Japan airlifts 14 Afghans from Kabul to Islamabad

Japan has transported 14 Afghans aboard a Self-Defense Forces aircraft from Kabul to Islamabad in neighboring Pakistan as part of its operation to evacuate Japanese nationals and others from Afghanistan, government sources said Saturday.

The airlift took place on Thursday, a day before the evacuation of a Japanese national aboard an SDF plane from the war-torn country, where the Taliban militant group has returned to power. It was the first SDF airlift of foreign nationals to another country as part of a mission to evacuate Japanese citizens.

Two C-130 aircraft and a C-2 transporter sent by Japan for the mission made several round trips between Kabul and the Pakistani capital on Wednesday and Thursday, but none of the Japanese nationals wishing to board the planes were able to reach the airport.

Japan’s evacuation mission is for local staff of the Japanese Embassy and Japan International Cooperation Agency as well as their families, in addition to Japanese nationals. It was not immediately known whether the Afghan evacuees were staff of the government-related entities.

On Friday, one of the SDF aircraft transported a Japanese national to Islamabad.

Japanese government officials have said the SDF planes will remain on standby as developments in Kabul are assessed.

The government had planned to evacuate several hundred Afghan personnel, including those at the Japanese Embassy in Kabul. But the terrorist bombing attacks on Thursday, for which Islamic State militants claimed responsibility, made the outlook for the mission uncertain.

The evacuated Japanese national was Hiromi Yasui, a 57-year-old female staff member of Kyodo News, according to the Japanese news agency.

On Monday and Tuesday, the government dispatched three Air Self-Defense Force transport aircraft for the evacuation mission, after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan this month.

But the mission hit a snag as some people who wish to leave Afghanistan did not arrive at the airport in Kabul.

Some within the ruling coalition have accused the Japanese government of lacking foresight and being late in initial response.

Earlier on Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga discussed the government’s response on related issues with Takeo Akiba, secretary-general of the National Security Secretariat, and senior officials from the foreign and defense ministries.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news conference later later in the day that the “situation is fluid and unpredictable” in the country.

U.S. President Joe Biden has reiterated that the U.S. troops will completely withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this month as planned.

“What we can do (in Afghanistan) is limited,” Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said at a news conference Friday.

Part 4 of Article 84 of the SDF law allows the SDF to airlift Japanese nationals and others in times of emergency overseas on condition that the transport mission can be conducted safely. The terrorist attacks in Kabul have made it difficult to say the condition is being satisfied.

Defense Ministry and SDF officials expressed outrage over the unexpected turn of events that has put at risk the security of the SDF personnel involved, with one calling it a “wrong political decision” at a time when Japan is unaware of the situation on the ground.

An SDF officer said it is rare for such a mission to be conducted in a tense atmosphere

Japanese diplomats were evacuated to Dubai last week after the embassy in Kabul was shut on Aug. 15 when the Taliban took control of the capital and returned to power, 20 years after they were ousted by U.S.-led forces.

While foreign governments have been rushing to bring their citizens out of Afghanistan, it was only on Aug. 23 that Japan said it would dispatch SDF planes for the evacuation mission.

“Things would have turned out differently if only (Japan was able) to act faster,” said a senior ministry official.

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