Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton says it is not yet clear when it will be safe for Australian troops to begin evacuating citizens and local staff from Afghanistan.
Australia is deploying 250 troops and several aircraft as part of a mission to rescue Australians, as well as Afghans who served alongside the ADF.
Chaotic scenes unfolded at Kabul airport overnight, with Afghans who were trying to flee the Taliban clinging onto US military planes, and some apparently falling to their deaths after take-off.
One image showed hundreds of people crammed into the hold of a US transport plane.
Dutton described the events as “terrible” and said order needed to be restored before Australian aircraft could land.
Dutton said troops are ready to rescue citizens, including New Zealanders from Kabul but only when it’s safe.
“Terrible terrible scenes there needs to be order restored to the airport so there can be safe passage of planes in and out so that we have the ability to move people whether they’re Australian citizens, American citizens, Canadians, New Zealanders in and out of that airport so it’s in a state of flux at the moment,” Dutton said.
“We won’t be landing into Kabul in these circumstances,” he told Channel Nine.
“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, a tragic situation, as best as it can be.”
The Pentagon has since said US forces have regained control of the airport and of air traffic control.
Dutton also backed US President Joe Biden’s defence of his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.
“Nobody was advocating that America should stay for another 20 years or her allies should stay for another 20 years, and withdrawal was always going to be difficult,” Dutton said.
“I think the surprising factor here was the rate at which the country was overtaken by the Taliban and surprise that, from the [Afghan] President down, tragically, people abandoned their post and left the country in an even more precarious position.”
Shadow foreign affairs minister Penny Wong said the people at Kabul should have been evacuated weeks or months ago.
“I have to say I fear it is too little, too late,” Senator Wong said.
“We’ve seen calls from former prime ministers, calls from Labor, but importantly calls from veterans who have been warning we should urgently get people to safety, and now we’re left waiting and hoping on a last-minute and high-risk operation.”
Government doing ‘level best’ to assist Australians and Afghans
More than 130 Australians are believed to be in Afghanistan, and Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the government was seeking to support “several hundred more” local staff.
“The security issues, the lack of arrangements on the ground in Kabul make this very difficult for everyone,” Senator Payne told the ABC.
“But we will do our level best to make sure that we are able to support those Australian citizens and their families, the permanent residents and visa holders and applicants through this process.”
The federal government said 430 local employees, Afghans and their families had been brought to Australia since April.
Senator Payne said no Afghans who were already in Australia on temporary visas would be forced to leave “at this stage.”
“All the Afghan citizens who are currently in Australia on a temporary visa will be supported by the Australian government,” she said.
“And no Afghan visa holder will be asked to return to Afghanistan at this stage.”
Senator Wong said it was a “fiction” people might be able to return to Afghanistan, and a pathway must be established for them to remain in Australia.
SOURCE: RNZ NEWS