A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules has returned to its base in the Middle East after evacuating Australian and New Zealanders from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan.
The New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) has around 80 personnel deployed to the Middle East region supporting international efforts to evacuate New Zealanders and other citizens of Afghanistan.
A team of 19 staff members based at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in Kabul has been in contact with evacuees and working alongside partner countries to facilitate evacuations.
Last night the Hercules made its maiden flight to Kabul, arriving at a base in the United Arab Emirates in the early hours of this morning (NZT) with evacuees from both New Zealand and Australia on board. They are being assisted and their subsequent travel facilitated by other agencies.
The group had received support at an evacuation center prior to departure.
New Zealand Joint Forces Commander Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour said he was proud of the NZDF team working to safely evacuate New Zealanders and other citizens of Afghanistan.
“We continue to work alongside partner countries and agencies to evacuate New Zealanders, their families and other visa holders in Afghanistan,” it said in a statement.
He said it was a multi-agency effort in collaboration with partner countries.
“We are still working to evacuate others, but we are pleased to bring this group of evacuees to our Hercules aircraft and to a safe base, and to have worked closely with our Australian counterparts in returning other evacuees home to New Zealand.”
Yesterday, the first evacuees from Afghanistan arrived in New Zealand after being evacuated from Kabul on a Royal Australian Air Force flight.
Defense Minister Peeni Henare said yesterday that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) had been in contact with more than 200 New Zealanders in Afghanistan.
He said that MFAT had also been working with New Zealand Immigration (INZ) to obtain visas for those Afghans the government determined had worked alongside defense forces, police, and relief missions, or assisted with the investigation of Operation Burnham.
Australia evacuated 300 people on four flights from Kabul on Saturday, including some New Zealanders.
A week ago, the government announced plans to evacuate New Zealanders and those who had assisted New Zealand’s efforts in Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control of the capital, Kabul, and declared an end to the war.
The group’s seizure of the country was carried out much faster than international observers expected after the United States withdrew its troops and prompted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country.
The Taliban have promised safety and security, and have vowed to preserve women’s rights, but there have been reports of door-to-door persecution for those who helped New Zealand and women’s groups are skeptical of the Taliban’s promises.
There have been violent scenes in which thousands of people hoping to flee the country try to pass through barricades controlled by members of the Taliban.
There are reports that the Taliban have even blocked those who have the necessary documents to travel.