27 Aug 2021

'Hundreds' of people left behind in Afghanistan - Minister of Defence

6:35 pm on 27 August 2021

More than 500 people in Afghanistan eligible to come to New Zealand may have been left to their own fate as the overnight bombing at Kabul Airport has put an end to further New Zealand Defence Force evacuation flights.

An RNZAF C130 landed in Kabul Afghanistan today and safely evacuated a number of New Zealanders and Australians.

Co-pilot Flight Lieutenant Michal-Louise Repko concentrating on the descent into Kabul.

An RNZAF C130 over Afghanistan during a mission to evacuate a number of New Zealanders. Photo: Supplied / New Zealand Defence Force

Sixty people - including 13 US soldiers - were killed and many others injured after a suicide bomb attack at the crowded gates of the airport.

ISIS-K, an Islamic State affiliate has since claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The government says it is not giving up on helping those stranded in Afghanistan.

But this evening, Minister of Defence Peeni Henare told Checkpoint he could not give an update on numbers of people evacuated from Afghanistan by the NZDF, as processing was underway.

"We sadly couldn't get everybody," Henare said.

He repeated the prime minister's commitment to look at getting those unable to get out.

"We are talking hundreds," of people left behind, he said.

"Once we have been able to process those who have been taken out of Afghanistan over the past 24 hours and compare those across a list we have been preparing ... then we will have a better idea of where things are at and who hasn't been evacuated."

Asked if New Zealand would be going back - for example - to get a man who had been granted a visa for Aotearoa - Henare said "no, we're not".

"As defence minister, I'm saying that our people, the New Zealand Defence Force personnel, are not on the ground. We've taken our people out."

Khairullah Azizi from the Afghan Association had been able to connect with two men trying to get out who were caught up in the bombing.

''Luckily, luckily they survived the bomb blast but went home bloodied from the blood of others and potentially form being injured themselves and so I can't obviously imagine what they went through but those are the two people I know who went through that in terms of coming to New Zealand," Azizi said.

He was unsure what would happen next.

''Whether they made it safe home or not I haven't got an update.''

They would just have to sit and wait until someone gave them an update on what New Zealand and the rest of the forces and allies planned on doing to get other people out, Azizi said.

Former interpreter for the NZDF in Afghanistan Diamond Kazimi said the bombings would not discourage people who were desperate to escape.

''I've got friends and family that just want to get out and they have tried three or four times and were unsuccessful and they went back home. I don't think it will stop the desperation of people trying to leave."

Moral responsibility

Federation of Multicultural Councils president Pancha Narayanan said it was essential the international community did not give up on Afghanistan.

New Zealand needed to be proactive in helping those who want to leave get out, he said.

''Do we accept that the Taliban are the legitimate government, given that there is no government at the moment? So if they are the ones who are controlling the environment, those are the people that we need to be talking to and negotiating to get these people out.''

It was essential Western countries continue their efforts to save the people who have assisted them in the past from Taliban reprisals, Narayanan said.

''To make sure the people they are responsible for are identified and to make it transparent to the communities in New Zealand what the next steps are going to be. The thing is that we have a moral responsibility to these people.''

The United Nations needed to step up and become involved, he said.

Massey University Centre for Defence and Security Studies' Dr Anna Powles said New Zealand had a moral obligation to continue its focus on Afghanistan.

''We should be taking more refugees. We need to be having that conversation far more so. There has been a great deal of activism in New Zealand around taking a much higher number of refugees. If Uganda can do it, and Mexico can do it, then New Zealand can certainly do it," Powles said.

The security situation in Afghanistan was unstable and blurred between various factions, including the Taliban and ISIS, she said.

''We are likely to see greater insecurity as a consequence and for the Afghan people that is obviously one of their paramount concerns. The degree of insecurity that is going to come about as a consequence of a Taliban takeover.''

Azizi said it was unimaginable just what those still in Afghanistan were going through, with many now in real fear for their lives.

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