Australia won’t send planes into Afghanistan’s Kabul airport while it’s engulfed by chaos as people attempt to flee the Taliban.
Videos have emerged of people swarming Kabul’s airport to try to get on military evacuation flights.
Footage has shown people clinging to planes taking off, with some seen falling to their deaths. In one haunting photo, obtained by military and security media organisation Defense One, hundreds of Afghans are seen packed into a US C-17 as it takes off from Kabul bound for Qatar.
Rather than forcing the refugees off the plane, “the crew made the decision to go”, a US defence official told Defense One.
“Approximately 640 Afghan civilians disembarked the aircraft when it arrived at its destination,” the official said.
On Tuesday, Defence Minister Peter Dutton said he had authorised plans for troops and equipment to help evacuate citizens still in Afghanistan.
Air force troops will be bases in the United Arab Emirates until the Afghan capital to become safer.
“For Australia, we won’t be landing aircraft into the airport until it’s safe to do so,” Mr Dutton told Sky News on Tuesday.
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.
Up to 800 Afghans who helped Australia’s military, including interpreters, are also seeking a safe passage out of the country.
Since April, 430 Afghan employees, as well as their families, have been brought to Australia.
Mr Dutton said the exact number of locally engaged employees was hard to determine with some taking up asylum offers in other parts of the world.
But he warned that anyone intelligence showed worked for al-Qaeda or the Taliban, as well as Australia, would not be granted a visa.
“I’m not bringing people to Australia that pose a threat to us or that have done us harm in Afghanistan even if at a point earlier they had provided assistance to us,” he said.
More than 250 Australian defence personnel will be deployed to support three RAAF aircraft to evacuate citizens and visa holders under a US-led operation.
Mr Dutton conceded it would be difficult for anyone unable to reach the capital’s airport to be evacuated from Afghanistan with Kabul the only option for troops to land.
“We need to be realistic about not just the situation at the airport but also the corridor between Kabul and the airport is a difficult route as well.”
There are grave concerns for women and girls in Afghanistan under the Taliban, which swept to power at breakneck speed after the US and allies withdrew.
During the group’s 1996 to 2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as public stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.
Mr Dutton said Australia wanted to see the regime treat women equally, educate the country’s youth and maintain a functioning bureaucracy.
“The world’s eye is now on Afghanistan and watching what the Taliban do,” he said.
But he took no issue with the way the US had handled the withdrawal.
“They’re either damned if they’re in place and they’re damned if they withdraw,” he said.
“We would have, I think, suffered multiple terrorist attacks of a significant scale had we not gone into Afghanistan 20 years ago. It was always going to be a difficult departure.”
Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong criticised the government’s efforts as too little, too late.
“We have both Australian citizens, but importantly, people who have helped us, who have not yet been able to have their visas considered, who are still in Afghanistan, who are still in Kabul,” she said.
“That is something that has been on the cards for a long time
“Our national interest is in ensuring those who helped us are helped.”
Earlier, US President Joe Biden said the scenes in Kabul were “gut-wrenching” but that he stood “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw forces.
In a televised address on Tuesday morning (Australian time), Mr Biden said he had faced a choice of sticking to a previously negotiated agreement to withdraw US troops this year or sending thousands more service members back into Afghanistan for a “third decade” of war.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Mr Biden said from the White House East Room.
“After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.”