• Kyodo, Jiji

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Japan on Tuesday decided to formally withdraw its Self-Defense Forces from their mission to evacuate people, including its nationals, from war-torn Afghanistan, citing security reasons amid heightened tensions following the recent seizure of power by the Taliban.

After Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi ordered the withdrawal, his ministry said the SDF would return to Japan soon.

Japan assessed it was becoming increasingly difficult to ensure that operations at Kabul airport would be safe after U.S. troops completed their pullout from Afghanistan on Monday, Japanese government sources said. The move comes after Japan evacuated one national and transported 14 Afghans from the country.

The government has come under fire over the planning of the SDF mission. When asked at a news conference on Tuesday if the timing was right for the dispatch, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi defended the decision, saying it was made “despite the rapidly changing situations” and adding that he did not think it was late.

The government vowed to continue its efforts to evacuate Japanese nationals and local staff at its embassy and with Japanese agencies in Afghanistan.

Security in Kabul remains volatile following last week’s deadly explosions near the airport that killed more than 100 people. Media have reported that a U.S. anti-missile defense system intercepted as many as five rockets that were fired at the airport early Monday.

Sources said up to about 500 people related to Japan — including local staff of the Japanese Embassy and Japan International Cooperation Agency and their families — remain in the country. While assessing security on the ground, the government has been looking into possible alternative methods to evacuate them, such as by using commercial airlines, according to the sources.

“The provision of assistance for Japan-related evacuation seekers remains a task of utmost importance,” Motegi said.

A CH-47 Chinook helicopter is loaded onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday. The Chinook is one of the pieces of equipment returning to the U.S. as the military mission in Afghanistan comes to an end. | U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND / VIA REUTERS
A CH-47 Chinook helicopter is loaded onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday. The Chinook is one of the pieces of equipment returning to the U.S. as the military mission in Afghanistan comes to an end. | U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND / VIA REUTERS

Hiromi Yasui, a Kyodo News staff member who lives in Kabul and also runs a business there, was evacuated aboard an SDF aircraft on Friday.

Prior to that, there had been attempts to evacuate more people but many were reportedly unable to reach the airport on their own due to strict Taliban checkpoints.

Government officials have said a very small number of Japanese remain in Afghanistan and they do not wish to leave.

The government is considering an evacuation mission using civilian aircraft. But much will depend on moves by the Taliban, with the group having taken control of the Afghan capital.

A senior Foreign Ministry official had said ahead of the withdrawal announcement that it was “impossible” to continue the SDF’s operations as “it cannot be said that their safety can be secured.”

The evacuation of 14 Afghans was the first SDF airlift of foreign nationals to another country as part of a mission to evacuate Japanese citizens.

As for the withdrawal of the U.S. forces, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news conference Tuesday that Japan “appreciates the efforts made over the years by the United States in Afghanistan” and said Tokyo will “work with the international community for peace and stability” of the conflict-ravaged country.

Motegi also said that Japan is considering transferring the temporary office it has set up in Istanbul as a substitute to the closed embassy in Kabul to Doha, the capital of Qatar.

Noting that Qatar hosts a Taliban political office, the minister said he expects multilateral discussions and negotiations over the situation in Afghanistan will be held in Doha.

As of Monday, the United States has suspended its diplomatic presence in Kabul and transferred its operations to Doha.

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