Difficult start of the German evacuation campaign in Kabul | free press

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Berlin (AP) – The evacuation of German civilians from the Afghan capital Kabul, which was taken over by the Taliban, began under extremely difficult circumstances.

On Monday evening, 40 employees of the German embassy landed on an American plane in Doha in the Gulf emirate of Qatar. Two Bundeswehr planes were stopped on their way to Kabul because they were not allowed to land due to the chaotic conditions at the airport in Kabul.

Maas and Merkel: ‘Situation misjudged’

Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas admitted that he had misjudged the advance of the Taliban. There is nothing to hide: “All of us – the federal government, the intelligence services, the international community – have misjudged the situation.” It was not expected that the Afghan army would not oppose the Taliban. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) expressly agreed with this assessment. “We had a misjudgment. And that’s not a wrong German assessment, it’s widespread,” she said at the chancellery that evening. Previously, there was massive criticism of the federal government.

Merkel considered the 20-year international mission in Afghanistan a disappointment. Apart from the fight against terrorism, “everything did not go as well as we intended,” she said. “That’s a realization that’s bitter.” Merkel admitted that “no successful attempts” had been made to lead the country towards democracy and peace and develop a free society there.

Lessons must be learned from this and in such operations “you have to lower your goals”. The Taliban had brought the entire country back under their control. “This development is, of course, bitter, dramatic and terrible for the people of Afghanistan.” But the development is also bitter for Germany. Merkel recalled the many soldiers of the Western Allies who had died while working in Afghanistan, including 59 German soldiers.

Explosive Mission for the German Armed Forces

The evacuation is probably the Bundeswehr’s largest mission of its kind to date – and a particularly explosive one. “One thing is certain: it is a dangerous mission for our military,” the Defense Ministry wrote on Twitter on Monday. The Bundeswehr had withdrawn from Afghanistan only at the end of June after a 20-year deployment.

The Taliban had taken city after city in recent days, sometimes without a fight, invaded the capital Kabul on Sunday and already have the presidential palace under their control. Given Friday’s dramatic situation, the federal government has decided to keep embassy staff to a minimum. On Sunday, all employees were taken to the airport, which is secured by several thousand American soldiers.

Chaos at Kabul . Airport

Nevertheless, there were chaotic scenes: Countless Afghans trying to get to safety from the Taliban tried to board planes and blocked the runway. As a result, the two A400M military transporters got stuck in Baku, Azerbaijan after a refueling stop. One of the machines then took off from there for Kabul in the afternoon, but initially remained in a waiting loop in the air.

Maas called the scenes at the airport “extremely painful”. “That affects us all.” A third German A400M, which is equipped for medical transport, and an Airbus A310 MRTT took off from Wunstorf in Lower Saxony for Tashkent on Monday. The Uzbek capital is to become the hub for evacuation operations.

Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) said that with a robust mandate, the Bundeswehr would get as many people as possible from Kabul and Afghanistan, “as long as local capabilities allow it. That is the Bundeswehr’s mission.” This is highly dependent on the support from the US side.

Scope of the evacuation still unclear

The first evacuation flight was done with an American machine. In the coming days, the A400M will be a central part of an “airlift”, through which, in addition to embassy personnel, other German citizens and local employees who have worked or are still working for the Bundeswehr or federal ministries in Afghanistan will be brought to Germany.

Merkel said at a meeting of the CDU executive committee that the federal government had identified 2,500 local workers in Afghanistan months ago, according to participants. It is currently unknown whether 600 of them are located in third countries. The federal government has identified another 2,000 people who should also leave, such as human rights activists and lawyers. In total, this concerns about 10,000 people, since the family members are included.

The “core operational team” must be in Kabul. to stay

Foreign Minister Maas said on Sunday that the safety of German citizens and Afghan workers has been “top priority” in recent years. According to him, a “core operational team” from the embassy in Kabul will remain in the military-secured area of ​​the airport to keep the embassy in good condition and to supervise further evacuation measures. The actual embassy building was closed.

“We are now doing everything we can to allow our nationals and our former local staff to leave the country in the coming days,” Maas said. “The circumstances under which this could take place are difficult to predict at this time.” That is why the federal government is in close contact with the US and other international partners.

Cabinet presents mandate for the Federal Armed Forces

The mandate for the deployment of the Federal Armed Forces is to be determined at this Wednesday’s cabinet meeting. The Bundestag should discuss and decide on this next week. Anyway, on August 25, the parliament will hold a special session to decide on aid to the flood plains.

Then the eviction operation must also be on the agenda. In the event of imminent danger, armed Bundeswehr operations, as in this case, can also be mandated retrospectively by parliament. In addition, the Bundestag’s Defense Committee will meet this week for a special session.

Opposition criticizes late evacuation

The opposition criticized the pace of the evacuation. Foreign FDP politician Alexander Graf Lambsdorff told the “world” that Maas, Kramp-Karrenbauer and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) had “failed across the board”.

The party leader of the Left in the Bundestag, Jan Korte, especially called Maas’ actions “scandalous”. He accused the foreign minister of endangering human life. AfD faction leader Alexander Gauland criticized in the Welt that the federal government had “overslept” at the right time for the evacuation.