Kabul / Berlin (dpa) – For their dangerous evacuation mission in Afghanistan, the Bundeswehr has reinforced its troops and moved two helicopters to Kabul airport.
According to the Ministry of Defense, the Airbus H145M helicopters can be used to rescue individual German citizens or local workers from dangerous situations. The deputy chief of the militant Islamist Taliban, which took power in the crisis state for a week, also arrived in Kabul on Saturday. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar wants to talk to Taliban members and other politicians about forming a new government, Taliban circles told the German news agency.
Taliban deputy chief arrives in Kabul
Baradar is the senior Taliban leader to arrive in Kabul. It is unclear where Taliban leader Haibatullah Achundsada and his two other deputies are.
The situation at Kabul airport remained extremely tense and dangerous. An eyewitness reported to the dpa about thousands of people besieging the entrances. The eyewitness had already spent all Friday at an entrance. When he returned Saturday morning (local time), the crowd doubled again. Gunshots were fired almost continuously. Loudspeaker messages also sounded at the north entrance that the gate would now be closed for two days.
Eyewitnesses report chaos at airport
A second eyewitness told the dpa that there were people from all walks of life. He has seen actors in the crowd, famous television personalities, teenagers, women with newborn babies or people in wheelchairs. The US broadcaster CNN reported, citing an “informed source”, that about 14,000 people persisted at the airport.
Less than a week ago, the Taliban captured Kabul and took power. Since then, opposition members, journalists, human rights activists and local employees who have worked for Western countries have feared for their lives. It is feared that the extremists will establish an Islamic ’emirate’ and apply draconian punishments against dissenters.
The two helicopters moved to Kabul are light multi-purpose helicopters. It is planned to use it in Kabul to “accommodate smaller groups to be evacuated in the urban area and transported safely to the airport,” the Bundeswehr said. The helicopters essentially served to drop troops into narrow landing areas, including inner-city areas and areas with poor infrastructure.
The two machines are assigned to special forces and were requested by the US. US forces mainly flew large helicopters and needed a smaller machine in urban areas, Inspector General Eberhard Zorn said in Berlin on Friday. When deployed, the Bundeswehr machines must always be accompanied by American helicopters. “This is a real air operation. This is not a “taxi service,” Zorn said. The Special Forces Command (KSK) helicopters are actually designed to rescue hostages and are highly maneuverable.
More than 1,800 people were taken from Afghanistan during the evacuation flights between Kabul and the Uzbek capital Tashkent, which were carried out, among other things, with A400M aircraft. On Saturday evening, the Bundeswehr took 172 people out of the country in a first flight and 7 people in another. Another plane took off at 11:04 a.m. Saturday with eight people on board in need of protection. Several Bundeswehr military transporters are commuting between Kabul and Tashkent, from where the evacuees will begin their onward flight to Germany. According to the Defense Ministry, up to six evacuation flights are planned for Saturday. However, it was initially unclear how passengers could reach these flights given the still closed entrance gate.
Merkel expresses “deep thanks”
Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) expressed her “deep thanks” to the Bundeswehr soldiers in Afghanistan for their efforts to rescue Germans and local workers. She described the development in Afghanistan after the Taliban came to power as ‘drama’ and ‘tragedy’. The Afghan army had “collapsed at a breathtaking pace”. “We wanted to enable as many people in Afghanistan as possible to live a free, good and self-confident life,” Merkel said. “And we just have to say: that’s not how it went.”
The opposition in the Bundestag accuses the government of delaying the departure of Afghan aid workers from the Bundeswehr and the federal government. Green leader Robert Habeck said in Dortmund on Saturday: “It is not correct what is being said from the federal government that no one could have known that the situation was escalating.”
Laschet accuses Maas of failure
Chancellor candidate Armin Laschet also accused Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) of failure. The CDU chairman told the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung”: “Since April, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could and should have taken better care of our local staff.”
The US Ramstein Air Force Base in Rhineland-Palatinate is currently developing into a hub for refugees from Afghanistan being flown out by the US. The United States has already deposited several hundred evacuees there. The former American local staff in Afghanistan and their families will initially be housed in the aircraft hangars at the airbase. “After their registrations and initial medical services, they must be flown to the United States,” a spokesman said. According to the spokesman, there are currently no plans for the Afghans to leave the military compound.
Time is running out
The time window for further evacuations from Kabul is shrinking. The US actually wants to complete the withdrawal of its troops by August 31. According to a report, the British government wants to convince US President Joe Biden to continue the rescue mission from Afghanistan after the end of August. The Times reported this on Saturday, citing British government circles.
Biden wants to put pressure on the Taliban and make aid to Afghanistan during his rule ‘tough conditions’. Biden said in a speech on Friday (local time) that the Islamists’ treatment of their compatriots, especially women and girls, will be closely monitored. Biden says the US is in contact with the Taliban to secure access to the airport in Kabul. Should the Islamists disrupt evacuation operations or attack US troops, there will be a “strong response”.