Japan on Monday dispatched Self-Defense Forces aircraft to Afghanistan to evacuate Japanese nationals and local staff working for the Japanese Embassy there and other organizations amid the worsening security situation in the country.
One C-2 transport aircraft left for a third country, which the government has declined to name, and two C-130 planes are expected to depart Tuesday. Up to several hundred people will be evacuated in the mission, a diplomatic source said.
It will be the first time the SDF has evacuated foreign nationals from a country, according to the Defense Ministry.
"Securing the safety of Japanese people (in Afghanistan) is our top priority, and we also deem it important to secure the safety of local staff of the embassy and JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) remaining there as they include those who wish to leave the country," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said.
Under international law, the deployment of the SDF to another country requires approval from that country in principle. However, Kato said that the upcoming dispatch of SDF aircraft would not pose a problem in terms of international law as the mission is for transporting Japanese nationals under an emergency situation.
The three SDF aircraft will initially stand by at an airport in a third country near Afghanistan, the Defense Ministry said. As soon as coordination is made with U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which have taken control of the airport, the two C-130s will make round trips for evacuations.
The C-2 plane is carrying equipment, supplies and hundreds of personnel from the Ground and Air Self-Defense forces. Most of the staff will be based in the third country, according to the ministry.
As for the duration of the operation, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said he expects it to continue until the end of the month, when the United States plans to pull its military out from Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will join a Group of Seven nations' online summit to be held Tuesday over the situation in Afghanistan, Kato also said.
There are believed to be dozens of local embassy staff as well as JICA and other Japanese organizations yet to be evacuated. SDF planes will also transport family members of the local staff, government sources said.
Should they wish to leave for Japan or a third country, the Japanese government will respond accordingly, according to the sources.
Suga met with his national security adviser Takeo Akiba and the vice ministers of the foreign and defense ministries at his office on Sunday to discuss the dispatch plan.
On Monday, Suga held a National Security Council meeting to discuss the matter with Kishi, who later issued a dispatch order.
A Defense Ministry advance team had already departed for Afghanistan to gather information for the mission.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called the G7 summit on Tuesday "for urgent talks on the situation in Afghanistan."
"It is vital that the international community works together to ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people to secure the gains of the last 20 years," Johnson said on Twitter, in reference to online talks with his counterparts from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, plus the European Union.
Earlier this month, the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan 20 years after it was ousted from power by U.S.-led forces, with President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country following the Islamic militant group's seizure of Kabul.
Other countries such as the United States and Britain have been evacuating their nationals and local staff via their own military aircraft.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party criticized the decision to evacuate Japanese Embassy staff with a British military airplane last week, saying an SDF plane should have been dispatched instead.
Japan has previously conducted evacuation missions using SDF aircraft on four occasions: following kidnappings of Japanese nationals in Iraq in 2004, a similar incident in Algeria in 2013, the 2016 terrorist attack in Bangladesh and an outburst of violence in South Sudan the same year.
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