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Europe's capitals scramble to evacuate nationals from Kabul after Taliban takeover

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By Euronews with AFP
French soldiers prepare to board a military Airbus A400M to evacuate French citizens from Afghanistan, Monday, Aug.16, 2021 in Orleans, central France.
French soldiers prepare to board a military Airbus A400M to evacuate French citizens from Afghanistan, Monday, Aug.16, 2021 in Orleans, central France.   -   Copyright  Etat-Major des Armees via AP
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The evacuation of diplomats, other foreigners and Afghans who worked with them was being organised on Monday in a state of emergency, amid scenes of panic following Kabul's fall to the Taliban.

At Kabul airport runways were overrun with people clamouring to escape the country, so much so that civilian and military flights had to be suspended.

Thousands of Afghans, never having worked for foreigners and having no chance of obtaining a visa for Western countries, rushed to the airport in a climate of total chaos.

While commercial flights were cancelled, Turkey sent a Turkish Airlines Boeing 777 to repatriate its nationals. The plane, with 324 people on board, landed in Istanbul in the afternoon. According to the Flightradar24 website, it was the only civilian plane to take off from Kabul on Monday.

From Madrid to The Hague, via Paris, Bucharest, London... everywhere, European governments were flat out organising rescue efforts, although plans threatened to be scuppered by the closure of Kabul airport later in the day.

Belgium decided to send a military aircraft to try to repatriate around 100 people, Belgian nationals and holders of humanitarian visas.

A military plane was "currently en route to evacuate interpreters, local embassy staff and families first from Kabul" and several flights are planned, Dutch Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld said on Monday.

Germany, for its part, wants to deploy soldiers in Afghanistan to evacuate its last nationals and threatened Afghans, according to German parliamentary sources.

Berlin has identified 2,500 people who could be evacuated, mostly Afghans and their families who worked with the German military.

In addition, there are 2,000 other people, lawyers and human rights defenders. Taking their families into account, their number jumps to 10,000, said Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Spain announced Monday the dispatch of two military planes to Dubai for "the first phase" of evacuating its diplomatic staff, Afghans and their families.

All Swedish personnel deployed in Afghanistan (19 people in total) also left last night for an American military base in Doha. Finland, also moved to evacuate its diplomatic staff on Monday.

In the Czech capital Prague, a military plane carrying 46 Czechs and Afghans, including women and children, landed on Monday. In Rome, some 50 Italian diplomats and 20 Afghans arrived at midday.

"Italy is working with its European partners for a solution to this crisis which preserves human rights and in particular those of women", declared Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

Paris for its part deployed military reinforcements to the United Arab Emirates to facilitate the evacuation of French nationals.

The first evacuation rotation organised by the French army between its base in the Emirates and the Afghan capital was scheduled by "the end of Monday", according to Defence Minister Florence Parly, specifying that there were “several dozen” French people to be evacuated, as well as “people who are under our protection”.

The UK has deployed 600 troops to ensure the evacuation of its nationals and local staff. A first plane arrived overnight at the Brize Norton base in central England.

A group of 782 Afghans will be evacuated "in the next 24 to 36 hours," Defense Minister Ben Wallace said. "Our goal is to reach 1,200 to 1,500" evacuees per day, he said.

According to Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, "Denmark is one of the few countries to have succeeded in obtaining air capacity in this region".

Romania is also seeking to evacuate its 35 citizens still present. "We have two options: a NATO plane which is due to go there shortly or one of our own planes. (...) The fastest would be to use the NATO plane, which will take them to Georgia where we would go and get them. The other option is to send a device directly to Afghanistan,”Prime Minister Florin Citu said.

Three Swiss expatriates were evacuated from Kabul and efforts are underway to remove around 40 of their Afghan colleagues and their families, according to the Swiss foreign minister.

For its part, Russia said it did not plan to evacuate its embassy.

Russia is among the countries that have received guarantees from the Taliban regarding the security of their embassies, explained Zamir Kabulov, the Kremlin's envoy for Afghanistan.