News Politics Australian Politics More Australian rescue flights bound for Afghanistan

More Australian rescue flights bound for Afghanistan

A mother and her daughters at Kabul Airport as thousands of others saw the chance of a flight out shrank and vanished. Photo: Getty
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Australia will ramp up rescue flights from Afghanistan after its first successful journey extracted more than 20 people from the war-torn nation.

A RAAF C-130 Hercules successfully evacuated people from Kabul airport, which was engulfed in chaos earlier in the week.

The flight brought 26 people to the United Arab Emirates – where the Australian military is based for the operation – ahead of their transfer to Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said efforts to extract Australians and Afghans who helped allied forces over the past two decades would ramp up in subsequent flights.

Australian citizens, Afghan nationals who have been granted visas and one foreign official working with an international agency were among the passengers.

Australia will provide 3000 humanitarian visas this financial year to Afghan refugees desperately trying to flee the Taliban.

That will come from the existing intake, rather than a special allocation, and is below other nations’ commitments.

‘Chaos and uncertainty’

“This is not a simple process,” the Prime Minister told reporters in Canberra.

“It’s very difficult for any Australian to imagine the sense of chaos and uncertainty that is existing across this country, the breakdown in formal communications, the ability to reach people.”

Regular flights are scheduled in coming days but forecast poor weather may hamper evacuation efforts.

Cabinet’s national security committee is meeting daily to discuss getting people out of Afghanistan, which is now under Taliban control.

Mr Morrison concedes not all Afghans who helped Australia will be rescued as part of the operation.

The first flight dropped off key foreign affairs, home affairs and defence personnel working to evacuate Australians and Afghan nationals.

The Prime Minister would not be drawn on reports of a skirmish at Kabul airport during the rescue effort.

“Kabul’s a dangerous place,” Mr Morrison said.

“We’ve got Australians operating in a very dangerous environment to get their fellow Australians and those who have helped our cause over a long period of time.”

Howard has no regrets

Former prime minister John Howard defended Australia’s role in the war on Afghanistan, insisting it was not a failure despite the Taliban’s resurgence.

“Since we went into Afghanistan there is no evidence of a major terrorist attack that’s been orchestrated out of Afghanistan,” said Mr Howard, who sent troops into the country in 2001.

The aim was to cripple Al-Qaida, he told ABC TV.

“On that criteria, the mission, whatever may be said of, it has not been a failure.”

But he criticised the United States for pulling out too quickly and allowing for the rapid collapse of opposition to the Taliban.

Canada has offered resettlement to more than 20,000 people at risk and the United States is accelerating its visa application process.

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 Australia would only offer visas through official channels after security and health checks.

“Those who have not come to Australia in the right way and on temporary visas in Australia, they will not be offered permanent residence in Australia,” he said.

Australia has been accepting between 1300 and 1900 Afghans on humanitarian grounds in recent years.

Refugee advocate Paris Aristotle, who advised the government on the Syrian intake, will work with Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on the program.

Australia has not been meeting its humanitarian visa caps because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since April, 430 Afghans who helped allied forces during the two-decade war and their families have been brought to Australia.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said any decision to recognise the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan would be subject to international talks.