18 Aug 2021

RAAF mission to rescue Australians from Kabul underway

7:09 pm on 18 August 2021

The first Australian Defence Force evacuation flight from Afghanistan has landed back at a military base in the United Arab Emirates after collecting 26 passengers from Kabul airport.

A C-130 Hercules has disappeared en route to Antarctica, the Chilean air force said in a statement.

Flight tracking websites recorded an RAAF Hercules aircraft heading from a military base in the Middle East towards Afghanistan. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said more flights would be organised into the Taliban-held Afghan capital in the coming days.

"This is not a simple process," he said. "This was the first of what will be many flights, subject to clearance and weather."

"We will bring out as many people as we can, as quickly and safely as we can."

Earlier, the ABC revealed the flight had made it into, and out of, Kabul, touching down in the UAE.

Mr Morrison said the flight landed at 10:45am AEST.

"That included Australian citizens, Afghan nationals with visas and one foreign official working in an international agency," he said.

"The transfers are done to our base in the Emirates, where capacity has already been established with medical support available, to provide that medical support and to process their further onward transfer to Australia."

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said government officials were on the ground in Kabul, but that people heading to the airport were having to negotiate Taliban checkpoints.

The capital and its main airport were a scene of chaos in recent days after thousands of people desperately tried to flee from the Taliban as they entered the city.

Sources in Kabul have told the ABC remaining Australians were told to head to the Hamid Karzai International Airport last night, with a military flight expected to leave early this morning.

Flight tracking websites recorded an RAAF Hercules aircraft heading from a military base in the Middle East towards Afghanistan just after midnight Canberra time.

It briefly reappeared on flight radars in Pakistani airspace this morning after going dark for several hours as it descended into Afghanistan.

A digital flight tracker shows a small plane icon near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

An RAAF Hercules aircraft briefly reappeared on flight trackers after crossing back into Pakistan from Afghanistan.

Sources have also told the ABC a second flight into Kabul today is being considered, which is dependant on a landing slot at Hamid Karzai International Airport being allocated to Australia by the US.

There are hopes about 600 Australians and Afghans can be rescued from Afghanistan in coming days.

In a speech to soldiers preparing to deploy yesterday, Liberal MP and Afghanistan veteran Phillip Thompson warned them of the danger they were about to encounter.

"I need you to understand what your nation is asking you to do," Thompson said.

"You are going into the belly of the beast, a place where the rule of law does not exist, on an operation that is dangerous, serious, and it's in our national interests for you to succeed."

Afghan arrivals to face security checks

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said Afghan support workers being evacuated from Kabul would face security checks once they arrived in Australia.

"Whilst I understand that these people have supported Australia, we still have an obligation to Australians here to make sure that those that we are giving permanency to in Australia have gone through the appropriate health, medical and security vetting that we need to," she told Nine Radio.

"So they will come here on a temporary visa, we will continue to look at processing those people here."

Andrews said she expected the "vast majority" of people would not have any issues with the vetting process.

"When we have done all of the checks that we need to do, they will be eligible and very welcome to stay here in Australia," she said.

"There may only be a minority and I'm hopeful that there is only a very, very small number that may require significant security checking."

In a statement, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Robert Mardini, said humanitarian needs in Afghanistan would "remain high".

Since the start of the month, the Red Cross has treated 7,600 wounded patients in Afghanistan as the Taliban made its rapid advance across the country.

"[We are] relieved to see Kabul avoid what could have been devastating urban warfare, but we remain mindful of the thousands of civilians wounded and displaced in recent fighting," Mardini said.

"Our medical teams and physical rehabilitation centres expect to receive patients for months and years to come."


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