A lawyer working to bring Afghan interpreters and their families to Australia has warned a public inquiry is needed to hold to account the “bureaucratic monoliths” for not acting fast enough to ensure the safe passage of those who worked alongside our armed forces.
Afghanistan veteran and GAP Veteran and Legal Services director Glenn Kolomeitz told NCA NewsWire that his team was working “around the clock” to try and get his people home.
“We still have all of our cases – 196 embassy guards, 50 interpreters, two journalists, and their families. We’ve written to the ministers and we’ve had nothing back from anyone,” he said.
The Taliban reached Kabul on Sunday morning after the militant Islamic group quickly took hold of the final government-controlled provinces last week.
The lightning speed of the Taliban’s advance has left Australia scrambling, as the government is now at the mercy of the US to remain in control of Kabul’s airport and traffic control to get their people out.
Mr Kolomeitz lashed out at the “strategic thinkers in Canberra” for not having the foresight to act earlier.
“They must have known that the Taliban were advancing. They must have seen what we … former relatively junior officers, seeing patrol bases and provinces fall without shots been fired,” he said.
“How could these apparent strategic thinkers in Canberra not have pre-empted this and not have these plans ready to execute.”
Australia’s embassy in Kabul was closed in May. The last of the Australian diplomats, military and intelligence officers left Afghanistan on June 18.
But efforts to rescue Afghans who worked alongside the Australian armed forces has lagged behind – something Mr Kolomeitz said he was struggling to fathom.
“I can’t understand why they’ve known that even just the processing has taken them years, which is just disgraceful right … they must have known,” he said.
He said the “bureaucratic monoliths” – the Department of Defence and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – must be exposed and called on the Senate to launch a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s response to the crisis.
“I will certainly be pushing for a Senate inquiry because the behaviour of a lot of people in this has been absolutely disgraceful,” Mr Kolomeitz told NCA NewsWire.
“I think the public has to see, not just the government, but these departments, purely bureaucratic monoliths Defence and DFAT, how grossly inept they are even to the point of processing paperwork.
“It has taken them over a year to process 12 of 196 of our applications when my firm, working with humanitarian advocates, have managed to collate 10 years of data in two weeks.”
Thousands of Afghans on Monday swarmed Kabul airport as the Taliban surrounded the capital.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton said Australia would not send a rescue mission into Kabul while the airport was in chaos.
“We won’t be landing into Kabul in these circumstances,” he told Channel 9.
“Obviously, we’ve got a base close by which is safe and secure in the (United Arab Emirates) and that’s where we’ll stage from. But we’ll work with the Americans and others, including the Turks etc, to make a very difficult, tragic situation as best as it can be.”
The Pentagon has since said US forces have regained control of the airport and air traffic control.
The government has said it will deploy 250 troops and several aircraft as part of a mission to rescue Australians as well as Afghans who served alongside the ADF.
But Mr Kolomeitz warned there was much still to done for those who couldn’t make their way to Kabul.
“To be brutally honest, even getting out of Kabul is becoming a nightmare,” he said.
“We said (to our clients) get to Kabul. Unless you can get to Kabul there is not a lot we can do now at this late hour.
“We could have done a lot more earlier had the government acted earlier. We – not just the law firm but the humanitarian advocates we were working with as well – gave them lots of options but they chose to ignore us.”
Mr Kolomeitz said only a handful of interpreters and their families were able to make it to the capital.
“So that leaves, I believe, about 100 or so … left out in the provinces, but that number is a bit fluid at the moment.”
While Mr Kolomeitz said the lack of government response had at times been “frustrating”, the lawyer hoped former Australian Army captain and Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie might be able to assist.
“I drew on the army officer network last night and Andrew Hastie has agreed to receive a briefing paper and a list of names of people in Kabul,” Mr Kolomeitz said.
The same list will be sent to Mr Dutton.
“We’re hoping that they take advantage of the work we’ve done and get them on-board and get them the hell out of Kabul,” Mr Kolomeitz said.