One Japanese national was evacuated from Afghanistan on Friday as the government scrambled to bring home several more citizens and hundreds of Afghan support staff amid heightened tensions following deadly explosions near the international airport in Kabul.
Seeing Friday as the limit for the SDF to operate safely ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Japan is ramping up its evacuation efforts.
Japan has been seeking to end the evacuation mission by Friday, with Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi saying it would be hard to conduct airlifts after the Aug. 31 deadline.
While U.S. forces are guarding the control tower at Kabul airport, security around the airport remains unpredictable. People were reportedly unable to reach it on their own due to Taliban checkpoints.
Further inflaming tensions following the Taliban’s recent seizure of power, two blasts, believed to have been suicide bombings by an affiliate of the Islamic State militant group called ISIS-K, occurred on Thursday, leaving at least 100 people dead and around 140 injured.
IS claimed responsibility for the attacks, with U.S. President Joe Biden vowing to hold accountable those responsible.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said he had not received any report of death or injury among Japanese nationals and local staff after the blasts.
“The situation is fluid and unpredictable, but we would like to continue making efforts to realize the safe evacuation of the people concerned while working closely with the United States and other countries involved and paying close attention to the safety of our country’s personnel dispatched to Kabul airport,” he said at a regular news conference.
“Japan fiercely condemns terrorism in any form or for any purpose,” he added.
France, Germany and other European countries as well as Canada announced the termination of their evacuation missions on Thursday due to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.
Japan has sent three SDF aircraft — a C-2 transport plane and two C-130s — to Islamabad in neighboring Pakistan for the evacuations from Kabul.
It has also dispatched about 10 personnel from the defense and foreign ministries to Kabul to coordinate with U.S. forces over the evacuation mission.
According to a diplomatic source, up to about 500 people are due to be evacuated from Afghanistan, including local staff of the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Despite the blasts, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi suggested the SDF can still transport people, saying U.S. forces have secured the safety of the airport.
But 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.
The 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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