Norwegian police and members of the military’s special forces have been sent back to Afghanistan, while Norway’s military field hospital in Kabul has to be shut down. The goal is to provide reinforcements and speed work underway to evacuate both Norwegian- and foreign citizens by the Taliban’s deadline of August 31.
“It’s extremely demanding there,” Gen Lt Yngve Odlo, chief of the Norwegian defense department’s operative headquarters, told state broadcaster NRK on Tuesday. He confirmed that around 20 soldiers from the special commando (Forsvarets spesialstyrkar, FS) and the Marinejeger-kommando (MJK) have been sent to Kabul after the Taliban declared victory over Afghanistan just over a week ago.
“The special forces have the competence to contribute under demanding conditions and on short notice,” Odlo told NRK. “This is such a situation. We don’t want to go into detail about what their assignment is, but it has to do with assistance during the evacuation.”
The confirmation comes after another military aircraft from Kabul with more evacuees on board landed in Oslo via Tbilisi in Georgia on Tuesday morning. The numbers of evacuees are finally rising (now to 374, according to Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide) after a week of chaotic conditions around the airport in Kabul that have prevented many Norwegians and other foreigners from gaining access to the airport itself.
Odlo added, however, that the special forces “have contact with and are screening the Afghan citizens who will be sent to Norway.” He said they’re also helping identify Norwegians, Afghans and other foreign nationals. They’re working with Norwegian police who have also arrived in Kabul to speed the evacuation after the Taliban declared that all foreign military presence must cease by August 31. That’s why the Norwegian military field hospital is also shutting down. Norway had wanted to let it remain operative at least through the end of the year, but the Norwegian military would no longer be able to secure it.
Odlo wouldn’t rule out that more special forces may be sent. He said that around 50 soldiers from Norway’s famed special forces unit known as the Telemark Battalion, have also been sent to Tbilisi, which has functioned as a transit station, also for chartered civilian aircraft to bring evacuees on to Norway. Most all of the aircraft flying out of Kabul are large C17 military transport aircraft.
Odlo told NRK that the Telemark Battalion soldiers also are trained in first aid and logistics and will be assisting in the evacuation work. Odlo said the soldiers are also setting up a transit reception center for all those coming from Afghanistan who will be sent on to Norway. It’s processing both Norwegian- and citizens from other countries.
The government planned to hold a press conference Tuesday evening on the situation in Afghanistan that would feature Foreign Minister Søreide (who’s been appearing alone at earlier press conferences on the Afghan crisis this week) plus Justice Minister Monica Mæland (who’s in charge of the state police) and Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen. He’s come under criticism this week for spending his time campaigning and at home in Tromsø when Kabul fell to the Taliban and emergency evacuations began.