Sixty more Australians and Afghan nationals have been evacuated from Kabul on an Australian military plane as desperate locals say the already perilous journey to the city’s airport through Taliban checkpoints is becoming more dangerous.
Australia has now evacuated 162 people from Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled capital after a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 aircraft made a second rescue mission on Thursday night.
Taliban fighters patrol in Kabul on Wednesday.Credit:AP
But Afghans fear they are running out of time to get to the airport, even if they have a visa.
The first flight from Australia’s military base just south of Dubai arrived in Perth on Friday morning carrying 94 Australians and Afghan nationals, who have now entered 14 days’ quarantine.
Announcing the second RAAF evacuation flight on Friday morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia had strengthened its position on the ground in Kabul and further flights were planned subject to the weather.
“The situation on the ground is difficult, and we will continue to work with other nations [to ensure more evacuations],” he said.
The Taliban has given the United States an August 31 deadline to evacuate Americans and allies. But US President Joe Biden on Friday suggested this might be extended.
Australian government sources confirmed a new deadline was being worked on between August 31 and the original September 11 date Mr Biden set for fully withdrawing from the country before the Taliban this week overthrew the government.
But the situation on the ground appeared to be worsening on Friday.
In a sign of just how desperate Afghans are to get their families out of the country, a video posted online on Thursday showed a baby being handed to Western troops at the Kabul airport to escape the Taliban.
US officials estimate 12 people have been killed in and around the airport over the past week, with most dying from gunfire or being trampled.
One Afghan with an Australian visa, who cannot be named for security reasons, said on Friday: “The situation is getting worse hour-by-hour and day-by-day. I am scared.”
Another Afghan, who worked as an interpreter and has been approved by the Department of Defence to apply for a special Australian at-risk visa but is yet to receive it, said the Taliban had been beating people and telling them: “Stay here, and we will build a good nation. Why are you leaving Afghanistan? We suffered 20 years for you so you should stay here.”
The man, who worked for multiple coalition forces, said he felt abandoned by Australia, the US and Britain. “The process is completely wrong. They left us behind here. Everyone is confused. They told us they would evacuate us, but they did not tell us what we needed to get out.”
Mr Morrison described the situation as chaotic and said it was not possible to send Australian soldiers or officials outside the airport. A major difficulty was ensuring people got to the airport.
He said all states and territories were seeking to support the effort through their quarantine systems, with national cabinet discussing the situation on Friday afternoon
Australia has had two C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, two larger C-17A Globemaster transport aircraft and a K-130 refueller operating out of the United Arab Emirates to aid the evacuation missions. But securing landing spots at the one-runway airport has proved difficult.
Mr Morrison spoke with his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, on Thursday night about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and thanked him for Britain’s evacuation of 76 Australians and Afghans with Australian visas on Wednesday night.
Mr Johnson stressed the need for a “concerted international effort to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, including through increasing aid to the region and the resettlement of refugees”.
Mr Morrison this week announced Australia would accept an initial humanitarian intake of 3000 Afghans over the next year – which would come out of Australia’s existing 13,750-person annual program – but has not yet outlined a longer-term commitment. Britain and Canada have both promised a humanitarian intake of 20,000 people over several years from Afghanistan.
Mr Morrison also announced on Friday Australia would commit about $5 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ appeal to assist asylum seekers fleeing Afghanistan.
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