New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the end of evacuation flights from Afghanistan’s Kabul international airport, with the last C-130 Hercules safely departing eight hours prior to the bomb attacks on Thursday.
However, while none of the planned New Zealand evacuees were left behind within Hamid Karzai International Airport, other citizens and visa holders remain in the region.
“We know with absolute certainty we did not get everyone out,” Arden told the media on Friday, adding it was difficult to determine exact numbers for those evacuated as yet.
“Firstly, not everyone may have registered on Safe Travel. Secondly, of those who hold visas from Afghanistan, we don’t know how many of them were in Afghanistan at the time. And finally, we don’t know how many of those registered we did manage to get out,” she said.
Ardern said the deteriorating situation at Kabul’s airport has made it extremely difficult to undertake further evacuations and so further operations have been suspended.
“Operational considerations have now dictated the necessity to end further flights into Kabul,” Ardern said.
She confirmed that no New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel were present at the time of the explosions.
The prime minister said she had spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel about further efforts to bring out people who have been stranded in Afghanistan.
“As a Cabinet, we will consider what those options are, but we’ll be looking to our international partners for those conversations because they will be in the same position as us,” she said. “My understanding is that most of our international partners are now withdrawing.”
Arden condemned the Kabul bombings which killed a number of Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. service personnel.
“Our thoughts and condolences are with all of those in Afghanistan who have lost lives or suffered injuries, including U.S. forces, our other partners on the ground, and the families and friends of all who have been affected by this appalling attack.
“We strongly condemn what is a despicable attack on many innocent families and individuals who were simply seeking safety from the incredibly difficult and fragile situation in Afghanistan,” she said.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) remains in close contact with its citizens who have registered with Safe Travel or previously made contact.
Yesterday, MFAT advised all New Zealanders known to be in Kabul against going to Hamid Karzai International Airport and to leave the area if they were nearby due to the “ongoing and very high threat of terrorist attack.”
MFAT noted that it had not received any requests for help related to the explosions from New Zealand citizens and other visa holders.
So far, 276 New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, their families, and other visa holders have been evacuated from Kabul.
An additional 100 people, including New Zealanders and Australians, were evacuated on Thursday. The number of people destined for New Zealand is still in process and yet to be confirmed.
The C-130 aircraft landed in the United Arab Emirates yesterday. The New Zealand arrival date for civilians and deployed NZDF personnel have not been confirmed.