Irish citizens in Afghanistan told to avoid Kabul airport amid increasing terror threat

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Irish Citizens In Afghanistan Told To Avoid Kabul Airport Amid Increasing Terror Threat Irish Citizens In Afghanistan Told To Avoid Kabul Airport Amid Increasing Terror Threat
An Afghan family looks over Hamid Karzai International Airport during the ongoing evacuation in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Mark Andries/US Marine Corps via Getty
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Irish citizens in Afghanistan have been advised against coming to or remaining at Kabul airport due to the “change in security status”.

It comes as other Western nations urged their citizens to leave the area amid a terror threat.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said: “Irish diplomats and members of the Army Ranger Wing have aided a number of Irish citizens and residents to evacuate from Afghanistan.

“Those evacuation flights are ongoing today and for security and operational reasons, we will not give detail on numbers until the Ecat [emergency consular assistance team] has left Kabul.

“Given the change in security status at Kabul Airport, remaining Irish citizens and residents in Kabul and beyond have been advised against coming to or remaining at the airport as gates are no longer open.

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“Ongoing consular support will continue for Irish citizens and residents in Afghanistan.”

Evacuation plan

Meanwhile, the joint diplomatic and military team coordinating the evacuation of Irish citizens at Kabul airport is in the “early stages” of withdrawing from Afghanistan, sources say.

The Emergency Consular Assistance Team, consisting of two senior diplomats and a section of the Army Ranger Wing, has been on the ground in the Afghan capital since the early hours of Wednesday.

It is not yet known how many Irish citizens will be taken from Afghanistan by the team, which is continuing its coordination work while preparing for departure.

Sources told The Irish Times that the withdrawal does not represent any major deviation from the mission plan and that the on-the-ground evacuation effort was only ever intended to last a few days.

The matter is being discussed by Mr Coveney and officials from the departments of Foreign Affairs, Defence and the Defence Forces during a National Emergency Coordination Committee meeting.

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“Our Team of diplomats and Army Rangers in Kabul are safe, busy and doing fantastic work with partners,” Mr Coveney said in a Twitter post.

“We remain in close contact with them to make decisions on exit. We are also in continuing contact with all Irish individuals and families in Afghanistan to support and advise.”

Sources stressed that evacuation efforts would continue after the team leaves the airport and will be led by the Irish Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

Efforts to safely take Irish passport holders out of Afghanistan have grown increasingly difficult as a result of the Taliban decision to stop Afghan citizens from entering the airport. Most of the remaining 36 Irish people on the ground are also Afghan citizens.

Security alerts

It comes as pressure to complete the evacuations of thousands of foreigners and Afghans who helped Western countries during the 20-year war against the Taliban has intensified, with all US and allied troops due to leave the airport next week.

In an alert issued on Wednesday evening, the US embassy in Kabul advised citizens to avoid travelling to the airport and said those already at the gates should leave immediately, citing unspecified “security threats”.

In a similar advisory, Britain told people in the airport area to move away and its armed forces minister, James Heappey, said intelligence of a possible suicide bomb attack by IS militants had become “much firmer”.

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“I can't stress the desperation of the situation enough. The threat is credible, it is imminent, it is lethal. We wouldn't be saying this if we weren't genuinely concerned about offering Islamic State a target that is just unimaginable,” Heappey told BBC radio.

Australia also issued a warning for people to stay away from the airport while Belgium ended its evacuation operations because of the danger of attack. The Dutch government also issued a warning and said it expected to carry out its last evacuation flight on Thursday, leaving behind some who are eligible to travel to the Netherlands.

A Western diplomat in Kabul said areas outside the airport gates were “incredibly crowded” again despite the warnings.

Taliban fighters stand guard in Kabul. Photo: Javed Tanveer/AFP via Getty

The Taliban, whose fighters are guarding the perimeter outside the airport, are enemies of the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, known as Islamic State Khorasan (Isis-K), after an old name for the region.

“Our guards are also risking their lives at Kabul airport, they face a threat too from the Islamic State group,” said a Taliban official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The warnings came against a chaotic backdrop in the capital, Kabul, and its airport, where a massive airlift of foreign nationals and their families as well as some Afghans has been underway since the Taliban captured the city on August 15th.

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While Western troops in the airport worked feverishly to move the evacuation as fast as possible, thousands of people still thronged outside, trying to flee rather than stay in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Ahmedullah Rafiqzai, a civil aviation official at the airport, said people continued to crowd around the gates despite the attack warnings.

“People don't want to move, it's their determination to leave this country that they are not scared to even die,” he told Reuters. – Additional reporting: Reuters

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