“We are experiencing a human tragedy for which we share responsibility,” said President Frank-Walter Steinmeier after the Western-backed government in Kabul collapsed and its foreign-trained security forces melted away.
Germany, which had the second-largest military contingent in Afghanistan after the United States, wants to airlift thousands of German-Afghan dual nationals as well as rights activists, lawyers, and people who worked with foreign forces.
“The images of despair at Kabul airport shame the political West,” Steinmeier, whose post is largely ceremonial, said in a statement at the German presidential palace.
“All the more now we have to stand by those to whom we are indebted for their work and support.”
The first German military plane to land in Kabul since the Taliban took power evacuated only seven people due to the airport chaos after flying soldiers in on Monday.
But a second one took off from Kabul airport early on Tuesday afternoon with more than 120 people on board, including Germans, Afghans, and people from other countries, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote on Twitter.
More evacuations were to follow, with Germany deploying 600 soldiers for the purpose.
Another Migrant Crisis?
Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Afghans fleeing to neighboring countries could make their way to Europe, in a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis, if they do not receive sufficient humanitarian assistance.
She wants refugees to be guaranteed safety in countries neighboring Afghanistan first, with the European Union to later consider if it can take people in.
“Reaching a common position within the EU is not easy. It is a weakness of the EU that we have not created a common asylum policy,” she told a news conference.
Germany opened its borders six years ago to more than 1 million migrants, many of them Syrians, fleeing war and poverty: a move that won Merkel plaudits abroad but which eroded her political capital at home.
She plans to stand down after a Sept. 26 federal election.
Armin Laschet, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) chairman running to succeed her as chancellor, called for future military interventions abroad to have a clear goal, timeline, and exit strategy.
“The lesson of the last 20 years is that the goal of regime change, to intervene militarily to end a dictatorship in order to build a democracy, has almost universally failed,” he said in Rostock in northern Germany.
By Hans-Edzard Busemann and Christian Kraemer