Australia, Georgia, Ireland, Turkey and Ukraine Amongst Nations Undertaking Daring Feats in Humanitarian Evacuation of Citizens and Afghans from Kabul – Diplomatic and Military Coordination Lauded

 Australia, Georgia, Ireland, Turkey and Ukraine Amongst Nations Undertaking Daring Feats in Humanitarian Evacuation of Citizens and Afghans from Kabul – Diplomatic and Military Coordination Lauded

by Miceál O’Hurley
Diplomatic Editor

DUBLIN – Afghanistan fell to the Taliban more quickly than anyone thought.  Though certainly not bloodless, the demise of the Afghan government and the occupation of the capital by Taliban forces was considerably less costly than most imagined or feared.  Diplomats and consular officials immediately seized the opportunity to do what they do best – use their relations with partners and care for those in need.

The nightmarish scramble to evacuate diplomats, NGO personnel, civilian contractors, citizens and Afghan partners appeared like a scene from Titanic – you knew there would be incredible loss of life – and yet there would also be remarkable acts of human courage, sacrifice and daring to evacuate and rescue as many as possible.  From all corners of the globe diplomats tapped their networks (official and otherwise) in an effort to safeguard human life and evacuate the citizens for which they had a responsibility, and many for which they did not other than their sense of humanity.

The stories are remarkable.  U.S. efforts alone accounted for the evacuation of some 122,000 people – the population of a mid-sized city.  For all of the focus on the U.S. efforts, however, those of nations both small and large tell an equally important story of diplomatic ingenuity, the value of networking and friendships, multilateral cooperation and sleepless nights and endless energy.  I have no doubt that soon these stories will be unpacked and will serve as the fodder for books, novels and movies.  Today, however, would simply like to acknowledge just some of the many success stories created by diplomats working in the background to facilitate one of the largest human evacuations in history in the span of only a few, short, hectic days.

When dozens of Australians were stymied from making their way to the Kabul Airport, despite pledges by the Taliban to facilitate safe passage, a multinational effort to extract them from the city was put in train.  In the midst of all the chaos, a military convoy would surely attract attention if not live fire from the Taliban.  Throughout the night of 27 August Australian diplomats, led by Ambassador Geoffrey Tooth, joined their military attaché to begin planning their ingeniously simple, but still highly dangerous operation.

Betting that in the midst of the pandemonium following the fall of Kabul the vacuum of orderly power would present and opportunity, Australia sent three buses into Kabul to collect Australians and Afghans who held valid Visas.  Connecting with citizens by cell phone the Embassy instructed them where to find the three extraction points.  Both citizens and Afghans with Visas were encouraged to avoid carrying baggage and simply leave with the most basic of items, most importantly identification and Visas, and make their way to the three extraction points as inconspicuously as possible.

One of the more difficult moments of the 12-hour trips took place when each bus attempted to gain access to the Abbey Gate which facilitated access to the airfield at Kabul Airport.  Slowing the buses to be permitted passage by Taliban guards posed significant risks.  Equally difficult was parsing the crowds of Afghans gathered outside the gate pleading to gain entrance.  So thick was the throng that several Afghans were crushed resulting in loss of life.  Still, the Australian buses made it through.  The plan, though simplistic in its overall strategy, worked only because of the meticulous coordination and clear communications by Australian diplomats and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) who engaged with countless others partners in their multilateral evacuation effort.

Australia evacuated more than 4,100 people, including their armed forces, in the nine days after the Taliban first entered Kabul.  After the cessation of flights caused by two suicide bombers who attacked the crowds and security forces at Kabul Airport’s Abbey Gate on 27 August.  Australia’s diplomatic corps led evacuation mission using buses begun on 28 August was repeated over the following three days, using differing extraction points for security reasons, until the Australian evacuation mission ended on 30 August.

Little has been made of Georgia’s role in Afghanistan over the past twenty years but it has been significant.  Actively participating in the NATO-led operations, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Resolute Support Mission (RSM), at the peak of its contribution to the ISAF mission between 2012-2014, Georgia had up to 1,500 military personnel in country.  As part of the RSM mission, Georgia deployed 857 personnel under different Allied commands making it the largest per-capita contributor to the mission and remarkably the single largest non-NATO provider of manpower.  Throughout these missions Georgia’s airspace and its territory were used as a transit route to Afghanistan.

Georgia was active the final stage of the RSM mission, supporting the withdrawal of NATO and partner forces from Afghanistan.  This included providing the host nation support and full transit opportunities through Georgian territory.

