.
“Without hesitation he searched for explosive devices and, undeterred by the carnage, began to triage the injured and direct medical assistance to those most in need. His immediate actions undoubtedly saved lives.”
Barnsley-born Corporal Hoyland on learning of his award, said: “I didn’t expect to receive this award. It feels really good. I thought I was just getting a ‘well done’ from my Commanding Officer.”
Reflecting on the events of Op Pitting, he said: “When the IED went off, my section were the closest to it out of the British Forces. I was about 60 metres away, I got a burst eardrum. There were a lot of casualties, and I was dealing with the crowd and trying to save as many people as possible. That’s the things I will remember forever.
“People were working round the clock and sleep deprived but everybody was doing a good job. It was short and sharp, but it was a pretty hard thing to get done,” he said.
Corporal Hoyland, who has previously served on tours of Afghanistan and Bosnia, learned he was going to be deploying to Afghanistan whilst attending a friend’s wedding. 36 hours later he was on the plane. He said: “I felt lucky to be involved in it because I’d just come back from ITC Catterick, where I was training recruits. The last Afghanistan tour I did was in 2010 to 2011 so to get out there for the last part of it was good.”
Corporal Jamie Found - QCVS
Corporal Found, a Rifle Section Commander with C Company 2 PARA, is being awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service for his brave work preventing people from being crushed as they surged towards the Evacuee Handling Centre.
Coventry-born Corporal Found, aged 32, led his team into the crowd, pushing them back and forming a protective barrier to hold the line. His citation reads: “For hours he commanded the action at the shield wall, revealing himself above the crowd whilst nervy and tense Taliban fighters observed from mere feet away. Providing hands on managements of his personnel, he reinforced the baseline himself when it was most vulnerable, enabling it to hold for more than three hours before relief eventually arrived.”
Corporal Found was surprised to have been selected for an award. He said: “It’s a privilege. I feel honoured that I’ve been nominated to stand out from everyone else who I was working alongside out there. To be honest, I feel that everyone did such a good job that you can’t really separate what I did from everyone else I worked alongside.”
For Corporal Found, taking part in Op Pitting ‘felt like we were a part of history’. He said: “It was an operation we’ve not really seen before - not the norm we would train for. We’ve done public order training to prepare us for certain situation but for the humanitarian side of it, I don’t think there’s any way you can train for that. It was quite surreal once we did get out there. And, we didn’t know what to expect as well, that was a challenge.”
Being part of the Parachute Regiment, the paratroopers pride themselves on being ready to deploy at short notice. “We can be called to go anywhere in the world. It’s something we’re used to and prepared for,” said Corporal Found, who joined the Army 12 years ago.
The Armed Forces Operational Awards List Number 57 is published in the London Gazette at 0001hrs 13 May 2022. It includes awards in respect of worldwide operations for the period from 1 April 2021-30 September 2021.
Read the Operational Awards list 57