France, Afghanistan, and Evacuation Dynamics


By Pierre Tran

Paris – A third French military flight was due to arrive in the evening of Aug. 19 at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport, bringing in more than 200 evacuees from Afghanistan, the armed forces ministry said.

“The evacuation operations launched on Sunday evening are continuing,” the ministry said in a statement. “A third flight transporting more than 200 people, among them French and a large majority of Afghan nationals will arrive at Roissy-Charle De Gaulle airport in the evening, today.”

A speeded up process of granting visas to foreign nationals had been set up, after the necessary checks and with the aim of ensuring national security, the ministry said. The ministries for defense, foreign affairs, interior, and health aimed to receive the evacuees in the best conditions.

The air force flew the evacuees on a A330 multirole transport tanker (MRTT) to France, after flying them out of Kabul on an A400M transport plane, with a stop over at the Abu Dhabi Al Dhafra airbase.

Flights since Aug. 16 have allowed evacuation of almost 500 French and Afghan nationals, as well as those of partner nations, the foreign ministry said.

The French services launched Aug. 15 the joint operation Apagan to fly evacuees in an emergency air bridge from Kabul to the Abu Dhabi and then on to the French capital.

The Taliban took control of the Afghan capital that Sunday, sparking a rush of Afghans and foreign nationals to the airport urgently seeking flight from the Islamist insurgents.

Special forces flew out on the military flight of a C-130 and an A400M in the evacuation mission, president Emmanuel Macron said Aug. 16 in a televised address to the nation.

The French had to “negotiate” with the Taliban to allow the passage of French and Afghan nationals from the French embassy to the airport – a distance of just a few kilometers, the head of the French RAID special weapons and tactics police unit, Jean-Baptiste Dulion, said on RTL radio on Wednesday night.

A video on social media shows a stream of vehicles leaving the embassy to take the evacuees to be flown out on Tuesday night. France closed down the embassy and the diplomatic staff were working at the airport to get the clearances for evacuees to be flown out.

The second French evacuation flight on an A330 MRTT landed at Charle De Gaulle airport Aug. 18, bringing more than 200 evacuees, including 25 French nationals, the foreign ministry said in a statement. There were nationals of other countries, with a large majority of Afghan nationals, and a “significant number of women and children.”

“Afghans who would like to remain in France in the long term will be supported in practical and administrative ways with their asylum applications,” the ministry said. “They will benefit from specialist support with their residence permit applications and integration processes. They will receive France’s full help.”

The first evacuation flight on an A310 jet on Aug. 17 carried out 41 evacuees, comprising French and foreign nationals. An elite Gurkha unit, which acted as guards to the French embassy, was on that flight, returning home after completing their mission, said David Martinon, the French ambassador, Agence France-Presse reported.

Western retreat opens doors

The collapse of Western power — led by the U.S .— in Afghanistan has sparked grave debate over the future politics of the region, with reports of the Taliban reaching out to China, Russia and Iran while they were holding talks in Qatar with the Americans over the US withdrawal.

The Chinese, Russian and Iranian embassies remained open in Kabul and those three nations were in constant contact with the Taliban, Indian website First Post reported. China and Iran have common borders with Afghanistan, and the Taliban have assured the Russian embassy would be respected, Russian ambassador Dmitry Zhirnov said.

Russia has a troubled past with Afghanistan, having been forced out of military occupation in the 1980s. Moscow held military exercises with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on the Afghan border as a show of force this summer, while the Taliban swept through Afghanistan, First Post reported.

India was keeping a close eye on fast changing events in Afghanistan, which threatened an Indian project with Afghanistan and Iran to build a port in Chabahar, eastern Iran. There were concerns that “changing circumstances” in Afghanistan would derail the port project, leaving the field open to a rival port project backed by China in Gwadar, Pakistan.

Pakistan, a neighbor to Afghanistan, has been seen as the rear base for the Taliban, and has long been a hardened rival to India.

A lack of U.S. consultation with its allies has been reported as a failure to honor president Joe Biden’s message, “America is back.”

In the UK, daily papers reported sharp criticism of the US in an Aug. 18 parliamentary debate on Afghanistan, with the conservative Daily Telegraph daily splashing a hostile headline, “Parliament holds the president in contempt.”

UK foreign minister Dominic Raab refused to resign following press reports he had declined to call his Afghan counterpart to arrange visas for Afghan nationals who had worked as interpreters for the British army. Raab was on holiday at a luxury hotel in Crete at the time, and declined civil servants’ advice to make that call rather than assign it to a junior minister.

A German air force A400M flew on Monday from Kabul with just seven evacuees, which the foreign ministry explained was due to “chaotic circumstances” and “regular exchanges of fire” at the airport. An A400M can seat 114 passengers.

That German flight stood in contrast to pictures of a U.S. air force C-17 carrying some 640 evacuees on a rescue flight.

For France, which seeks to unwind a longstanding military mission in the Sahel sub-Saharan Africa, there was debate whether the U.S. retreat from Afghanistan might provide lessons. France is reducing its deployment in Mali this year.

Iyad Ag Ghali, a Malian jihadist leader of a branch of the al Qaida movement in the Sahel, welcomed the events in Afghanistan and the attack on the credibility of American power.

In an unusual Aug. 10 message to the public, Ag Ghali welcomed the creation of the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan and the withdrawal of the “American forces of invasion and their allies,” afternoon daily Le Monde reported Aug. 18. That reversal was “the result of twenty years of patience.”

Ag Hali has not made public statements since November 2019. Ag Ghali is leader of the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, and has long been on the wanted list of the French for deadly attacks on French, Malian and UN forces in Mali.

Islamist insurgents of the al Qaeda and Islamic State have fought for a decade for control of Mali, which France has struggled to contain – first with the Serval operation in January 2013, then the Barkhane mission, which broadened the anti-insurgency campaign with partner nations Burkino Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger.

Macron said June 10 the Barkhane military mission will be wound down but France will remain in the region, with between 2,500-3,000 troops deployed in an “anti-terrorist intervention,” Le Monde reported. That would be a cut from the 5,100 French troops committed to Barkhane.

An orderly French withdrawal might differ radically from the collapse of Kabul, but there was concern the closing of military bases in Timbuktu, Kidal and Tissalit, in the north of Mali, might lead to the fall of those cities to Islamist insurgents, the daily reported. Those bases were due to close by the end of this year.

Eighty nine French soldiers died in Afghanistan since the international intervention began in 2001, with the last falling on Aug. 5 2013, a non-commissioned officer who had 22 years of service with the air force, the defense ministry website shows.

Featured Photo: French army members board a French Air Force Airbus A400M ATLAS ahead of an operation to evacuate several dozen French citizens from Afghanistan, as Western nations scramble to repatriate their citizens after the Taliban took control of Kabul, at Bricy Air Base, Orleans, France, August 16, 2021. Etat-major des Armees/Handout via REUTERS