Committed to the military drawdown and humanitarian evacuation process, Georgia up-scaled its airlift commitment beginning on 14 August.  Contributing three C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft of the Heavy Airlift Wing (HAW), operating as part of the Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) programme, Georgia pre-positioned the aircraft at the Tbilisi Airport to support the operations.  These heavy-lift aircraft conducted regular flights to evacuate military and civilian personnel from Afghanistan in the turmoil of the days following the Taliban entering Kabul.

Anticipating the chaos, and working with other NATO member States, Georgia rapidly transformed part of their facilities at Tbilisi International Airport to process, feed, service, provide sanitary facilities and medical treatment and care for evacuees from Afghanistan.  Several States quickly established a diplomatic, military and civilian aid presence at Tbilisi International Airport to assist their nationals as well as Afghan evacuees.  A Georgian military base adjacent to the Tbilisi International Airport immediately became committed to the humanitarian care efforts by erecting enormous, multi-purpose tents to host, feed and accommodate evacuees on an emergency basis.  Evacuees will be provided with the temporary accommodations on the territory of Georgia.

In the maelstrom of the mass evacuation from Kabul Airport, Georgia undertook more than 20 return flights between Tbilisi and Kabul, facilitating the evacuation of more than 2,500 people.

Recognising the rapidly deteriorating environment in Afghanistan and anticipating the needs of their many partners in NATO and Europe, Georgia initiated an interagency task force responsible for supporting the transit operation with all necessary measures.  Georgia’s resonse included their Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Zalkaliani, coordinating with his counterpart in Norway, Her Excellency Ms. Ine Eriksen Søreide, to have Norweigian Armed Forces support evacuee transit operations in Tbilisi.  Norway’s robust contribution included a vital Role 1 Aid Station equipped and staffed to receive up to 35 patients at any moment.  This sophisticated aid station is capable of providing critical care if required.

Recognising the regional security threat posed by the collapse of the Kabul government, Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs deployed their diplomats widely to assist a multitude of international organisations including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Open Government Partnership (OGP), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) in evacuation of their staff.

Georgia’s efforts have greatly enhanced the NATO response to this evolving crisis.  Georgian armed services’ role in more than 20 evacuation flights in a handful of days and the transformation of Tbilisi International Airport provded critical to the humanitarian mission in relieving Afghanistan.  Tbilisi’s configuring an adjacent military base for humanitarian aid and their diplomatic coordination with their multinational counterparts on the ground in Kabul, as well as in Norway and throughout Europe, has proven vital to reducing humanitarian suffering and protecting human life.  The efforts of Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, its diplomats and consular officers have proven themselves worthy and capable partners to her transatlantic partners in NATO which has already boosted NATO’s standing and will undoubtedly be recognised as a proof of readiness to progress their membership into NATO.

A C-17 Globemaster heavy-lift aircraft of the Indian Air Force landed at Jamnagar on Tuesday, 31 August, completing its Afghanistan rescue mission.  Carrying more than 120 Indian diplomats, officials, journalists and evacuees, the Indian Air Force once again proved its ability to support daring rescue missions under the most harrying of situations.  This was significantly so in the face of the whirlwind collapse of the Afghan government to the Taliban which created a dangerous situation on the ground.

India’s diplomats and military command coordinated with their partners in Tajikistan to pre-position a C-17 at Ayni Air Base to be ready to take part in humanitarian rescue operations at a moment’s notice.  With requests from a plethora of countries to gain much sought after landing permission to perform evacuations, India’s diplomats worked with the U.S. air operations controllers to gain permission to land for a rapid evacuation operation.

During the Taliban’s rapid occupation of Kabul, India’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, His Excellency Mr. Rudrendra Tandon, commented on the the deteriorating situation in Kabul, describing it as, “complex and quite fluid.”

Despite the disarray in Kabul, India’s diplomats were able to facilitate the draw-down of their mission of more than 192 personnel within three days in a remarkably orderly fashion.  The operation was conducted in two phases without incident.

Prior to the evacuation, Ambassador Tandon, whom only took up his post in Kabul last August, indicated that the Embassy had facilitated the evacuation of Indian civilians, many of whom were in distress, even sheltering some within the compound until the evacuation rescue operation could take place.  India’s diplomatic coordination and the work of their military ensured the humanitarian mission was highly successful.

Ireland’s penchant for its ‘Wild Geese’ going abroad on military adventures came to an end when the burgeoning Republic gained a reputation as peacemakers and volunteers for humanitarian NGOs around the globe.  The conflict in Afghanistan provided ample opportunity for many humanitarian aid volunteers.

