Luxembourg residents still awaiting Kabul rescue
(This story was updated with new information that Luxembourg is also seeking to return three-non residents with ties to the country)
Luxembourg has yet to return a group of nine people in Kabul to safety, as Taliban forces and droves of evacuees block the airport of the Afghan capital, complicating a joint rescue mission with the Belgian air force.
“The last information I had this morning was that they did not manage to get to the airport,” Jo Clees, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Luxembourg Times on Sunday evening.
There are six Luxembourg residnets in the group: four Luxembourg citizens and two Afghan staff. Luxembourg was also looking to repatriate a further three people with links to the country, Clees said.
The Grand Duchy will use its massive A400M military transport plane to get people from Islamabad back to Brussels or to Luxembourg, with two Belgian C130 transport planes shuttling between Kabul and the Pakistani capital.
On Saturday, one C130 plane ferried 80 people out of Kabul and a second flight brought over 170 people, Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Sophie Wilmes tweeted. Most of the people on the flights were Belgian or Dutch, Wilmes said.
On Sunday, Wilmes said that another C130 plane had landed in Islamabad with 93 people onboard, though without giving the nationalities of the evacuees on the flight. Luxembourg's Clees said on Sunday that it was not clear if any residents from the Grand Duchy were on the flight.
“People are having difficulties getting to the airport,” Marie Cherchari, a spokesperson at the Belgian Ministry of Foreign affairs, said at a press conference on Saturday. “Our military is staying mobile at the airport.” A third evacuation by a C130 plane is currently underway, she said.
One access point to the airport has been closed for the day and another was closed for the morning owing to a suspected bomb, Cherchari said.
Two earlier C130 flights had also returned to Islamabad on Friday as part of the mission, one empty, the other with an estimated 60 people on board, Belgian ambassador Thomas Lambert told the Luxembourg Times earlier in the day.
Lambert also described a bottleneck at the airport, with two or three access points, controlled by Taliban forces, as well as a perimeter of people wanting to leave. Added to this, military planes have to adhere to a strict and limited timetable to come into the airport and fly back out.
“You’re given a 30-minute time slot [by the US],” Lambert said. “Within that slot, you need to land and take off … the plane needs to arrive with the engines running, and then everybody who has been processed needs to get on board really hurriedly… the effective time for boarding people is maybe 15 minutes.”
(Additional reporting by Douwe Miedema)