Afghanistan: focus is on bringing NZers home
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she has spoken with families in Afghanistan and the immediate focus is on bringing New Zealanders, those at risk, and their immediate families to New Zealand.
Afghanistan has been in global headlines after US and other western forces pulled out of the country, leaving the Taliban to retake control of the country.
Yesterday, Ardern announced New Zealand would try to bring New Zealanders and those who helped New Zealand's forces in Afghanistan to leave the country, sending a C-130 Hercules aircraft to assist in evacuations.
Today, Ardern says the New Zealand Defence Force is working alongside other countries and partners, and is talking about deploying a significant number of personnel to secure landing sites.
"Certainly I am aware that commercial flights have started cancelling their route into Kabul ... the airport isn't a secure environment."
She says it's a difficult environment for anyone to operate in right now.
"We may be deployed into third countries and so on ... nor necessarily would we share every detail."
She says the priority is to get every new Zealander out of Afghanistan as well as those who are at risk as a result of helping New Zealand's efforts there, but the government cannot give guarantees about timing.
She says she will not characterise the situation as New Zealand relying on Australian forces to help people get out of Afghanistan. "It will be, as you can see, a joint effort across the international community."
Judith Collins this morning said the government had been "cruel" not to earlier bring to New Zealand the people who helped New Zealand's efforts.
Ardern says the previous National government had brought in the initial criteria for who could be brought out of Afghanistan, and that no one expected things to change there as quickly as they did.
Ardern says Cabinet is acting "very quickly" to get to Afghanistan and support the evacuation of New Zealanders and people at risk.
Asked about the Taliban's assurances that freedoms will continue, Ardern says no one is "taking anyone at their word", and what will matter is actions.
"Particularly around human rights and particularly from New Zealand's perspective we'll be looking to see how women and girls under a Taliban regime will be treated. That's been a particular focus for us, and our presence in the time that we have been there has been for instance seeing that women and girls are able to access the basics, such as education."
She says the immediate focus is on bringing New Zealanders, those at risk, and their immediate families to New Zealand. "You can only imagine if you're here and you're watching those images in Afghanistan and you're seeing what is happening there how distressing that would be."
Earlier, Defence Minister Peeni Henare said the NZDF would not be required to land in the capital, Kabul, but will be providing airlift support in and around Afghanistan. He confirmed last night the aircraft would be in the country by Wednesday at the earliest.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled over the weekend as Taliban forces closed in on Kabul, and those who have opposed the Taliban regime have been trying to do the same with fears of retaliation and a crackdown on freedoms, particularly women's rights.
US President Joe Biden today said he stood squarely behind his decision to quit the country, that US forces could no longer make a difference and the mission in Afghanistan had never been for nation-building.
About MIQ: Ardern says New Zealand has always taken the approach of assuming every person in MIQ may have Covid-19. "There can be no room for complacency," she says.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, speaking about a case of transmission at Jet Park quarantine facility over a month ago, says work is being done to identify what happened, how and why it happened.
He says the risk of transmission continues to grow as the virus continues to mutate.
"Now we're dealing with the Delta variant which is more transmissible again, and we have to work on the basis that's likely to continue - that the virus is likely to get more and more transmissible - so this is far from over."