EU asks US to secure Kabul airport 'as long as necessary'

EU asks US to secure Kabul airport 'as long as necessary'
Kabul International Airport. Credit: Belga

The European Union has asked the United States to secure Kabul airport for 'as long as necessary' to allow for a continued evacuation of people on the ground in Afghanistan.

Following a G7 leaders' meeting on the situation in the country, European Council President Charles Michel said that the EU and its Member States are prioritising the safe evacuation of the coalition's citizens, Afghan staff, and their families.

"We have raised this issue with our American friends and partners on two particular aspects: first, the need to secure the airport, as long as necessary, to complete the operations," he said during a press conference.

"Second, a fair and equitable access to the airport, for all nationals entitled to evacuation," Michel added.

Asked at the press conference yesterday evening if he had asked the US president to extend the deadline for evacuating international and local staff in danger from Afghanistan, Charles Michel declined to reply but admitted that he had expressed his concerns on behalf of the EU.

In the meantime, US President Joe Biden is sticking to the deadline of 31 August for troops to leave Kabul airport, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki confirmed in American media reports. However, the EU is asking for an extension, as it is concerned about the ability of evacuees to safely reach the Kabul airport.

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It was announced on Tuesday that, as a result of the chaotic situation on the ground, the Taliban would no longer allow Afghan nationals or foreigners to travel to the airport in Kabul, according to a spokesperson for the group.

The spokesperson added that "their safety is guaranteed" and denied that there is a list of people who would be targeted for reprisals by the Taliban.

Michel has since called "on the new Afghan authorities, to allow free passage to all foreign, and Afghan citizens, who wish to get to the airport."

The evacuation of all EU staff from Afghanistan has been completed, according to a spokesperson for the European Commission, however it remains unclear whether this only concerns European personnel and their families or also Afghans who have worked for the EU.

The resettlement of Afghan staff and their families in the EU has not yet been decided. European Commission President von der Leyen clarified at the press conference that the resettlement will be based on a voluntary structure where member states will issue humanitarian visas. "We are in a phase of pledging now," she said and added that the issue will be discussed in the coming days in the interior ministers council.

"Let’s be clear, let’s not allow the creation of a new market for smugglers and human traffickers," Michel said. "We are determined to keep the migratory flows under control and the EU's borders protected."

"Today it is too early to decide what kind of relations we will develop with the new Afghan authorities.We call for an inclusive political settlement and if we want to remain a positive influence for the Afghan people, especially in supporting their basic needs, we will have to deal with the new authorities."

"This will be subject to strict conditions, regarding the deeds and attitude of the new regime. Both in preserving the political, economic and social achievements for the Afghan citizens, and their human rights, notably of women, girls and minorities. And in terms of the international obligations of Afghanistan – in particular, security, the fight against terrorism, and drug trafficking."

Belgian mission

In recent days, Belgium has evacuated more than 1,000 people from Kabul to Pakistan's capital Islamabad as part of the 'Red Kite' operation, and several flights have been flying between Islamabad to Melsbroek military base with evacuees on board.

An Airbus A330 MRTT with 198 evacuated Afghan Belgians and people with a link to Belgium landed at the military base on Wednesday morning, whilst a second flight with 272 people is expected around 9:30 AM.

All passengers of these flights are taken to the Peutie military barracks for security and health screening.

On Tuesday, as a result of the Taliban banning people from travelling to the airport, Belgium secretly transported around 250 people on five buses from Kabul to the airport to be evacuated, according to reports from VRT NWS, however, this has not yet been confirmed by the federal government.

Previously, people on the list to be evacuated had to travel to the airport themselves, meaning this would be the first time since Belgium's arrival in Afghanistan that people were evacuated from the city itself.

The operation could end by Friday, as the US has given allies a deadline of 27 August to complete evacuations, according to reports from De Tijd citing Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder.

"The objective, in any case, is to get these people out as quickly as possible: date or no date, we have multiplied the slots as soon as we had the authorisations," she said.

Belgium has also asked the US to extend its presence at Kabul airport throughout September.

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