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Foreign Nations Shut Embassies, Rush to Evacuate Staff As Ghani Flees, Taliban Seize Kabul

A Taliban fighter looks on as he stands at the city of Ghazni, Afghanistan August 14, 2021. (REUTERS/Stringer)

A Taliban fighter looks on as he stands at the city of Ghazni, Afghanistan August 14, 2021. (REUTERS/Stringer)

NATO is maintaining its diplomatic presence in Kabul and helping to keep the city's airport running, the military alliance said on Sunday as Taliban insurgents entered the Afghan capital.

As Taliban insurgents entered Kabul on Sunday and said they expected to take power within days, foreign countries expedited the evacuation of their nationals and embassy staff as most of them shut down their embassies. President Ghani too left the country hours after the Taliban entered the capital, government officials said. It was not yet clear where he was headed, or how power would be transferred.

The United States evacuated its diplomats by helicopter to the airport as local Afghan forces, trained for years and equipped by the United States and others for billions of dollars, melted away.

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European powers present in Afghanistan moved Sunday to evacuate their nationals and local staff as the Taliban were on the outskirts of the Afghan capital poised to take power. Other NATO members including Britain, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Spain have also announced they are evacuating their embassy personnel.

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Meanwhile, NATO is maintaining its diplomatic presence in Kabul and helping to keep the city’s airport running, the military alliance said on Sunday as Taliban insurgents entered the Afghan capital. “NATO is helping keep Kabul airport open to facilitate and coordinate evacuations," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Twitter.

‘US Embassy Staff to be Evacuated in 2 Days’

US embassy staff in Kabul were leaving the compound and moving to the airport, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday, as Taliban insurgents entered the Afghan capital and officials said President Ashraf Ghani had left the country.

There were reports of sporadic gunfire around the city, but there was no significant fighting. US diplomats were being ferried by helicopter to the airport, where US troops were providing security amid an exodus of Americans and their local allies and other foreigners.

Most US staff would be evacuated from Kabul in the coming day or two, Reuters quoted its sources as saying. More US forces had been sent in to get US officials out of the country “in a safe and orderly fashion" while maintaining a “core diplomatic presence," Blinken said.

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Britain Says ‘Vast Bulk’ to Return Soon:

Britain is deploying around 600 troops to help evacuate its roughly 3,000 nationals from the country, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the “vast bulk" of remaining embassy staff in Kabul would return to the UK. He was to hold fresh crisis talks on Wednesday, recalling parliament from its summer break to discuss what Britain, which lost 457 troops in the two-decade-long war, should do next.

Canada Suspends Diplomacy Amid Evacuation:

Canada has suspended diplomatic operations in Afghanistan and Canadian personnel are on their way back to Canada. Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement the decision to suspend operations is temporary and the embassy will reopen if the security situation allows staff to be safe. Some 40,000 Canadian troops were deployed in Afghanistan over 13 years as part of the NATO mission before pulling out in 2014. More than 150 Canadian soldiers died during the Afghanistan mission.

Spain Says Hurrying Plans to Airlift Nationals:

Spain’s defense ministry says it has not yet begun evacuating Spanish nationals and Afghan staff including translators who are expected to be flown out alongside its citizens, but was speeding up its plans. In an emailed statement it says that the evacuation plan for Afghanistan is being accelerated to the maximum," adding that details are finalized on logistics and the people who will be evacuated, but they cannot give more details for security reasons.

Germany Closes Embassy, Rushes Evacuation:

Germany on Sunday shuttered its embassy in Kabul and sped up preparations to evacuate its citizens and local helpers on Sunday as Taliban insurgents entered the Afghan capital. “The security situation has deteriorated drastically. The German embassy Kabul is closed as of Aug. 15," the foreign office in Berlin said on its website.

According to diplomats, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas decided to move the embassy staff to the military part of Kabul airport where they are supposed to resume working. At the same time, authorities in Berlin were speeding up efforts to evacuate German citizens as well as Afghans who used to work for the German military or other institutions.

France Vows to Protect its Nationals and Afghan Staff:

France also set up a temporary diplomatic mission near the airport, officials said. The French presidency said it would “do the utmost to guarantee the safety" of French nationals still in the country as well as Afghan staff. In a statement, it said the evacuation involving several hundred people had begun in April.

“France is one of the few countries that has maintained the capability… to protect the Afghans who worked for the French army, as well as journalists, human rights activists, artists and Afghan figures who are especially threatened," the statement said.

Paris has vowed an “exceptional effort" to welcome Afghans under threat for their human rights work. More than 600 Afghans employed in French organisations in the country have already arrived in France along with their families, the government said on Friday.

Italy to Begin Emergency Evacuation:

Italy’s defence ministry said a first military plane would arrive Sunday to begin “emergency evacuation" operations. Italy, which once had one of the largest Western contingents in Afghanistan totalling some 50,000 troops over 20 years, already repatriated its last troops in June. A total of 53 Italian soldiers were killed, and 723 were wounded.

Nordic Countries Shut Embassies:

Denmark and Norway will temporarily shut their Kabul embassies while Finland will evacuate up to 130 local Afghan workers, ministers from the Nordic countries said on Friday. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde also noted that the country’s evacuees would include Afghan interpreters and other local staff.

Dutch Embassy Evacuated Overnight:

Meanwhile the Dutch embassy in Kabul was evacuated overnight and is operating from a makeshift office near the airport, the country’s foreign ministry said Sunday. The Netherlands said Friday that it would take in Afghan interpreters and some other embassy staff.

Nepal Calls for Evacuation of its Citizens:

Nepal’s government on Sunday called for the evacuation of an estimated 1,500 Nepalis working as security staff with embassies and with international aid groups in Afghanistan. “We have formally written to embassies requesting them for the evacuation," Nepal Foreign Ministry spokesperson Sewa Lamsal told Reuters in Kathmandu. Lamsal said the government has also set up a panel to determine the exact number of Nepalis working in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan. “The government will make arrangements for their evacuation also," she said.

Nepal does not have a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan but thousands of Nepali men work as security guards in diplomatic districts of the country.

(With inputs from AFP, Reuters)

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first published:August 15, 2021, 22:55 IST