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Western nations rush to evacuate citizens, local staff

KABUL: US soldiers rest at Kabul airport yesterday. – AFP

KABUL: Western nations rushed to evacuate their citizens and local staff from Kabul yesterday after the Taleban’s lightning fast takeover of Afghanistan. As thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to escape the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule, the US and 65 other countries issued a joint statement urging the Taleban to allow Afghan and foreign citizens to leave.

The US government said yesterday it had secured Kabul airport, but there was still chaos with witnesses reporting soldiers firing shots into the air to ward off the crowds. Authorities then cancelled all remaining commercial flights, citing the threat of looters. However several countries managed some evacuations yesterday, with questions lingering over the fate of the many Afghans who helped foreign embassy staff and troops over the last two decades and face reprisals from the Taleban.

Turkish media reported that a flight from Kabul with 324 Turkish nationals landed in Istanbul yesterday. Italy said about 50 of its diplomats and 20 Afghans reached Rome yesterday after being flown out of Kabul. A plane carrying 46 Czechs and some Afghans landed in Prague yesterday morning.

Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld tweeted that a military plane was en route to evacuate interpreters and local staff along with their families from the country’s embassy in Kabul, with several flights expected. All Swedish personnel in Afghanistan were evacuated to Doha overnight, while Finland said it would help its embassy staff and up to 130 Afghans leave the country.

Norway said all its embassy staff in Kabul had now been evacuated. Denmark’s defense ministry said it had evacuated a group “under very difficult conditions” but that a large group was still waiting to get out. Germany is planning to deploy soldiers to aid the evacuation of its nationals and Afghans in danger from the Taleban, parliamentary sources told AFP yesterday.

In Paris, the foreign ministry said military reinforcements were being deployed to the United Arab Emirates to help with evacuations through Abu Dhabi yesterday. More than 600 Afghans employed in French organizations have already arrived in France with their families, the French government said Friday. Britain ordered the deployment of 600 troops to evacuate their nationals tomorrow, as the Taleban overran key regional cities last week. Defense minister Ben Wallace said 370 British employees and citizens had been evacuated in recent days, and a group of 782 Afghans will be evacuated in the next day and a half. “Our goal is to reach 1,200 to 1,500 evacuees a day,” he added.

Warsaw said the government has issued 45 humanitarian visas for Afghans and their families who worked for Poland or the EU in Kabul, while Ireland said it has granted visa waivers to 45 people and has agreed to take up to another 150. Madrid said it will dispatch two military transport planes to Dubai yesterday for the “first phase” of the evacuation of its embassy staff and local staff.

Belgium’s defense ministry told Belga news agency it would deploy three planes for evacuations from Kabul. Hundreds of the American embassy’s employees have already left Afghanistan, a Pentagon official said on Sunday. The US had sent 6,000 troops to the airport to ensure the safe evacuation of embassy staff.

Russia meanwhile said it did not plan to evacuate its embassy in Kabul. Foreign ministry official Zamir Kabulov said Russia was among a number of countries that had received assurances from the Taleban their embassies would be safe. China’s embassy in Kabul remains operational, Beijing said yesterday, although it began evacuating citizens months ago. The embassy told Chinese citizens remaining in Afghanistan to “pay close attention to the security situation” and stay indoors. – AFP


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