World

How the scramble to leave Afghanistan is unfolding

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An Afghan migrant rests while waiting for transport by smugglers after crossing the Iran-Turkish border on August 15, 2021 in eastern Turkey. PHOTO | 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.

So far, the US 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, the Pentagon planning to ramp up flights of its huge C-17 transport jets to as many as two dozen a day.

State Department spokesman Ned Price hinted that the country might keep some diplomatic staff in the country after August 31.


Dutch blocked by US troops

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. I decided to leave. I didn't want to risk being shot."

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". 

Kaag is reportedly in talks with the Americans to avoid a repeat of the incident.

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

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Afghan nationals cross the border into Pakistan at the border crossing in Chaman on August 18, 2021. PHOTO | AFP


French embassy emptied

Most people who had sought refuge in the French embassy in Kabul have now been taken out of the country, with almost 200 Afghan nationals among those airlifted out overnight on Tuesday.

"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, adding that operations would continue. 

Those taken out overnight included 25 French nationals and 184 Afghans "from civil society in need of protection", French officials said.


European exodus

Britain was leading the European exodus, with more than 300 nationals flown out so far along with more than 2,000 Afghans.

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

Other European nations were scrambling to follow suit, with Spain and Poland pressing into service three military planes each and Italy seven.

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Spaniards and Afghans queue to board the first Spanish Air Force Airbus A400M headed to Dubai at the Kabul airport on August 18, 2021. PHOTO | LA MONCLOA | AFP

An Italian flight carrying 85 people was due to land in Rome, with another 150 expected to depart Kabul on Wednesday.

Elsewhere, 14 Norwegians arrived home safely on Wednesday, Greece said it had repatriated one citizen and Sweden said all of its embassy staff had been taken out.

Uzbekistan said it was helping Germany to transport its diplomatic staff via Tashkent.

Switzerland and Ireland said they were still trying to work out how to get their nationals out of the country -- with around 30 citizens of each country having said they needed to leave.

"We're relying on the US, in particular, to secure safe passage through Kabul airport," said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.


India's Taliban escort

India's final diplomats took a rocky road to the exit -- they eventually asked the Taliban for an armed escort to the airport, taking five hours to make the five-kilometre (three-mile) 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.

One guided them towards the street leading out of the city's green zone and on the main road to the airport. The escort managed to clear crowds from the roads and get the convoy to the airport.

"I'm so happy to be back," Shirin Pathare, an Air India employee flown out of Kabul, told AFP later, stepping off the plane in New Delhi. "India is paradise."