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1st Mar 2024

EU states resume evacuations from Kabul

  • Kabul airport (Photo: UR-SDV)

EU countries have resumed evacuations from Kabul airport, the last piece of allied-controlled territory in Afghanistan, as Taliban forces urged people to return to normal life.

A German air force transport plane landed and took off again on Tuesday (17 August) evening after circling the airport for five hours and almost running out of fuel, according to DPA.

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It dropped off German paratroopers to help US forces and left with a handful of evacuees for Tashkent.

But another German plane was forced to abort its attempted landing earlier in the day and return empty to Uzbekistan in order to refuel.

Similar missions from other European countries - Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the UK, and Ukraine - as well as Nato planes have also been coming and going from Kabul to take people to other capitals in the region over the past 48 hours.

"Denmark is one of the few countries to have succeeded in obtaining air capacity", Danish foreign minister Jeppe Kofod said on Tuesday.

He spoke after flights to and from Kabul had been temporarily suspended by the US earlier the same day due to chaos at the airport, with reports of isolated shootings, thousands of people on the runway, and of some individuals clinging to the outside of US aircraft as they took off, then falling to their deaths from the sky shortly afterward.

The US has over 2,500 troops on the ground and is planning to increase the figure to 6,000 to keep flights going.

The UK has a further 900 soldiers there and Turkey has some 500.

Meanwhile, several EU states, including France and Germany, have created pop-up embassies at the airport to process visas after fleeing their compounds in the city.

"In view of the extremely rapid deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan, the French authorities have decided to relocate their embassy to the Kabul airport site, which remains operational and active to evacuate all our compatriots who are still in the country," the French foreign ministry said.

German diplomats at the airport were doing "everything in [their] power" to help, German foreign minister Heiko Maas said.

The evacuations have seen mixed groups of European and US nationals and Afghans going out on the same flights.

One US plane took out 640 people in a record figure for a Boeing aircraft of its class.

A military plane landing in Rome on Monday carried 50 Italian diplomats and 20 Afghan staff.

A German plane took out 40 German diplomats and four Swiss ones.

German chancellor Angela Merkel also pledged to take out up to 10,000 Afghan nationals who had helped Western forces and who stood at risk of Taliban revenge.

France did not give a number, but its defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: "France does not forget those who have worked for it".

The UK plans to start taking out up to 1,500 Afghan evacuees a day, it noted.

The evacuations are being coordinated between EU states and the US, Germany and Italy said.

"We are in close contact with the USA and other international partners. We have agreed that we will mutually support one another with evacuation measures in the coming days," Maas said.

"Italy is working with its European partners for a solution to this crisis which preserves human rights and in particular those of women", Italian prime minister Mario Draghi added.

For those who will have to stay and live under Taliban rule, EU crisis-management commissioner Janez Lenarčič urged the militant group to yield "immediate and unimpeded access to the most vulnerable, of which almost 90 percent are women. The huge humanitarian needs have further increased due to recent fighting".

Meanwhile, a Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told people to reopen their businesses and return to offices and schools.

"The life, property, and honour of no one shall be harmed but must be protected by the mujahideen," he told Pakistan's Dunya News agency.

The Taliban would "respect the rights of women and minorities as per Afghan norms and Islamic values", he added.

Taliban fighters also surrounded the compound of the Russian embassy in Kabul, which has around 100 personnel inside, Reuters reported.

But the Russian ambassador, Dmitry Zhirnov, remained sanguine about the situation.

"Yesterday the [Afghan] regime fell like a house of cards. There was a feeling of disorder, a power vacuum, and looters came out on the streets," Zhirnov told Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio broadcaster on Tuesday.

"The situation is peaceful and good and everything has calmed down in the city. The situation in Kabul now under the Taliban is better than it was under [Afghan president] Ashraf Ghani," he said.

Dutch to pull troops out of Aghanistan following government collapse

Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende said on Sunday that his country's troops are likely to be pulled out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, a move he said may prompt other wavering states - including EU members - to think about doing the same.

Afghans' plight reignites migration fears in Europe

Several EU member states are worried that the Taliban takeover would trigger a replay of the 2015-16 migration crisis when the bloc has seen the arrival of over one million asylum seekers in a matter of months.

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