Australia’s first rescue flight from Afghanistan was forced to leave Kabul near-empty as Taliban fighters shot at asylum-seekers desperately trying to flee the country.
The first RAAF flight from Kabul to the UAE since the city’s fall to the Taliban took off on Wednesday with only 26 passengers onboard despite plans to rescue up to 800 people from the war-torn country.
The Hercules C-130, which had space for 120 passengers. carried Australian citizens and Afghan nationals with visas but chaotic scenes at Kabul Airport threatened the evacuation plans.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke says more flights are planned, but stressed the complexity of the situation on the ground.
‘That first mission was an absolute success,’ he told ABC radio on Thursday.
‘It is very hard to get to the airport. It is very hard to get through in a controlled way to a plane, and we’re able to get out Australian citizens, Afghan nationals that we have an obligation to.’
Witnesses on the ground claim those trying to get onto flights out of Afghanistan were targeted with sporadic gunfire from Taliban militants – who are blocking anyone who does not have a foreign passport from entering Kabul airport.
Foreign expats say they have become trapped in the chaos and unable to get through the disorderly crowds to board flights home.
The RAAF C-130 Hercules evacuated 26 people from Kabul but efforts to rescue up to 800 people from Afghanistan by Australian forces have been hampered by Taliban gunfire and a ring of fire around the city’s airport
There are growing fears that the fate of Westerners could become a bargaining chip for the Taliban, and they could even end up as hostages.
The first Dutch evacuation flight reportedly left Kabul without a single Dutch national on board after passengers were blocked by US troops.
Other flights bound for Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy also took off with just a few dozen people on board amid the chaotic scenes.
In one case, a German plane with room for 150 departed Kabul on Tuesday with just seven on board.
Incredible pictures earlier emerged of Australia’s first evacuation flight from Afghanistan after the Taliban took power.
One image shows them waiting to board the C-130 Hercules plane on the tarmac at Kabul Airport, which was secured by US and UK forces on Tuesday.
In scenes of utter desperation at Kabul airport today, people began passing babies to guards at the northern entrance hoping they will be put on flights out of the country and escape Taliban rule
Taliban fighters have now encircled the airport in Kabul and are deciding who gets to come in and who has to stay out. Checkpoints have been set up on both the civilian south side of the airport and the military north side, with gunshots fired in both locations to keep crowds back
Another shows a young Afghan boy and his father by being greeted by Australian health officials in a hangar.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that Australia will be taking in 3,000 Afghan refugees this financial year.
The first evacuation flight touched down in the UAE at 10.45am eastern time with 26 people on board.
‘This was the first of what will be many flights subject to clearance and weather,’ Mr Morrison said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned the evacuation process would be difficult. Pictured: Troops guarding the C-130 alongside passengers
This is the first picture of the Australian Defence Force evacuation flight which departed Kabul with 26 on board
A young boy appears to be one of the lucky ones who was on the flight out
The Prime Minister warned the evacuation process would be difficult as the situation on the ground worsens and did not say how many people he aimed to rescue.
‘This is not a simple process. It is very difficult for any Australian to imagine the sense of chaos and uncertainty existing right across this country. The breakdown in formal communications, the ability to reach people,’ he said.
Mr Morrison said legitimate Afghan refugees would be welcome but anyone who arrived illegally by boat would be turned away.
‘We will only be resettling people through our official humanitarian program going through official channels,’ he said.
Officials help process arrivals at the arrivals who touched down at an airbase in the UAE
The C-130 Hercules plane (pictured) touched down in the UAE at 10.45am eastern time with 26 people on board
‘We will not be allowing people to enter Australia illegally, even at this time. Our policy has not changed.
‘We will be supporting Afghans who have legitimate claims through our official and legitimate processes. We will not be providing that pathway to those who would seek to come any other way. That is a very important message. The government’s policy has not changed, will not change,’ he said.
