Friday, January 21, 2022

Western nations rush to evacuate staff, locals from Afghanistan after Taliban takeover

Thousands are mobbing the airport, trying to flee the Taliban's feared hardline brand of Islamist rule.

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Western nations rushed to evacuate their citizens and local staff from Kabul on Monday after the Taliban’s lightning fast takeover of Afghanistan.

The Islamists returned to power after the government collapsed on Sunday, as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani conceded the Taliban had won and fled the country.

As thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule, the US and 65 other countries issued a joint statement urging the Taliban to allow Afghan and foreign citizens to leave the country.

The EU was left desperately trying to find a solution for its Afghan staff facing possible reprisals, and is seeking to convince its 27 member states to offer them visas.

The US military secured Kabul’s airport on Monday as the US, Germany, France and the Netherlands transferred their staff to the site to prepare for evacuation.

Other members of Nato, including Britain, Italy, Denmark and Spain, also announced the imminent evacuation of their staff, as did Sweden.

‘Emergency evacuations’

Sweden said Afghans who worked as interpreters or in other support roles would be included among those evacuated, while Finland said it would help its embassy staff and up to 130 Afghans leave the country.

Germany is planning to deploy soldiers to help with the evacuation of its nationals and Afghans in danger from the Taliban, parliamentary sources told AFP Monday.

In Paris, the foreign ministry said military reinforcements were being deployed to the United Arab Emirates to help with evacuations through Abu Dhabi.

“We are planning to carry out the first rotation between now and the end of this Monday,” Defence Minister Florence Parly said, adding there were several dozen French citizens to be evacuated.

More than 600 Afghans employed in French organisations have already arrived in France with their families, the French government said on Friday.

Britain ordered the deployment of 600 troops to evacuate their nationals on Thursday, as the Taliban overran key regional cities last week.

And on Sunday, the Italian defence minister announced the arrival of its first military plane to begin “emergency evacuations”.

‘Security risk’

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.

“We’ll prioritise people working with human rights organisations, with the media there, women and girls in particular,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Monday.

Madrid on Monday will dispatch two military transport planes to Dubai for the “first phase” of the evacuation of its embassy staff and local staff, the defence and foreign ministries said.

“Our priority now is to repatriate Spanish citizens as well as Afghan citizens who worked with us and who face a security risk,” Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said.

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 to receive assurances from the Taliban that their embassies would be safe.

China’s embassy in Kabul remains operational, Beijing said Monday, although it began evacuating its citizens from the country months ago.

But the embassy told Chinese citizens remaining in Afghanistan to “pay close attention to the security situation” and stay indoors.

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