Despite not taking part in the military operations in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, Ireland had approximately 110 citizens and permanent residents present in Afghanistan as the country collapsed into near chaos.  Thanks in large part to the efforts of Foreign Affairs and Defence Minister Simon Coveney, T.D. his order for the safe evacuation of the Emergency Consular Assistance Team in Kabul, and the evacuation of those Irish citizens and residents who wanted to return to Ireland, was achieved without incident.  His timing was impeccable.

With a rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground following Afghanistan’s President fleeing the country, leaving the Taliban to enter Kabul virtually unimpeded, Coveney acted decisively.  With the critically expert contribution from Chief of the Defence Forces, Major General Seán Clancy, Coveney ordered Ireland’s ultra-elite Ranger Wing to assist with the humanitarian evacuation of Irish diplomats and consular staff as well as Irish citizens and residents.  The swift action by Coveney, the Department of Foreign Affairs, General Clancy and the Defence Forces, ensured that Ireland would see its evacuees depart Kabul in safety before the threat situation devolved into attacks upon Kabul Airport.

Coveney and Clancy’s assessment of the situation was to prove prescient.

Ireland’s Army Ranger Wing deployed with little notice and landed at Kabul Airport ready to execute their mission – the safe extraction of Irish diplomats, consular staff, citizens and residents.  Having laid the groundwork through meticulous record searches, personal contacts with Irish citizens and residents in Afghanistan, as well as family members in Ireland, the Department of Foreign Affairs Emergency Consular Assistance Team determined there were at least 36 people to be evacuated while approximately 60 Irish citizens and their families would remain in Afghanistan along with another 15 Afghans who enjoyed Irish residency.  Coveney and the Department of Foreign Affairs continue to work with partners to facilitate any Irish citizen and their families, or those enjoying Irish residency, to leave the country when conditions allow.

The very last flight to depart Kabul Airport before the suicide bombing attack at the Abbey Gate carried Irish evacuees.  Coveney and the Department of Foreign Affairs, as well as Clancy and the Defence Forces earned their pay and proved their mettle by acting quickly, keeping calm, coordinating effectively with their diplomatic partners and succeeding where others failed.

Members of Ireland’s elite Army Ranger Wing were sent to Kabul only days before the Irish evacuation began.  The deployment of the Rangers was accompanied by two, high-ranking officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs.  After liaison with all members of the Department of Foreign Affairs Emergency Consular Assistance Team, as well as Irish citizens, residents and their dependents, the Rangers secured the personnel, made cursory medical evaluations and began the secure hand-off to partner countries who would facilitate their return to Ireland.

Following the evacuation eight of the Rangers departed from Kabul Airport aboard a French military aircraft that would transport them to Paris before their return to Ireland while another three Rangers accompanied fifteen Irish citizens who boarded a Finnish aircraft.  The Finnish aircraft made use of the humanitarian processing and support facilities Georgia had painstakingly prepared at Tbilisi International Airport before traveling on to Helsinki.  All personnel, both military and civilian, as well as personnel from the Department of Foreign Affairs have now reportedly returned to Ireland.

Speaking on background, not for attribution, a senior diplomat in Europe told why he believed Ireland was able to achieve this, “…by piggybacking on its partners – Your Minister [Simon Coveney] has made his rounds, paid his dues, proven a reliable partner and given good advice to his counterparts.  He is trusted.  The unprecedented willingness of Ireland’s partners to assist in his requests are a testament to Ireland’s standing in the diplomatic community.”   He continued, “Some will say it had everything to do with Ireland’s sitting on the [UN] Security Council.  Rubbish!  Governments were willing to help because Coveney and Ireland are reliable partners.  And, I do say, they helped Ireland at the risk of being accused of giving up seats their own citizens might have taken.  That’s how sound Ireland’s DFA has made its relationships across Europe.”

New Zealand
As if out of a pulp fiction spy novel, New Zealand’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade diplomats operating out of the Kabul Airport began communicating with New Zealanders using encrypted messaging.  In a city where civil control had broken down, the Taliban were conducting house-to-house searches, ISIS-K and other insurgent groups were trying to ambush Westerners and the window was closing for evacuation, New Zealand’s diplomats rose to the occasion.