The 3,000 humanitarian places will focus on family members of Australians, persecuted minorities such as women and girls, children, the Hazara and other vulnerable groups.
Canada has offered resettlement to more than 20,000 people at risk and the United States is accelerating its visa application process.
Australia’s 3,000 humanitarian visa places will focus on family members of Australians, persecuted minorities such as women and girls. Pictured: The first evacuation flight
In 2015, the Abbott government granted 12,000 humanitarian visas to people in Syria on top of Australia’s regular humanitarian program.
Mr Morrison said one additional C1-30 and two C-17s will soon join the existing C-130 to make regular flights out of Kabul in the coming days.
A team of Australian officials is on the ground in Kabul trying to track down Australians and Afghans with visas to help get them get out.
‘I stress how important that is. To get people on a flight and get people on the ground to process this,’ the Prime Minister said.
Afghans climb on top of a passenger jet at Kabul’s airport on Monday amid chaotic scenes as civilians try to find safe passage out of the Afghan capital after Taliban takeover
‘This will be done in as orderly fashion as is possible in the circumstances. We need to be very clear who is getting on our planes, who is going to our base and going to come here and live in Australia.
‘We have to be very, very clear about that. We are taking all the sensible precautions that moving urgently to address the very real need in these stressing conditions.’
Mr Morrison described the the situation on the ground as ‘uncertain’ and Foreign Minister Marise Payne warned the Taliban controlled checkpoints around the Airport.
‘We are working closely with the US particularly the UK, others, Germans included, to try to improve or address those security challenges, those check points particularly, and then the security in terms of access to the airport there,’ she said.
Most of the people Australia was looking to evacuate were in Kabul but not all, Senator Payne added.
Australia has successfully completed its first evacuation flight from Afghanistan, Scott Morrison (pictured) announced
The Taliban terror group took power on Monday when its fighters marched on the capital and government forces fled.
US and UK troops have secured the airport to allow Allies to evacuate their citizens.
On Tuesday Mr Morrison admitted that not all Afghans who had worked with Australians during the war would be rescued.
‘We will continue to do everything we can for those who have stood with us, as we have to this day,’ he told reporters in Canberra.
‘But, I want to talk openly to veterans that, despite our best efforts, I know that support won’t reach all that it should.’
Cabinet’s national security committee is meeting daily to discuss plans to extract Australians and Afghans who helped allied forces during the two-decade war.
The ABC reports the rescue mission, which involves 250 troops and three RAAF aircraft, has begun with a military transport plane flying out of Kabul on Wednesday morning.
There are grave concerns the Taliban will hunt down and execute people who helped Australia, the United States and other allies.
Since April, 430 Afghan nationals who have worked with Australia have been allowed into the country, with a total of 1,800 granted visas.
On Tuesday Mr Morrison admitted that not all Afghans who had worked with Australians during the war would be rescued. Pictured: German evacuees
There are more than 130 Australians working for the United Nations, non-government organisations and elsewhere still in Afghanistan, which is now under Taliban control.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews expects the vast majority of people applying for temporary visas will be approved.
‘I’m hopeful there is only a very, very small number, that may require significant security checking,’ she told 4BC radio.
Australian Defence Force personnel based themselves in the United Arab Emirates while waiting for the Afghan capital to become safer.
People swarmed Kabul airport in an attempt to board military flights, with footage showing some falling to their deaths after clinging to planes.
NATO video posted online on Tuesday showed the runway empty with American troops on the tarmac.
A C-17 jet carrying 640 Afghan refugees that left Kabul on Sunday night as the Taliban claimed the city. The flight landed in Qatar. The refugees ran up the half-open ramp while US forces were preparing for take-off, according to an unnamed defense official cited by Defense One on Monday. At least one other C-17 has departed the area
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke confirmed no Afghan visa holder in Australia would be sent home while the situation remained dire.
Mr Morrison refused to commit to offering paths to permanent residency or citizenship, but insisted there were no plans to send people into danger.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the idea that minority groups like the Hazara community would ever return wasn’t realistic.
