Portsmouth Royal Navy officer awarded Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service following role in Kabul evacuation

A NAVY officer instrumental in planning the evacuation from Kabul as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last summer has been awarded an accolade.

By Hollie Busby
Friday, 13th May 2022, 4:45 am
Updated Friday, 13th May 2022, 6:54 am

Lieutenant Commander Will Durbin, 35, found himself thrust into organising the dangerous operation to airlift thousands of British and Afghan civilians out of the country last August.

His efforts during Operation Pitting – the UK codename for the evacuation – earned him the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the latest Operational Honours announced by the Ministry of Defence.

The naval officer, from Clanfield, was posted to Qatar as a liaison officer between the Royal Navy and RAF. He is now serving aboard Portsmouth-based destroyer HMS Duncan as the senior warfare officer.

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Portrait of Lt Cdr Will Durbin of HMS Duncan Awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Operational Honours, Lt Cdr Will Durbin poses today 12/05/22 on the North Jetty at HMNB Ports in front of HMS Duncan for his official portrait. Lt Cdr Durbin is to receive the award for his efforts in planning the aerial evacuation of civilians from Afghanistan during Op Pitting during the summer of 2021. Around 15,000 people were evacuated on around 100 flights over a 14-day period.

He assisted with operations across a vast area from Cyprus to Afghanistan.

The air base at Al Udeid is the hub of the Royal Air Force’s mission in the region – and Lt Cdr Durbin was expecting air operations to focus on Operation Shader, the destruction of ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq – including strikes from UK flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth passing through the region as part of her maiden deployment.

After a short time at the headquarters, he found himself as the de facto Chief of Staff Operations planning – and conducting – the largest airborne evacuation in decades.

Although the 30-or-so-strong team had done some planning for a possible evacuation, it was never on the scale – or at the pace – that events on the ground in Afghanistan panned out.

Lieutenant Commander Will Durbin said: ‘As the RN liaison officer, the pace of operations increased significantly from arriving in post starting with the Carrier Strike Group arriving in area, and culminating in the Non Combatant Evacuation Operation from Kabul.

‘At the height of the operation we were running twice the planned number of flights in and out of Kabul – eight to ten a day – which meant long days, returning to your bed in the early hours of the morning, up again to be ready for the next briefing a few hours later.’

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He hails from a naval family – his father was in the Royal Navy and his mother in the US Navy.

During Will’s service, spanning more than 13 years, he has served around the UK on Fishery Protection and anti-submarine duties, in the Falklands on patrols with HMS Clyde, with assault ship HMS Albion on an amphibious deployment to the Baltics and Mediterranean, and taught navigation to trainees at HMS Collingwood in Fareham.

The father of three found the demanding operational tour last summer one of the most rewarding of his career in the Royal Navy.

He added: ‘To witness the relief and joy of those being evacuated from Kabul, particularly the children, brought home the importance of our efforts in the operation. To hear the laughter of children as they were able to take their minds off their recent ordeal was a poignant moment for us all.

‘I really enjoy being at sea, and the opportunities and experiences the navy has given me. Here we could see the immediate effects of our work and actions, particularly across all Services.’