Thanks to widely available, mostly free, mobile phone applications it is possible for people to communicate using encryption far superior to the ‘unbreakable’ German Enigma cyphers of World War II (they were broken, thank you Alan Turing).  New Zealanders who were trying to access Kabul Airport were given instructions by diplomats and consular officials using encrypted platforms telling them where they should positioned for safe passage through the Abbey Gate at Kabul Airport.

According to pool reports, New Zealanders printed ‘NZ’ signs, took their children and a single small back and began to make their way to the exfiltration point.  This included one person in a wheelchair.  A group-chat message gave them a photograph and directions to where they needed to be where they would be identified then taken across a canal and slipped into Kabul Airport under a wire fence.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) advised New Zealand citizens and visa holders that moving in groups of family and friends might prove most effective.

New Zealand Defense Forces sent photographs on the encrypted application to a point northeast of the Baron Hotel Gate, across a putrid, sewage-filled canal.  Citizens were told not to show their ‘Kiwi’ passports out of concern, according to one official, the “Talibs don’t like it.”  With one member of the party confined to a wheelchair the group moved slowly towards the exfiltration point.  As if out of the escape scene in Shawshank Redemption, the wheelchair bound woman was lowered 1.8 meters down into the canal flowing with more than half-a-metre of sewage only to require being lifted out of the sewage canal again on the other side.  Their dedication to one another was remarkable.

In all of the chaos and confusion, sadly, one member of the party got separated from the group.  He would never reach the extraction.

While approaching the fence for identification the New Zealanders found that waving their ‘NZ’ signs were meaningless to U.S. Marines guarding the perimeter.  Despite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s best efforts, in all the commotion and the fluidity of the situation, word never filtered down to the U.S. forces.

Still, approximately 30 people had made it through this route the day before.  With the last Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules having departed the week before, crossing the fence to board flights from partner nations was now the only hope of leaving Kabul by the Taliban’s 31 August deadline.

Imperfect as it was, the group was sent further satellite images of the airport showing where they could make contact with New Zealand forces whom could assist them.  A series of photos went back and forth with lightning speed, despite the encryption.  Mobile phone coverage was dodgy at best, possibly because they were being jammed by allied forces trying to deprive insurgents or the Taliban from timely communications.  All the while, mobile phone batteries were draining with the possibility that communications could be lost altogether, at any moment.

Observant members of the crowds surrounding the airport began shadowing the group of New Zealanders, certain they knew a way in.  This posed a new security threat – were these people friendlies trying to escape, or possibly insurgents trying to infiltrate the airfield to blow-up an aircraft and bring evacuations to a halt?  The group communicated their concern.

Diplomats reached-out with a tried and trusted tool, a password which only friendlies with whom they were communicating over encrypted channels could access.  The password was transmitted over the group chat messaging service, “If you have a pen, can you write TAUPO on the paper in big letters please. It will make it easier to find you.”

The New Zealanders trying to cross the barriers weren’t the only ones on tender hooks.  New Zealand’s soldiers and diplomats couldn’t pick-out the group because of the enormous crowds which moved like waves beneath the observation towers.  As warning shots rang out to keep the crowds at bay, the situation weighed on everyone.

Conscious of the draining batteries in the mobile phones, new photographs and messages were exchanged.  Without reliable signal phone calls could not be completed.  Things were getting desperate.  Worse still, the previous code word, TAUPO, may have been compromised.  A new password was sent – CUP.

The group was given one last instruction – to meet by a bridge where they could be met.  Not wanting to give away the position by stationing troops at the bridge, a roving patrol of New Zealand Defense Forces would make contact with the group.  They would have to wait to be found.  Time seemed to move slowly making their exposed position by the bridge more dangerous by the minute.   Communications went silent.

Suddenly, a burst of messages came through the encrypted application – five people from the group had been located and brought through the barrier – including the wheelchair bound woman.  Soon, a 19-member patrol of New Zealand soldiers met the group and whisked them through the barriers.  Exhausted, frightened and yet somewhat relieved, they were given water and underwent medical triage.  After being processed, the group were evacuated on military aircraft from partner countries and flown to the United Arab Emirates before eventually being taken to New Zealand.

Regrettably, during a press conference when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern briefed the press, she had to admit, “We did not get everyone out.”  However, thanks to the tireless efforts of New Zealand’s diplomats and defence forces more than 376 people had been flown out of Afghanistan.  Unofficial reports are than an estimated 200 people were left behind, mostly Afghans who had assisted the New Zealand effort in country.  New Zealand no longer maintains a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan due to the lack of security, making efforts to evacuate others extremely difficult.

