How the scramble to leave Afghanistan is unfolding

Thursday August 19 2021

Afghan Taliban fighters. PHOTO | FILE | AFP


With the Taliban returning to power in Afghanistan, foreign nations are scrambling to get their citizens and Afghans who worked with them out of the country.

Here is a round-up of the latest developments:

US banks on 'safe passage' 

The United States is looking to get thousands of its citizens out of the country before an August 31 deadline, saying the Taliban has guaranteed them safe passage.

"We are going to evacuate everybody that we can physically, possibly evacuate, and will conduct this process for as long as we possibly can," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday.

So far, Washington has taken out roughly 3,200 people on 13 flights, but around 11,000 US nationals remain.


Thousands of US soldiers are at Kabul's airport, and the Pentagon plans to ramp up flights of its huge C-17 transport jets to as many as two dozen a day.

Dutch blocked 

The first Dutch evacuation flight reportedly left Kabul without a single Dutch national on board after passengers were blocked by US troops.

"The Americans were guarding the gate. I showed my passport and said I was Dutch," a man told Dutch media outlet NOS.

"After saying three times that I was Dutch, he told me to keep my distance otherwise he would shoot."

Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag said the Americans gave the plane 30 minutes on the tarmac before ordering it to leave, and pleaded for the US to "give us more time". 

But the Netherlands did manage to evacuate its first nationals on Wednesday, with 35 on board a plane headed for Georgian capital Tbilisi, the Dutch defence ministry tweeted.

French embassy emptied 

Most people who sought refuge in the French embassy in Kabul are now out of the country.

"Nearly 200 Afghans who worked for France or who are under threat have just been evacuated from Kabul, as well as French and foreign nationals," President Emmanuel Macron tweeted earlier Wednesday. 

The army A400M transport plane carrying 25 French nationals and 184 Afghans "from civil society in need of protection" arrived in Paris Wednesday evening. Many of those on board were women and children.

Also on board were four Dutch nationals, an Irishman and two Kenyans.

European exodus 

Britain has so far flown out more than 300 nationals and more than 2,000 Afghans.

"UK officials are working round the clock to keep the exit door open," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

Germany said Wednesday it had brought around 500 people out, including 202 Afghans, as the cabinet approved the deployment of up to 600 soldiers to Kabul to help the evacuation mission.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas hinted at friction between US and German forces on the first night of the evacuations, when he said the Americans had decided to prioritise US citizens for access to the airport.

Spain and Poland have each pressed into service three military planes. A first A400 from Kabul has left Dubai and is due in Madrid on Thursday, said the Spanish government.

Luxembourg said one of its A400M military transport planes had flown out of Belgium Wednesday for Islamabad, where it will work with two Belgian C130s to fly those arriving from Kabul to Europe.

Turkey said one of its aircraft left Kabul with more than 200 Turkish nationals onboard, adding to more than 300 that left earlier in the week.  

An Italian flight carrying 86 people landed in Rome Wednesday, while two C130 planes carrying a total of 200 people lifted off from Kabul in the afternon and evening, Italy's defence ministry said.

Switzerland and Ireland said they were still trying to get their nationals out of the country -- each has around 30 citizens saying they need to leave.

Denmark said it had flown out 14 Norwegians and one person with a Danish residency permit, and had also evacuated 84 people, mainly Afghan employees, from Kabul on Wednesday.

Norway said it had flown out 14 of its nationals: five embassy staff and nine Norwegians who had been working at a US field hospital at Kabul airport. They are still trying to get an unspecified number of Afghan staff and their families out.

Also Wednesday, a Czech plane brought 62 people including soldiers as well as Afghan interpreters and their families from Kabul to Praguem, the country's third flight in as many days.

India's Taliban escort

India's diplomats needed a Taliban armed escort to the airport, taking five hours to make the five-kilometre journey from the embassy.

India had been a staunch ally of the ousted Afghan government, so nerves were jangling among the 150 nationals and diplomats gathered at the now-closed mission.

But as the first of nearly two dozen vehicles drove out of the embassy late on Monday, some of the heavily armed Taliban fighters waved and smiled at the passengers.