Luxembourg plane rescue hauled gear, not people
Luxembourg massive A400M army plane hauled military equipment back to Europe and will not return to the area for now, the government said on Wednesday, contradicting earlier information it had brought home 93 Westerners and their local allies from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
The foreign ministry had earlier said that the plane was returning from Islamabad with 93 people on board on Monday, but Defence Minister François Bausch on Wednesday confirmed earlier information from a Belgian military spokesman that the plane had carried equipment only.
"At the end of the day we returned material," Bausch said during a press conference on Wednesday, adding that “at the final moment other planes were available at the time with space for passengers”.
The change in plans came after Belgium, taking part in a three-plane squadron jointly operated with Luxembourg, managed to get a civil airplane to the Pakistani capital, making the evacuation “quicker and much more comfortable for the people," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jo Clees said on Wednesday.
"They put military material in the A400M that had to be transported to Europe and they switched the passengers on [to] the chartered passenger plane," Clees told the Luxembourg Times.
No return to Islamabad
The plane, which can seat 120 passengers, will instead perform a mission in Africa next, Clees said. The Luxembourgish-Belgian air squadron also included two C130 transport to shuttle people between Kabul and Islamabad.
Luxembourg is trying to evacuate 11 people with ties to the country, including a family with three children. Nine landed in Europe on Wednesday morning – seven in Belgium, one in Holland and one in France, Foreign Affairs Minister Jean Asselborn said at a press conference on Wednesday. He did not say where the other two people were, although Bausch said that everyone had made their way out of Kabul and to Islamabad, speaking on radio late on Tuesday.
The most difficult part of the journey is passing through Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled capital to reach Kabul’s airport. At a separate press conference, Bettel thanked neighbouring countries for their help in evacuating those with Luxembourg ties, saying “we couldn’t have done it without them”.
“Everyone with a link to Luxembourg is safe,” Bettel added.
Thousands of people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the Taliban swept into the capital last week, signalling the end of a 20-year Western conflict aimed at remaking the country. US President Joe Biden is sticking to the 31 August deadline to remove US troops from Afghanistan despite pressure from allies to extend the deadline during a G7 summit on Tuesday. The withdrawal by the end of the month “depends on the Taliban continuing to cooperate, allowing access to the airport for those who we’re transporting out, and no disruption to our operations,” Biden said in a White House address on Tuesday.
Biden’s decision means civilian evacuations have to end within days to give the US enough time to evacuee its troops. A Taliban spokesman had warned of “consequences” if the US would postpone its withdrawal.
Since 2001, when Western allies overthrew the country's previous Taliban rule, Luxembourg has pumped €52 million into supporting Afghan national security forces and another €47.5 million in humanitarian aid, Asselborn and Development Minister Franz Fayot said in a response to parliament on Tuesday.
Asselborn praised the efforts of international forces in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. "I think we have prolonged the hope of life for 20 years in Afghanistan," he said, adding that the challenge now is to not let the country return to its previous situation.
Luxembourg's foreign affairs ministry and army are each sending one person to Kabul's airport to help coordinate the return of European residents still in Afghanistan, the ministry said.
(Additional reporting by Kate Oglesby and Heledd Pritchard)