South Africa
A South African pilot, his wife and a multinational crew working out of Kenya responded to a request for assistance and flew their 41-year-old Boeing 727-200 civilian jet to Kabul Airport to assist in the rescue and evacuation of more than 600 Afghans people on Friday, one day before the evacuation deadline agreed by the Taliban.

The act was exceptional given the disarray on the ground at Kabul Airport following the suicide bomber attacks that killed more than 170 people only hours earlier.  According to the South African pilot, Captain Neil Steyl, “We received a desperate call from the U.S. State Department’s officials in Kabul after the suicide bombing attack on Thursday night [asking whether we would be willing to assist with mercy flights].”

Captain Neil Steyl and his wife, Lizanne, assembled an international crew and left for Kabul on a mercy-flight departing from Nairobi.  The couple both work for Safe Air Company in Nairobi.  The four decades old civilian jet, a Kenyan registered Boeing 727-200 bearing the number 5Y-IRE, nicknamed “Irene” too off from Nairobi.  The mission?  Evacuate an Afghanistan Special Forces unit and their families before the Taliban closed the window on access to Kabul Airport.  Viewed as ‘traitors’ by the Taliban, the unit and their family members were being specifically hunted by the Taliban for retribution, usually meaning death.

In a ‘hot load’ taking only forty minutes, the Irene boarded 308 people and began to taxi for takeoff.  Unfortunately, despite having stripped the 727-200 of seats (considered a ‘cargo configuration’), almost half of the personnel they were tasked with evacuating would have to wait for a return visit.

The second sortie was held-up while the U.S. conducted a solemn military ceremony to evacuate the bodies of the 13 Marines that had died in the suicide attack the previous day.  However, with now 329 more Afghan Special Forces and their families aboard, the Irene departed for Tajikistan where the special operators and their family would be housed in a tent community until the U.S. determines when and where they will go in the United States or in a partner country.

U.S. Department of State officials declined to comment when contacted.  However, according to Captain Steyl, the urgency of the request to airlines such as the Safe Air Company was “compelling.”  He added, “It was humbling to experience the sheer relief and appreciation from their side that we came in time to save them.”

In a tightly packed train of heavy-lift military aircraft in orbit around Kabul Airport an outlier managed to land – a civilian aircraft.  Turkish Airlines Flight 706, a Boeing 777, departed Istanbul en route to Kabul for what was supposed to be a regularly scheduled flight.  Between takeoff and approach to Kabul Airport the situation on the ground had deteriorated so quickly that by the time the Turkish Airliner entered Afghanistan via neighbouring Turkmenistan airspace, they were ordered to take-up a more than two hour holding pattern above the chaos that was Kabul, landing at 7:44 a.m.

Unable to make its 8:45 a.m. departure, Flight 706 took on 324 passengers, all Turkish citizens.  The flight sat on the ground, waiting its turn to taxi for takeoff, all while gunfire could occasionally be heard outside the airport.  Just after 1:00 p.m. the civilian Turkish Airlines flight, surrounded by countless military flights in orbit and on the tarmac, managed to takeoff, rescuing all aboard and returning to Istanbul.

Turkish diplomats had been working around the clock prior to the flight to ensure that any Turkish citizen that wanted to leave Kabul could make the flight.  Ambassador Cihad Erginay and Turkey’s Department of Foreign Affairs coordinated with multiple partners on the ground to ensure this last Turkish Airlines flight depart safely.  Turkish Airlines has since suspended regular passenger service to Kabul indefinitely.

Turkey’s relations in Afghanistan are significant.  Talks were underway last week in Qatar to determine what, if any role Turkey will have in operating the Kabul Airport in the future.  Turkey has significant experience in airport administration and management and their presence is considered critical to the reestablishment of regular civilian flights in and out of Kabul Airport as well as in facilitating future humanitarian efforts.  However, conflicts over Turkey’s ability to operate in a safe and enduring manner continues to be a barrier to such plans.  President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has pledged to maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, unique amongst NATO member States.  The diplomatic mission had been operating from Kabul Airport but has since returned to their Embassy in Kabul’s city centre.

One of the most truly heroic and ultraistic rescue operations was conducted by Ukraine – not of its own people or its partners – but of Afghans who had been of assistance to Canada during their 20-year involvement in Afghanistan.  Ukraine and Canada have an intrinsically strong, enduring and mutually close relationship.  According to 2016 Census, Ukrainian Canadians number some 1,359,655 people.  It was not surprising then that the bilateral bonds between the two countries resulted in a joint rescue operation during the despotic collapse of the Afghan government.

