The first aircraft as part of Belgium's military evacuation mission from Afghanistan, a Falcon 7-X, took off at 4:00 PM on Tuesday from Melsbroek to Islamabad in Pakistan.
A preparation and consular team will be on board the first flight, which will be followed by two C-130s and an A400M in the coming hours, as part of Belgium's so-called non-combat evacuation operation (NEO), Ludivine Dedonder, Federal Minister of Defence, confirmed on Twitter
"An evacuation operation has just been launched. This is not being done in isolation, but in coordination with the other countries on the ground. The US military has indicated that it will secure the airport in advance," Dedonder said in a press release.
Het 1ste transportvliegtuig van @BelgiumDefence is van Melsbroek opgestegen richting Islamabad met aan boord een voorbereidingsteam en een consulair team. In de komende uren, zullen de 3 andere vliegtuigen + het NEO-detachement (ongeveer 15 militairen) zullen zich bij hen voegen.
— Ludivine Dedonder (@DedonderLudivin) August 17, 2021
Depending on the number of people being evacuated, the planes will make several round trips between the Pakistani capital and Kabul international airport.
"An evacuation operation is a difficult undertaking in circumstances that change from hour to hour. We will continue to support our people on the ground and bring them home safely," said Foreign Affairs Minister, Sophie Wilmès.
"For Belgium, it is fundamental to end the unrest as soon as possible, through an inclusive and negotiated political solution. Human rights and freedoms, including those of women and girls, must always be respected," Wilmès added.
Earlier in the day, Federal Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health Frank Vandenbroucke had already announced that the evacuation operation would save more people than just Belgian nationals, and would include people who have helped Belgian and international organisations in the fight against the Taliban, for women’s rights, people who have worked for non-governmental organisations or for the United Nations.
According to the statement, the operation on the ground could last several days, after which all people will be transferred from Islamabad to Belgium.
"For Afghans who are evacuated via Belgium, I will provide a humanitarian visa. It is a moral duty," said Sammy Mahdi, State Secretary for Asylum and Migration.