The shambolic difficulties experienced in Australia’s evacuation in Afghanistan have been revealed as both Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton provided a blunt reality of the difficulty facing both foreigners and Afghans.
On Wednesday, the PM confirmed the first Australian-led rescue flight from Afghanistan had successfully arrived at a military base in the United Arab Emirates after the Taliban’s swift takeover last week.
Yet the Australian flight collected just 26 citizens and visa holders from Kabul from a potential 430, with Mr Morrison even thanking those “who we sent in the dark to be there”.
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The defence minister Mr Dutton said Australia had a larger capacity available but revealed that difficulties accessing the airport meant many Afghans and Australian nationals were left behind. Meanwhile potentially difficult weather conditions could hinder future flights later this week.
Mr Dutton also claimed some Afghans who had worked with Australian troops had switched their allegiance to the Taliban and that it was proving difficult for Australian officials to prove their identity. He confirmed he rejected some people because of fear they may carry out a terrorist attack in Australia.
“It’s the reality we’re dealing with,” he said, without revealing specific numbers.
“Ascertaining someone’s identity is difficult in that part of the world.”
He noted reports of “retributions” and “beheadings” outside of Kabul in Taliban-held areas were of concern for Australian authorities as the federal government promises more flights to come.
“We need to be realistic about the circumstances on the ground, this is not like moving from Sydney to Melbourne, we’re talking about very difficult circumstances.”
A number of Australian nationals on the ground have told the ABC it is “impossible” to even get to the airport, forcing them to miss out on the evacuation.
The senior government figures backed these claims, including Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne alongside the Prime Minister.
“It is very difficult and continues to be very difficult for people to get to the airport and to access the airport. The Australian team on the ground is working with our allies at the airport on the process for subsequent flights,” Senator Payne said.
Foreigners in Kabul have blamed Taliban checkpoints and violence in the city, but with Britain announcing it is managing to remove around 1000 people a day, questions remain why Australia’s numbers remain low.
Appearing on Afternoon Briefing, Mr Dutton blamed the C-130 military aircraft when probed over the small number of rescued citizens, claiming the aircraft is too small to carry several hundred people, unlike the C-17 seen with the United States, which carried over 600.
He noted there were “limitations on how people can get to the airport and it’s a very difficult situation on the ground.
“It’s not like turning up to a normal airport where people can come and go freely, it’s clearly a difficult situation for people to make their way to the airport and I think that’s the reality of the circumstances on the ground.”
“The reality is going to be the circumstances on the ground, whether people can get through road blocks, whether people can get into the airport terminal, that is going to be the practical reality on the ground.”
Additional flights are providing hope however, but Afghan translators who worked with Australian troops have called for government escorts to help transfer them safely to the plane.
Mr Morrison revealed the flight to Kabul enabled the “transfer” in key personnel from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Home Affairs and Defence to facilitate the evacuation.
But he revealed the difficulty in the operation “involves everything from establishing that contact with those who are in Afghanistan, particularly closer to Kabul, to ensure that they can be in a position to be at the airport in order to be evacuated on the flights as they come in”.
“It’s very difficult for any Australian to imagine the sense of chaos and uncertainty that is existing right across this country, the breakdown in formal communications, the ability to reach people, and we are doing this directly ourselves,” he said.
“Groups like the IOM are no longer able to assist us with that task, and so we are doing that directly. And, we’re doing it working with the local Afghan communities here in Australia, in order to assist us in making all those contacts.”
Senator Payne said Australian officials were involved in the efforts and was relying on the Taliban to stay true to their word so Australia can evacuate in peace.
“We have been contacting as many Australians and visa holders as we can and supporting their efforts as we are able to get through the checkpoints and to get to the airport, and then into the airport.
“That work will continue and is our focus and our priority in terms of the coming days.”
Mr Morrison assured the first flight would be the first of many, but warned it was “subject to clearance and weather, and we do note that over the back end of this week there is some not too favourable weather forecast”.
While Mr Morrison said US and UK military forces at the airport had “improved” the situation, “it still remains an incredibly challenging environment in which to operate”.