On 28 August, the Globe and Mail (a Toronto newspaper) reached out to Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy.  One of the Afghan translators who worked for the newspaper, along with other translators that had assisted the Canadian Armed Services, were stranded in country.  Canada’s last flight out of Kabul airport departed the day before.  Responding to their partner’s request, President Zelensky, his military commanders and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Koleba, put in plan a daring rescue mission where Ukrainian special forces would assist Canada in extracting those waiting for evacuation.

The plan unfolded only hours after two suicide bombers attacked the crowd and U.S. troops guarding Kabul Airport’s Abbey gate, leaving 170 dead including scores of Afghanis and 13 U.S. Marines.  A mission launched in the thick of such uncertainly posed countless risks and intelligence was sketchy, at best.  Still, Ukrainian special forces, seasoned from having defended their homeland for almost eight years from Russian incursion and temporary occupation were at the top of their form yet fully cognisant of the inherent risks to themselves and those they sought to rescue.

Taking risks other militaries refused to take, Ukrainian troops exfiltrated the airfield, on foot, leading a patrol past ISIS-K insurgents lurking in the crowds waiting to conduct an ambush and Taliban patrols tasked with ensuring no Afghans were assisted in leaving Kabul Airport.  Crossing large open danger areas and negotiating urban structures the Ukrainian patrol ventured deep into hostile quarters.  The Ukrainians rendezvoused with two minibuses Canadian diplomats had arranged for packed with those hoping to be evacuated.  Escorting the two buses towards Kabul Airport made the patrol and the passengers conspicuous targets.  Still, the Ukrainians were determined to fulfill their mission.

Approaching the two kilometers beyond the perimeter of Kabul Airport posed significant danger.  A single suicide bomber could take out both buses and the patrol.  Even the throngs of people that blocked the road could have surged towards the buses at any time, leaving the Ukrainian patrol in a precarious situation.  With intelligence indicating the perimeter might include a mix of militants, insurgents, Taliban amongst the hordes of Afghans hoping to gain access to the airfield, the Ukrainian patrol was determined to complete their mission successfully, delivering those requested by Canada’s Globe and Mail to the airfield safely for extraction.

 The back story has yet to be fully told.  However, highly placed diplomats in both the Ukrainian and Canadian Governments told similar stories of coordinating with journalist Mark MacKinnon and the Globe and Mail management and editorial teams to bring the operation to a successful conclusion.  Speaking to CTV News, according to MacKinnon, he and his colleagues had tried “everything” to get the translators out of Afghanistan.  “This was an amazing rescue,” MacKinnon said. “We tried many different rescue groups, we had a couple of plans with the Canadian army to get them inside the Kabul airport that didn’t work, we had a plan with the U.S. State Department who was giving us guidance on how to get them in, but that fell apart after the suicide bombings last week.”

A veteran reporter, MacKinnon cited his contacts with the office of the Ukrainian President and other diplomatic channels with the rescue of the Afghans who had assisted the Globe and Mail, Canadian Armed Forces and other Canadian NGOs.

In all, Ukrainian troops managed the exfiltration of 19 evacuees and their families.  They were flown to Islamabad, Pakistan and then on to Kyiv where they were greeted warmly by members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Office of the President and aid workers.

Diplomats from Canada and Ukraine, like the rest of the world, must now navigate the meticulous processing of evacuees, many of whom no longer have access to birth registries, marriage records, documents or even identification cards in some cases.  This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations Constitution of the International Refugee Organization, and Agreement on Interim Measures to be taken in respect of refugees and displaced persons.  Debates have already arisen throughout the world on taking in more refugees, displaced persons and evacuees which will put an onus on the diplomatic community to renew efforts to address immigration issues which have become contentious over the last decade.

The rescue of these at-risk Afghans, who assisted allied forces in attempting to stabilise the Afghan government over the past 20 years, is all the more remarkable for no other reason that not one of those evacuated was either Canadian or Ukrainian.  The mission was entirely humanitarian in nature.  For Ukrainian soldiers who had already survived the almost 8 years of active combat against superior Russian forces that invaded Ukraine to once again risk their lives for total strangers is one of the more inspiring stories to emerge from the rescues and evacuations in Kabul.  The Canadian and Ukrainian diplomats that orchestrated the operation along with the Ukrainian Armed Forces demonstrated the value of diplomats serving on the front lines to create positive humanitarian outcomes.


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This story was compiled from press pool reporting and original source reporting by   

The author previously served as a Defence & Security Analyst and journalist for CTV News.

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