• John McDonnell

The Afghan airlift has started


The first evacuation flight out of Kabul occurred overnight on Tuesday, the prime minister told the media at his press conference on Wednesday.


Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Home Affairs flew in and set up a processing centre at the airport.


Twenty-six Australians and Afghan interpreters were evacuated, one of whom was reportedly shot in the leg by the Taleban. This underlines the danger involved in evacuation flights. There are also forecasts of inclement weather in Kabul towards the end of the week.


The prime minister said that many flights would fly into Kabul over the next week and that the government had created 3,000 humanitarian visas for Afghan evacuees. This is in addition to the more than 8,000 Afghanis who have already been resettled in Australia, 430 of them since April.


At his press conference, the prime minister emphasised that there would be no path to permanent residency for Afghan asylum seekers who arrived in Australia illegally. This means that Afghans who have fled across the borders to Iran and Pakistan and attempt to enter Australia without an appropriate visa, will not be resettled in Australia.


In an interview with Patricia Karvelas on Wednesday afternoon, Peter Dutton said the first flight was limited because it was a Hercules that had a small payload.


Mr Dutton said he was reserving judgement on whether the Taleban regime would be more benign this time. He said the world was watching the Taleban’s next steps.


He pointed out that Australia had moved early to get Australians and Afghan staff out of the country. He said that some people couldn’t come to Australia because while they had worked for Australia in the past they had subsequently worked for the Taleban and other insurgent groups. Others had difficulty in establishing their identity, while others had made multiple applications to many countries for asylum.


The resettlement of Afghans was complicated by the prevalence of Covid-19 in Afghanistan.


On Wednesday, an article by David Kilcullen appeared in ‘The Australian’, which provided more details on the fall of Kabul. Kilcullen said that the Afghan army was prepared to fight to hold Kabul and had the resources to hold the city for months.


However, on Saturday the leader of the Taleban Abdul Ghani Baradar had arrived in Kabul and had been driven to the presidential palace, where he had met with his cousin, the former president Hamid Karzai.


This was a signal to the commander of the Afghan forces, General Sadat, that he no longer had a government to fight for, and that he had no option but to disband his forces and let the Taleban enter the city.


The outgoing president, Ashraf Ghani, reportedly left the presidential palace on Sunday, with four cars and a helicopter, headed for Tajikistan. Russian news sources are reporting that the cars and the helicopter were stuffed with US dollars.


Hamid Karzai has remained in the presidential palace and is acting as a caretaker while the Taleban leaders work on new administrative arrangements. Public servants have been asked to resume their duties and the media has continued as normal. As a sign of change, a woman interviewer was allowed to interview a Taleban leader.


The Taleban leadership, led by the former chief justice of Afghanistan, is preparing the new framework for government which is likely to be announced next week.


Hopefully, the current benign situation will continue into next week, which will allow evacuees to get to the airport and be flown out.