It’s out of the Covid frying pan in Auckland and into the fire of Afghanistan for a Defence Force deployment charged with evacuating Kiwi nationals and Afghan allies from that benighted country.
We learned of this from a Stuff account of the PM’s 1pm Covid-19 press conference, when she said Cabinet had approved up to 80 personnel to support the international response.
According to Stuff, an Air Force C130 Hercules departed Auckland at about 10.20am today, carrying some of the contingent.
Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour, the commander of joint forces New Zealand, said it was intended the Hercules would land at Kabul’s international airport, currently secured by an international coalition of militaries, to collect more than 100 New Zealanders and others left stranded by a Taliban takeover.
“We would determine the level of risk on the ground in Kabul as high but manageable. In our planning we’ve taken precautions to ensure the safety of persons on the ground,” he said.
“We don’t want to be dragging our feet at all here and getting on with the movement as soon as we can, because … when it becomes unviable to continue into Kabul is something that I can’t predict. But I’m worried that it’s not too far away.”
It looks like Defence Minister Peeni Henare has made an official ministerial announcement on this matter, but it had yet to be posted on The Beehive website when we posted this item. We found it at Scoop.
Henare is being coy, perhaps, because the departure of the Hercules attests to an awkward delay in implementing an evacuation of Kiwis in Afghanistan which was announced at the PM’s press conference on Monday.
That’s when we learned of the intended deployment of New Zealand Defence Force personnel to the Middle East to assist with the international evacuation efforts from Afghanistan, including of New Zealanders and other approved foreign nationals.
Updating us on progress today, Henare said.
This morning, the NZDF deployed personnel and a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) C-130 Hercules aircraft departing from RNZAF Base Auckland. NZDF have advised that due to the developing situation it is now expected that up to 80 personnel will be deployed to support the international response.
At this stage, the NZDF is preparing to deploy for up to a month. The contingent will include air crew and maintenance staff, a medical team, operational support staff, logistics personnel and force protection, among others.
Henare proceeded to explain:
“New Zealand has had a long-standing relationship with the people of Afghanistan, particularly in Bamyan Province. Because of this, we are joining our partners in assisting with the evacuation of those who are in the greatest danger.
“We will be working alongside partner militaries, such as our ally Australia, as we respond to this rapidly evolving humanitarian situation. This means that we may see some individuals bound for New Zealand, returned on Australian/partner’s assets, and vice versa, as partners look to cooperate wherever they can to safely expedite the evacuation.”
Cabinet provided an exemption for the C-130 Hercules flight when considering alert level changes. All deploying personnel have been vaccinated, and there will be protections in place throughout the mission, including the use of PPE.
“The safety of our people is of the utmost importance during this unfolding situation,” Peeni Henare said.
Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour said the Hercules will take three days to reach the Middle East.
As the rapid advance of the Taliban forces demonstrates, however, a great deal can happen in three days.
The United States and other militaries are trying to hold Kabul international airport while they evacuate their citizens and Afghan citizens who have helped them.
Whether they are still holding on in three days – let’s wait and see.