Western powers scramble to evacuate from Afghanistan

Brussels (AFP) –


European nations and the EU scrambled to evacuate their citizens and local staff from Kabul on Sunday, as NATO said it would keep the airport open as the Taliban took power.

The hardline Islamists returned to power in Afghanistan, after the president, Ashraf Ghani conceded the Taliban had won, having earlier fled the country.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance "was helping keep Kabul airport open to facilitate and coordinate evacuations" after consulting member countries.

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

"The matter is extremely urgent, we take it very seriously and continue to work hard, together with EU member states, on implementing rapid solutions for them and ensuring their safety," an EU spokesman said.

European Council President Charles Michel tweeted that he was in close contact with Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief.

"Security of EU citizens, staff and their families is priority in short term," he added. "Equally clear that many lessons will need to be drawn."

- Evacuations underway -

Germany, France and the Netherlands were among countries moving diplomatic staff to the airport ahead of evacuation.

"We are not going to risk our people falling into the hands of the Taliban," Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the Bild daily.

A Bundeswehr aircraft will also depart Sunday night for the Afghan capital to help with the evacuation in coming days, Maas added.

The entrance gate of the green zone is pictured after the evacuation in Kabul on August 15, 2021.
The entrance gate of the green zone is pictured after the evacuation in Kabul on August 15, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR AFP

It will fly passengers to an unnamed "neighbouring country", where they will then be put on civilian flights bound for Germany, the minister said.

A core team of the embassy operate from the airport to help facilitate the evacuations of German nationals and "our former local employees", Maas said.

Canada is temporarily closing its embassy in Kabul having already evacuated staff from the Afghan capital, said the foreign ministry in Ottawa. Canadian personnel were already on their way back home, a statement said.

The embassy would reopen once conditions allowed it to do so safely.

France's ambassador to Afghanistan tweeted a video of himself leaving the Green Zone in Kabul aboard a helicopter, as Paris set up a temporary mission at the airport.

The entrance gate of the Canadian embassy is pictured after the evacuation in Kabul on August 15, 2021.
The entrance gate of the Canadian embassy is pictured after the evacuation in Kabul on August 15, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR AFP

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

- 'Exceptional effort' -

The French presidency said it would "do the utmost to guarantee the safety" of French nationals still in the country as well as Afghan staff.

Paris has vowed an "exceptional effort" to welcome Afghans under threat for their human rights work. More than 600 Afghans employed in French organisations in the country have already arrived in France along with their families, the government said Friday.

Other NATO members including Britain, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Spain have also announced the evacuation of embassy personnel.

Britain was deploying around 600 troops to help evacuate its roughly 3,000 nationals from the country.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the "vast bulk" of remaining embassy staff in Kabul would return to the UK.

"Our priority is to make sure that we deliver on our obligations to... all those who have helped to the British effort in Afghanistan over 20 years, and to get them out as fast as we can," said Johnson.

He is to hold fresh crisis talks on Wednesday, recalling parliament from its summer break to discuss what Britain, which lost 457 troops in the two-decade-long war, should do next.

Italy's defence ministry said a first military plane would arrive Sunday to begin "emergency evacuation" operations.

Denmark, Norway and Finland are temporarily shutting their Kabul embassies, ministers from the Nordic countries said Friday.

Finland will offer asylum to 170 local staff and their families.

Meanwhile the Dutch embassy in Kabul was evacuated overnight and was operating from a makeshift office near the airport, the country's foreign ministry said Sunday.

The Netherlands said Friday it would take in Afghan interpreters and some other 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, according to the RIA Novosti agency.