Defence minister Peter Dutton has confirmed that Australia made the decision to lift remaining ADF personnel and other DFAT and Home Affairs bureaucrats from Kabul on Thursday, before two deadly explosions at the airport were detonated.
Appearing on breakfast television on Friday, the defence minister said US forces were operating security for Australia and other allied forces at the airport location where the twin blasts occurred. He said the Australian government issued advice early Thursday morning to those in Kabul that they knew were in the vicinity of the attack (which was yet to occur) to vacate.
“It’s a horrible, horrible day and I just grieve like any decent person would at the loss of life and, in particular for us, the loss of the American lives. These are people who have helped literally thousands of Australian citizens and visa-holders, permanent residents through those gates into the airport ,” Dutton said.
“Our troops will be devastated by the loss of their comrades – these are people that they have worked alongside over the course of the last week. It is remarkable how many people they have brought out, they have saved, particularly women and children. But everybody is devastated by this.”
We condemn utterly the terrorist attack at Kabul airport. Our deepest sympathies go to all affected including US personnel and Afghan civilians. All Australian personnel are safe. @dfat @DeptDefence @AusBorderForce
— Marise Payne (@MarisePayne) August 26, 2021
Earlier this week The New York Times reported that an Islamic State affiliate known as Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, has threatened a large-scale attack on the evacuation mission at the Kabul airport. The group was created about six years ago by the disaffected Pakistani Taliban and has carried out a number of attacks in Afghanistan this year.
The defence minister went on to say that earlier intelligence about the threat of a suicide bomb attack at the Hamid Karzai international airport, where thousands have gathered for almost a week in efforts to join an emergency evacuation flight out of Afghanistan, was clear. He said the terrorist organisation responsible was ‘even more extreme than the Taliban’ who they were ‘basically at war with’.
“There was very clear intelligence that ISIS-K intended to strike and to strike hard. They have done that.
“It is a horribly complex situation and I’m very pleased and relieved that our soldiers have departed from Kabul and we took the decision to lift the last of our people yesterday. They are safely in the UAE and I’m very pleased for that,” Dutton said.
According to Afghan and Pentagon officials, at least 60 Afghan civilians and 12 US soldiers died as a result of the bombs.
— Saad Mohseni (@saadmohseni) August 26, 2021
SBS News reports that more than 100 former staff of Australia’s Kabul embassy who had been waiting for evacuation with their families at the same airport gate hours before the explosion occurred had left the vicinity on advice from Australian military lawyers.
When asked about the remaining people with ties to Australia who are still stuck in Afghanistan, and other civilians seeking humanitarian assistance, Dutton said there was great uncertainty. Australia hoped there was a chance for some commercial flights to resume soon, he added, but said it was hard to know what would be possible once the Taliban were in control of Afghanistan.
“Obviously it’s a very difficult situation. There is advice that some people are getting to go to other borders but there is great uncertainty there at the moment.”
“It remains a very difficult part of the world and will do so for a long time,” Dutton said.