While the Australian and Western allied forces have had months to prepare the evacuation of Afghanistan, it appears the withdrawal has been a highly disorganisaed and last minute affair.
That’s partially because no one expected the Taliban to retake the country with the lightening speed that they did.
Allied forced had assumed they would have several months of a transitionary phase in which there would be a cease fire between the Taliban and the Afghan government, during which the country could settle into its new reality and hopefully retain some of the semblances of democratic government that the West had installed.
These terms were part of a much lauded Afghanistan peace deal signed under President Trump, the celebrations of which have been quietly taken down from the Republican Party website.
The Taliban have given their first press conference in the newly reclaimed country, claiming that they will not seek to persecute women under the new regime while also stating that the country will be ruled according to a strict interpretation of Sharia doctrine. It’s difficult to see how these two things can co-exist.
While the world reaches out to Afghanistan to assist the people on the ground who may now have to live under extremely brutal conditions, Australia, along with the rest of the West, has been trying to evacuate as many citizens and those who assisted our forces as possible.
Right now, the first Australian Defence Force evacuation flight from Afghanistan has returned to a military base in the United Arab Emirates from Kabul after collecting 26 passengers, the ABC has reported.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that more flights would be organised into the Taliban-held Afghan capital in the coming days.
“This is not a simple process,” he said.
“This was the first of what will be many flights, subject to clearance and weather.”
“We will bring out as many people as we can, as quickly and safely as we can.”
So disappointing that only 26 people on board the ADF evacuation flight. Every seat should be filled – Afghanistan is in crisis, military planes are the only ones that are leaving. Security vetting can be done in 3rd countries, so many Afghans at risk. https://t.co/9JCWItLdGy
— Elaine Pearson (@PearsonElaine) August 18, 2021
Morrison has said those who will be rescued include Australian citizens, Afghan nationals with visas, and foreign officials working in international agencies.
“The transfers are done to our base in the Emirates, where capacity has already been established with medical support available, to provide that medical support and to process their further onward transfer to Australia,” Morrison said.
The situation on the ground is proving extremely difficult for countries attempting to fly their citizens and Afghans out of the area. While the airport in Kabul has been secured by US troops, the Taliban control the road leading to the airport and have set up numerous roadblocks and checkpoints.
The Guardian has reported that the Taliban promises of “safe passage” for Afghans trying to flee the country have proven false, with reports of women and children being beaten and whipped as they try to pass the check points.
Taliban are all around the Kabul airport. Interpreter with a visa told me he can't get to the terminal. pic.twitter.com/uN4EkBd25n
— Ben Packham (@bennpackham) August 18, 2021
With the Taliban in control of Afghanistan’s land borders, Kabul airport is the only way out of the country. The airport was swamped with people trying to flee over the weekend as the Taliban took control of the capitol.
Seven people were killed as the crowds descended and videos have been shared online of people clinging to American military jets as they took off, falling from the sky as the planes ascended. The US Air Force has confirmed that human remains have been found in the wheel well of one of its aircraft that left Kabul.
In one dramatic image, an American C-17 plane which left Kabul earlier this week was shown to be carrying hundreds of Afghans crammed into the plane’s hold.
— Reuters (@Reuters) August 17, 2021
Around the world, countries have been scrambling to arrange visas and documents for Afghans who are trying to leave the country.
With regard to Australia’s announcement on Tuesday that no visaed Afghan here would be sent back at this stage, this is welcome. But more certainty, security and long-term stability is needed. https://t.co/Yj2GlCez42
— UNHCR Canberra (@UNHCRCanberra) August 18, 2021
The UK has confirmed it will take 20,000 Afghans over a five year period. The US is being urged to take the more than 300,000 Afghans who assisted them during the 20 year occupation. President Biden has said the country plans to airlift families out of Kabul in the coming days.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has called on European countries to do all they can to accommodate refugees. There are fears that the vast numbers of Afghans fleeing the country could spark a new European migrant crisis.
Scott Morrison has said he believes Australia will be able to provide at least 3,000 visas under the humanitarian visa program to Afghans this year but made it clear that only those who arrive through “legitimate channels” would be accepted.
A federal government spokesperson has said that number of evacuees on each RAAF flight out of Kabul is expected to “ramp up”. Australians in the country have been told to make their way to the airport as more rescue flights are arranged.
Australia has dispatched 250 troops and several military aircraft to the region with the hope of extracting around 600 people from Kabul. These include 100 Australian permanent residents and citizens and around 100 of their family members, plus 300 to 400 local employees.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton has also confirmed that Australia would help get New Zealand citizens out of Kabul too.
The PM said a number of states and territories had agreed to quarantine people brought back from Afghanistan above the current international passenger caps.