Afghan evacuation ‘completely over’

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Norway pulled its last remaining military personnel out of Afghanistan in the early morning hours of Monday. That also brings an end to the chaotic evacuation of  both Norwegian and Afghan civilians during the past week, and the closure of Norway’s last remaining military field hospital at the airport in Kabul.

Groups of refugees from Afghanistan waited to board one of the last military evacuations from Kabul, before it all ended on Monday, at least for now. PHOTO: Luftforsvaret/Royal Norwegian Air Force

A deadly terrorist attack along the airport’s perimeter late last week hastened the pull-out, with the last Norwegian military flight taking off at 4:34am Monday.  The Taliban, which regained power a week earlier after 20 years of war against US and NATO forces, had also ordered all foreign military to leave Afghanistan by September 1st. It later allowed entry of special forces, also from Norway, after the terrorist attack in which both the Taliban and western troops were targets.

The Norwegian defense department announced Monday morning, however, that “the miltary is now completely out of Afghanistan, and there are no Norwegian soldiers or Norwegian military personnel left in the country.”

“With that, Norway’s military engagement in Afghanistan is completely over, after nearly 20 years of participation in allied operations in the country.”

Military hospital packed up, too
Around 40 Norwegian soldiers had remained at the airport in Kabul, including military medics that ran the airport’s field hospital along with US forces. The team of Norwegian special forces had also “contributed to the evacuation of civilians to Norway” and taken part in the withdrawal of the last Norwegian soldiers from the country.”

They reportedly were all picked up by one of the Norwegian C-130J Hercules aircraft, Frigg, tied to the evacuation of hundreds of people over the past two weeks. The flight was bound for Tbilisi, Georgia, where the military set up a temporary transit base from which refugees have been initially processed and sent on to other Scandinavian destinations. The Norwegian forces were due to land in Oslo later on Monday. The temporary base in Tbilisi will now be shut down as well.

Norway has evacuated hundreds of civilians from Kabul, including these here on board a Norwegian military aircraft arriving at a transit base in Tbilisi. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Frederik Ringnes

Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen, who has caught criticism for opting to be off campaigning for his Conservative Party’s re-election on the weekend Kabul fell to the Taliban, was on Monday hailing Norway’s military operations at what he called an airport “surrounded” by the enemy. He noted that the Kabul Airport has been under constant threat from terrorists and that working conditions tied to the evacuation were “extreme.” He said he had “great respect” for the military’s operations.

The military field hospital was initially supposed to keep operating through the end of the year but those plans changed after the events of the past few weeks. No patients remained over the weekend when it was “packed up” and closed.

There were more attacks on the airport in Kabul on Monday but no immediate reports of injuries or deaths. Norway’s special forces had trained Afghanistan’s own elite division called Crisis Response Unit 222 in Afghanistan. Its members are now viewed as targets of both the Taliban and Islamic terrorist organizations. Bakke-Jensen said the military managed to evacuate some, but far from all.

“Now we need to follow the situation (in Afghanistan) and see what we can manage to do afterwards,” Bakke-Jensen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday morning. “The most important thing is for the international community to not turn off the spotlight on Afghanistan, and to hold the Taliban responsible for developments in Afghanistan now.”

Afghan refugees arriving in Norway, meanwhile, have been taken either to the Norwegian immigration agency UDI’s large reception center at Råde near Fredrikstad or to a convention center in Sandefjord. They’ll later be transferred to introduction programs in various towns and cities around Norway as their applicatons for asylum are processed.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund