Western powers scramble to evacuate from Afghanistan

‘We are not going to risk our people falling into the hands of the Taliban,’ Germain Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said

European nations and the EU scrambled to evacuate their citizens and local staff from Kabul on Sunday, as NATO said it would keep the airport open with the Taliban closing in on power.

The hardline Islamists were on the brink of total victory in Afghanistan, after the government conceded it was preparing for a “transfer of power”.

The European Union was left desperately trying to find a solution for its Afghan staff facing possible reprisals, and seeking to convince the 27 member states to offer them visas.

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Germany, France and the Netherlands were among countries moving diplomatic personnel from their embassy in Kabul to the airport ahead of evacuation.

Haas later announced that German embassy staff would start being flown out from Sunday.

The army will fly passengers to an unnamed “neighbouring country”, where they will then be put on civilian flights bound for Germany, the minister said.

“We are doing everything now to enable our nationals and our former local employees to leave the country in the coming days,” Maas said.

Canada is temporarily closing its embassy in Kabul after evacuating staff ahead of Taliban fighters’ arrival in the Afghan capital, said the foreign ministry in Ottawa.

The ministry added that the embassy would reopen once conditions allowed a resumption of normal activities under adequate security.

In Paris the foreign ministry said military reinforcements were being deployed to the United Arab Emirates to help with evacuations through Abu Dhabi.

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.

– ‘Exceptional effort’ –

Britain was 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.

Italy’s defence ministry said a first military plane would arrive Sunday to begin “emergency evacuation” operations.

Finland will offer asylum to 170 local staff and their families.

Meanwhile the Dutch embassy in Kabul was evacuated overnight and was operating from a makeshift office near the airport, the country’s foreign ministry said Sunday.

Russia, for its part, said it does not plan to evacuate its embassy in Kabul.


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