‘We need to give them the certainty of Australian citizenship on a permanent basis, rather than some pretence that somehow their circumstances are temporary,’ he said.
The prime minister didn’t rule out a special intake of refugees, similar to the 12,000 people granted asylum from Syria in 2015.
But he said his immediate focus was on making sure the Australian mission was successful given the desperate situation in Kabul.
It comes after thousands of Afghans stormed Kabul Airport in a desperate bid to escape the country.
A video showed desperate Afghans clinging to the sides of a U.S. military plane as it tried to leave the city’s airport.
Another showed people plunging to their deaths from a C-17 transport aircraft.
Australia joined the war in Afghanistan in November 2001. Pictured: An Australian Platoon from Combat Team Tusk in Afghanistan
Australia joined the war in Afghanistan in November 2001 after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, the worst terror attack in history.
The US-led coalition swiftly deposed the Taliban government before year’s end, but western troops had stayed for 20 years since, dealing with lingering pockets of resistance and trying to train the local army.
At the peak of the war, Australia had 1,500 troops in Afghanistan and in total 39,000 Australian Defence Force personnel have been deployed on Operations SLIPPER and HIGHROAD.
Since the end of 2013, Australia has only maintained a small training force in Afghanistan rather than active combat troops.
In February the US said it would withdraw by May. The Taliban reclaimed control from the Afghan government over the weekend.
FALL OF KABUL: A TIMELINE OF THE TALIBAN’S FAST ADVANCE AFTER 40 YEARS OF CONFLICT
Feb. 29, 2020 Trump negotiates deal with the Taliban setting U.S. withdrawal date for May 1, 2021
Nov. 17, 2020 Pentagon announces it will reduce troop levels to 2500 in Afghanistan
Jan. 15, 2020 Inspector general reveals ‘hubris and mendacity’ of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan
Feb 3. 2021 Afghan Study Group report warns against withdrawing ‘irresponsibly’
March Military command makes last-ditch effort to talk Biden out of withdrawal
April 14 Biden announces withdrawal will be completed by Sept. 11
May 4 – Taliban fighters launch a major offensive on Afghan forces in southern Helmand province. They also attack in at least six other provinces
May 11 – The Taliban capture Nerkh district just outside the capital Kabul as violence intensifies across the country
June 7 – Senior government officials say more than 150 Afghan soldiers are killed in 24 hours as fighting worsens. They add that fighting is raging in 26 of the country’s 34 provinces
June 22 – Taliban fighters launch a series of attacks in the north of the country, far from their traditional strongholds in the south. The UN envoy for Afghanistan says they have taken more than 50 of 370 districts
July 2 – The U.S. evacuates Bagram Airfield in the middle of the night
July 5 – The Taliban say they could present a written peace proposal to the Afghan government as soon as August
July 21 – Taliban insurgents control about a half of the country’s districts, according to the senior U.S. general, underlining the scale and speed of their advance
July 25 – The United States vows to continue to support Afghan troops ‘in the coming weeks’ with intensified airstrikes to help them counter Taliban attacks
July 26 – The United Nations says nearly 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in May and June in escalating violence, the highest number for those months since records started in 2009
Aug. 6 – Zaranj in the south of the country becomes the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in years. Many more are to follow in the ensuing days, including the prized city of Kunduz in the north
Aug. 13 – Pentagon insists Kabul is not under imminent threat
Aug. 14 – The Taliban take the major northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and, with little resistance, Pul-e-Alam, capital of Logar province just 70 km (40 miles) south of Kabul. The United States sends more troops to help evacuate its civilians from Kabul as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he is consulting with local and international partners on next steps
Aug. 15 – The Taliban take the key eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight, effectively surrounding Kabul
Taliban insurgents enter Kabul, an interior ministry official says, as the United States evacuate diplomats from its embassy by helicopter