Belgium ends evacuations from Kabul airport amid terror threat
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Belgium ends evacuations from Kabul airport amid terror threat

A plane from Islamabad after landing at the military airport in Melsbroek. Credit: Belga

Belgium announced the end of the evacuation phase from Kabul as part of its Operation Red Kite, through which Belgians and foreigners, including Afghans, who aided Belgian and international organisations, were evacuated.

Five more flights were carried out on Wednesday between Kabul and Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, where the base for the Belgian mission was located, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Twitter.

“The Federal Government has decided to end the evacuations from Kabul airport, in view of the evolving situation in Afghanistan and in agreement with other European partners,” De Croo wrote on Wednesday evening.

“Since 9:30 PM (Belgian time), all employees of Operation Red Kite and the evacuees have been gathered in Islamabad,” he stated, adding that, in the next few days, Belgium will “continue the repatriation of the evacuees and the contingent of Operation Red Kite to our country.”

All Belgian soldiers are expected to remain in Pakistan for the time being, according to reports from De Standaard.

In total, Belgium has already taken some 1,400 people out of Afghanistan in the past week, and several trips have already been made to bring people back to Belgium from Islamabad.

It was already announced on Tuesday that, as a result of the chaotic situation on the ground, the Taliban militant group which has seized power in the country would no longer allow Afghan nationals or foreigners to travel to the airport in Kabul.

This resulted in Belgium secretly transporting around 250 people on five buses from Kabul to the airport to be evacuated, according to reports from VRT NWS.

On Thursday, a similar attempt was less successful, as several buses were used again, but one bus was stopped at a Taliban checkpoint, after which shots were reportedly fired.

De Croo’s statement comes after US President Joe Biden revealed there was an “acute and growing risk of an attack” from a local branch of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan and said flights had to end as a result.

Several countries, which were racing to evacuate their nationals and other eligible people, including Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, have now issued advice to their citizens not to travel to Kabul airport, and have told those on the ground, waiting to be evacuated, to leave immediately.

At the airport, a second, important entrance – Abbey Gate – has been closed, as well as the North Gate, making evacuations more difficult as countries are racing against time to complete their missions before 31 August, after which the Taliban said they will not allow any foreign evacuations.

At 9:30 AM on Thursday, De Croo and the other competent ministers, including Foreign Affairs Minister Sophie Wilmès, will hold a press conference, to give more details about the next steps.