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Australia cautious on further Kabul trips

handout photo made available by US Central Command Public Affairs shows civilians preparing to board a plane during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, 18 August 2021
Australia is taking a cautious approach to sending more rescue flights into Afghanistan's capital. Photo: EPA
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Further flights into Kabul are being carefully planned as the government seeks to rescue hundreds of Australian citizens, former interpreters and embassy guards.

A third ADF plane carrying 80 Australian citizens, permanent visa holders and local employees who have worked with Australia and New Zealand arrived from the Afghanistan capital on Friday evening.

But the ongoing mission is being hampered by Australian military personnel being unable to go beyond Kabul’s airport due to the Taliban’s chaotic and increasingly violent takeover of the city.

“There are people in their thousands crowding around the entrances to the airport, and there have been – unfortunately – injuries as well and we have had to address some of those amongst our passenger cohorts, too,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.

“It is dangerous.”

It has been reported 12 people have been killed in and around the airport, where more than 5200 US troops are based.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been advised sending Australian troops in to the city to help people is not viable.

“The United States continues to engage directly with the Taliban about the arrangements … enabling flights to go in and out of the airport,” he said on Friday.

“But we are dealing with the Taliban, so I’m not making any assumptions, and I am moving as quickly and as safely as we possibly can to get as many people out as fast as we can.”

More than 240 Australians and Afghan visa holders had been evacuated from Kabul over the past few days, senior minister Stuart Robert said on Saturday.

“It brings the total to 690 visas issued to Afghan locally-engaged employees who served with us since April and 1009 since 2013,” he told ABC TV.

“The government has announced a further 3000 places for our humanitarian program will be going to citizens of Afghanistan with priority to women and children and those who have affinity, relatives or closeness to Australia.”

Sixty citizens and Afghans who helped Australia during the war were transported to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday night.

The first Australian flight from Dubai carrying 94 evacuees touched down in Perth in the early hours of Friday.

Mr Morrison thanked British counterpart Boris Johnson for the Royal Air Force’s assistance in a phone call after the operation.

Australia has defended its allocation of places this financial year in its humanitarian program to Afghans fleeing the Taliban.

Mr Morrison described the figure as a floor rather than a ceiling.

Canada has committed to taking 20,000 refugees, while the United Kingdom will do the same but over five years.