Indian embassy staff in Kabul reach home in high-risk evacuation by IAF

The Indian Air Force had a tough time rescuing embassy staff and security personnel as the Taliban kept an eye on people flying to India

All Indians stuck in Afghanistan landed at Jamnagar (Gujarat) by IAF's C-17 globemaster aircraft on Tuesday morning. | Pic for representational purpose

A pair of the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s C-17 transport aircraft was tasked with mission-mode evacuation as it flew into besieged Afghanistan airspace. The IAF’s heavy lift and transport planes were moving into war-torn territory with sparse-to-no airway or landing guidance. The only consolation was that the air traffic control (ATC) at the Kabul airport was taken over by the US armed forces to enable troop movement and evacuation, hours before the country also stepped up deployment at the airport to 6000. This was after the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15.

The staff at the embassy, including the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), had been asked to be ready for military evacuation. Reports said the Taliban had been doing a recce and subsequently keeping a close watch on the Green Zone, the district that houses embassies and diplomatic offices.

The threats escalated as reports poured in that the Taliban raided the Shahir Visa Agency, which processed visas for people willing to travel to India.

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The first batch of 45 embassy personnel were intercepted by armed Taliban as they were moved in a convoy to the airport on August 16. Reports said the militia took away the personal belongings of some of the staffers. They boarded the first flight. The rest of the team, 120 of them in total, including India’s Ambassador Rudrendra Tandon, got stuck as the road to the airport was closed with mobs surroundings the airport establishment.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had to speak to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday night to commandeer some forces to get all Indians to the airport.

After this intervention, the second team too boarded the aircraft. They landed safely at the Jamnagar IAF base in Gujarat on Tuesday.

India has been facing numerous hurdles in its attempts to bring people back home safely with the security situation deteriorating sharply over the last few days as the Taliban fighters advanced rapidly towards the Afghan capital and finally assumed complete control on August 15. Taliban’s return to power after 20 years meant that Indian officials had to be extra cautious, thus making the task of safely getting them out of Afghanistan all the more difficult. In fact, Taliban had been keeping a close watch on people travelling to India.

“Your welcome has an impact on all of us. Thank you to the Indian Air Force who flew us out under conditions that are not normal,” Ambassador Rudrendra Tandon said on landing at Jamnagar.

“It’s not that we’ve abandoned people of Afghanistan. Their welfare and our relationship with them is very much in our mind. We’ll try and continue our interaction with them, I can’t exactly say in what form the situation is changing,” Tandon said.

Also read: Taliban announces amnesty for all, urges women to join government

The scene at the Kabul airport was one of chaos and pathos as as thousands of anxious Afghan nationals reached there, hoping to catch any flight that will take them out of Afghanistan. It was mayhem as thousands of Afghans were seen on tarmac, desperate to escape the Taliban rule.

After initial chaos, the Kabul Airport is now under the control of the United States. The US forces have operationalised the airport to allow rescue flights.

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