NZDF to deploy for Afghanistan evacuations

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Image: RNZ.

The government has agreed to help New Zealanders and their families evacuate from Afghanistan, as well as Afghan nationals deemed under risk.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced this afternoon that the Cabinet has also agreed to assist at least 37 Afghan nationals who worked with NZDF, police, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade or who helped with Operation Burnham and who now may be at risk.

An NZDF C-130 and personnel will be deployed for at least a month to help with evacuation efforts, but there are no more details at this stage.

Foreign officials had been working to bring home New Zealanders as Taliban militants secured control of all major Afghan cities.

President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country as the Taliban moved in, signalling the culmination of a long shift in power former NZ prime minister Helen Clark has labelled a "catastrophic failure" of Western foreign policy intelligence.

Ardern was joined by Defence Minister Peeni Henare and Chief of Defence Force Kevin Short to provide an update on the situation in Afghanistan when addressing media.

The prime minister says New Zealand is gravely concerned about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and "the advance of the Taliban and the threat that poses to those attempting to get out, including foreign nationals".

She says the government has offered 53 New Zealand citizens there consular support.

"We are working through this with the utmost urgency," she says.

She says the government will also look at ways New Zealand can support the humanitarian response.

Three aspects of New Zealand's assistance were discussed at Cabinet today, she says.

These were getting NZ citizens and their family out safely; support for Afghan nationals who assisted the NZ Defence Force and may be at risk, and NZ Defence Force deployment to the region to assist with evacuations.

MFAT officials are also looking at providing support to contact affected Afghanis. Potential partners include the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Refugee Agency.

Ardern says Cabinet will continue to make efforts to support New Zealand citizens and their families, and made an in-principle decision to help evacuate Afghan nationals who had helped the NZ Defence Force, police, MFAT, or provided material assistance to the Operation Burnham inquiry.

This applied if there were reasonable grounds to believe the safety of the individual or their immediate family is at risk from their association with New Zealand and no other partner government would be more appropriate to help.

It will apply to the specific individual and their immediate nuclear family only.

Longer term there may be opportunities to resettle additional applicants from Afghanistan, she added.

The government is aware of 37 individuals who had helped the NZDF.

Defence officials are in close contact with partners to discuss operational decisions but this would not be discussed, partially for security reasons.

Chief of Defence Force Kevin Short. Image:  RNZ/Sam Rillstone.

Kevin Short says there will be Defence personnel help with evacuating people, including providing security of the aircraft itself.

"What we will deploy with is people to maintain and operate the aircraft for a number of weeks, and also have our own air movements, maintenance personnel, logistics support, medical and security," he says.

This may or may not include New Zealand's SAS.

"At this stage we're planning to deploy for a month but we're not sure the security situation will allow us to operate for that long, so we'll do as much as we can over the next few weeks."

Ardern says there was no expectation internationally that the situation in Afghanistan would deteriorate so quickly.

"But it has happened rapidly and so we have responded rapidly."

There had until recently been commercial opportunities for people in the country to flee, but that is no longer the case, she says, and the government is doing what it can to help.

Short says the NZDF is planning to work with Australia at this point but may do some New Zealand-only operations as well, if required.

Helping Afghan nationals

Ardern says some Afghan nationals would not have fallen within the criteria created by the 2012 National government, and work is being done to change the criteria but the decisions made by Cabinet now have ditched that completely.

Ardern says individuals will not be evacuated and brought to New Zealand immediately. "That will enable us some time us to work through the wider logistical arrangements around managed isolation," she says.

She says the numbers are believed to be small enough to be manageable within the managed isolation contingency rooms New Zealand already has available.

Communication with people on the ground in Afghanistan is mostly being done at the moment through Immigration New Zealand, and agencies will need to work on expediting identity verification and matching people with lists provided by the New Zealand groups that have received help from locals.

Ardern says agencies for the most part had lists of individuals who had helped them, so any possible fraudulent applications would largely be people impersonating someone else.

The groups that have been identified are the ones who are being prioritised because they are the ones New Zealand has the ability to quickly help in this way.

Short says the troops deployed would not be readied for combat, but instead would have self-protection rules. The US and UK forces will have thousands of troops securing the airfield itself, he says.

He says they are planning on being able to help hundreds of people - about 200 from the initial family groupings of those who have helped the NZDF, and they expect there will be many more, for example those who helped the Operation Burnham inquiry.

Defence Minister Peeni Henare. Image: RNZ/Sam Rillstone.

Appeal to Taliban

Ardern appealed to the Taliban to show, by their actions, the kind of administration they intend to be and allow people to leave safely, take into account the wellbeing of women and girls, and their rights to education.

"The whole world will be watching," she says. "It will all come down to what's demonstrated, it will be all about the actions, not the words."

"New Zealand will always fall back on its values. What we want to see is human rights upheld. We want to see women and girls being able to access work and education - these are things that have traditionally not been available to them when there has been governance by the Taliban."

She says she spoke with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison about operational deployment and says each country would make their own decisions about who they were engaging with and assisting.

She confirmed New Zealand may also help other countries evacuate their foreign nationals.

Henare defended New Zealand's role in the country. He says about 3500 personnel have been sent to Afghanistan in the past 20 years or so, and "if we reflect back on it I am confident, and I believe that, our contribution is a positive one".

The comments were echoed by Ardern. She says every member of the NZDF who went to Afghanistan did so to make the lives of the people there better, "and they did make a difference".


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Posted on 18-08-2021 06:37 | By

I hope they take precautions because Afghanistan doesn’t seem too concerned about Covid restrictions. If fact, you’d think it doesn’t even exist there. Hahaha

@Bob Landy

Posted on 17-08-2021 18:48 | By morepork

Absolutely, 100%. They have a track record and they have no reason to change it. They have shown that nobody (not even the greatest nations on Earth) can enforce their will on them. Afghanistan will remain a third world country locked into superstition and religious extremism, with women treated as they were in the middle Ages, and a handful of leaders controlling the wealth. They are probably pretty pleased with themselves at the moment. Education will be suppressed and supplanted by religion, as has always been the case in primitive societies. Right now they believe that Allah has freed them and the future will be Inshalah. They will implement Shariah Law and Kabul will likely be the centre of a new Caliphate. All anti-Western, Islamic extremist groups will be welcome, and we can expect training camps for terrorists to be based there. The Jihad requires it...


Posted on 17-08-2021 12:33 | By

She is off her rocker if she thinks she can put on a headscarf and pull that pleading face and the Taliban will listen to her. They may well let NZ land a plane and let people leave without blowing them up but it won’t be because of her. Who does she think she is?


Posted on 17-08-2021 00:41 | By

“Ardern appealed to the Taliban to show, by their actions, the kind of administration they intend to be and allow people to leave safely, take into account the wellbeing of women and girls, and their rights to education.” - The Taliban don’t do political correctness.