Australia’s desperate rescue mission
Scores of Australian defence personnel are set to depart for Afghanistan in a last-minute dash to evacuate hundreds of people from the war-torn capital Kabul, which is set to fall to the Taliban.
Australia’s mission to Afghanistan follows similar moves by the US and the UK to fly hundreds of people out of the city including interpreters, contractors and others who worked with allied powers.
It’s thought these people would be under the most threat of punishment from the Taliban, which is rapidly overrunning the country as western forces leave.
The US has set a deadline of August 31 for all its troops to depart Afghanistan, 20 years after the Taliban were swept from power.
The huge Bagram air base north of Kabul has already be handed over to the Afghan government.
Within just weeks of the announcement of the US leaving, the Taliban has ripped through the country with impressive and chilling efficiency.
On Friday the Taliban captured four more provincial capitals, adding to its seizure of Afghanistan’s second and third largest cities, Kandahar and Herat, the day before.
It now controls more than two-thirds of the country.
There are already reports of captured Afghan soldiers being executed and women forced into marriages with Taliban fighters.
The militants now have their eyes on the main prize – Kabul.
Spooked by the Taliban’s encroachment on the capital, the US last week announced 3000 troops would be sent to Kabul to evacuate the last of the staff from its embassy along with some Afghan nationals.
The Americans will be joined by 600 UK troops and Special Forces soldiers from Canada with much the same mission.
Australia to join mercy dash
On Sunday, the ABC reported that Australia will now set up an “air bridge” mission that will involve military, customs, immigration and consular staff.
Top of the priority list to be flown out will be Afghan interpreters who worked with Australian forces and diplomatic staff as well as contractors. Australians working for charities with the country as well as journalists and some dual citizens will also be offered an exit route out of Afghanistan.
The RAAF planes are set to arrive at Kabul International Airport within days. Keeping the airport in Government hands is crucial to the success of the mercy dashes.
The final Australian troops left Afghanistan on June 18.
On May 10, Foreign Minister Marise Payne met Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and said she “affirmed Australia’s support for the people of Afghanistan”.
She called Taliban terrorist attacks “cowardly”.
The US has insisted that its embassy will remain open in Kabul for “priority functions” despite the evacuation of most staff and will provide consular services and support “peace, security, assistance and co-operation on counter-terrorism”.
There has been sustained criticism of the US’ withdrawal, even from within the US military elite.
Retired US Army General H.R. McMaster, a former White House national security adviser, spoke at an event organised by the Wilson Centre think tank in Washington DC on Friday.
“We are facing the growth, now, of a multigenerational problem with jihadist terrorism, and disengaging from it is not the answer, because it cedes the initiative and resources to our determined, brutal, murderous enemies.”
But President Joe Biden is unrepentant.
“Look, we spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years. We trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces,” he said on Tuesday.
“Afghan leaders have to come together. They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”
-with Sam Clench.