Western nations rush to evacuate staff, locals from Afghanistan

Kabul (AFP) –


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 escape 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 US government said Monday 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 on Monday, 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 Taliban.

Turkish media reported that a flight from Kabul with 324 Turkish nationals landed in Istanbul on Monday.

Italy said about 50 of its diplomats and 20 Afghans reached Rome on Monday after being flown out of Kabul.

A plane carrying 46 Czechs and some Afghans landed in Prague on Monday morning.

Dutch Defence 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.

- 'Difficult conditions' -

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 defence 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 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 on Monday.

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

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

Defence 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.

- Russia to stay -

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 on Monday for the "first phase" of the evacuation of its embassy staff and local staff.

Belgium's defence ministry told Belga news agency it would deploy three planes for evacuations from Kabul.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his government had issued 45 humanitarian visas to Afghans who worked for Poland in Kabul and their families.

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 Taliban their embassies would be safe.

China's embassy in Kabul remains operational, Beijing said Monday, 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.