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Australian aircraft, troops to aid Afghanistan evacuation

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More than 250 Australian defence personnel will be deployed to Afghanistan to support the government’s effort to evacuate citizens and visa holders.

A KC-30A refuelling aircraft left the RAAF’s Amberley base on Monday for Australia’s main operating base in the Middle East in support of the wider US-led operation later this week.

Two C-17A Globemasters will also depart for the Middle East later this week.

It followed a meeting of cabinet’s national security committee to assess the situation, which has seen the Taliban seize control of the capital Kabul.

Airport chaos

The scramble to evacuate cost the lives of several people at Kabul airport on Monday.

It was not immediately clear how the victims died. A United States official said troops had fired in the air on Monday to deter people trying to force their way onto a military flight that was set to take US diplomats and embassy staff out of the fallen city.

One witness, waiting for a flight out for more than 20 hours, said it was unclear if the five had been shot or killed in a stampede. US officials at the airport were not immediately available for a comment.

Three bodies could be seen on the ground near what appeared to be an airport side entrance, in video posted on social media. Reuters could not verify the footage. Another witness said he had also seen five bodies.

Australia has joined dozens of countries in issuing a joint statement calling on all parties to “respect and facilitate the safe and orderly departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country”.

“Those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility, and accountability, for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order,” the statement said.

“The Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity. We in the international community stand ready to assist them.”

Since April, Australia has evacuated 430 Afghan employees, and their families, who assisted with the war effort over the past two decades.

International effort

The US sent about 3000 extra troops to evacuate embassy staff and others as the capital fell.

Britain also said it was deploying troops to help its nationals and local translators flee.

Australia has granted visas to 1800 people who worked with its forces out of Afghanistan since 2013.

The Prime Minister said 41 Australians lost their lives fighting for freedom, with the overall mission about tracking down Osama bin Laden and stopping al-Qaeda.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the government should have acted quicker to ensure the safety of Afghans who assisted Australia.

“We have a moral obligation to support them and get them here to Australia to safety. There is no question that they remain in great danger,” he said in Canberra.

“It is in the interests of Australia’s national security to send a message to the world that those who assist us, we will assist them.”

Chris Barrie, who was chief of the defence force when Australia entered Afghanistan 20 years ago, said the “ugly truth” was the government left it too late.

The retired admiral said there was not much hope for people who helped Australia and their families.

“It’s terrible. I think it’s a horrible story,” he told ABC radio.

“For all of those people who helped us – God help them.”

Amnesty International Australia refugee coordinator Graham Thom urged the government to expand its humanitarian intake for people fleeing Afghanistan.

“Australia has an obligation to protect those most at risk including human rights defenders, ethnic minorities and women and children,” he said.

Taliban declaration

Taliban officials declared the war over and issued statements aimed at calming the panic that has been building in Kabul as the militants, who ruled from 1996 to 2001, routed the US-backed government’s forces.

President Ashraf Ghani fled from the country on Sunday as the Islamists entered Kabul virtually unopposed, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a message on Twitter their fighters were under strict orders not to harm anyone.

“Life, property and honour of none shall be harmed but must be protected by the mujahideen,” he said.

Earlier, Mohammad Naeem, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, told Al Jazeera TV, the Afghan people and the Taliban had witnessed the fruits of their efforts and sacrifices over 20 years.

“Thanks to God, the war is over,” he said.

-AAP