Luxembourg planning Kabul evacuation flight

The A400M after its maiden flight Photo: Luxembourg Army

The A400M after its maiden flight Photo: Luxembourg Army

Luxembourg is preparing an evacuation flight from Kabul together with Belgium, the defence ministry said on Tuesday.

Since the Taliban entered Kabul on 15 August, the international community has been rushing to evacuate diplomats, staff, aid workers and other residents from the city.

There are four Luxembourg nationals and two residents on the ground in Afghanistan’s capital. Luxembourg is working with the Belgian military to use its A400M transport aircraft to evacuate them.

Airbus in October 2020 delivered the A400M to the Luxembourg army. The plane is stationed in Belgium where it forms part of a binational unit together with the Belgian air force.

“The planning of this operation shows that the creation of the Belgian-Luxembourg binational unit was an excellent decision,” defence minister François Bausch (déi Gréng) said in a statement. “The Luxembourg A400M will contribute to the evacuation and repatriation of Luxembourg citizens and allies from Kabul and I am proud of it. I salute the courage of all the soldiers who take part in this mission.”

A defence ministry spokesperson could not immediately confirm how many passengers the plane would be able to accommodate as this depends on the seat and loading area configuration. The mission is under European coordination, the spokesperson said. “It’s relatively chaotic over there,” he said, adding that the plane would transport passengers for different EU countries, not just Belgium and Luxembourg.

Flights at Kabul’s international airport resumed on Tuesday after chaotic scenes on Monday saw people scrambling to reach departing planes. The US, UK and Germany have deployed troops to secure the airport and assist in the evacuation.

“Ready to assist them”

Speaking to Germany’s “Tagesspiegel” newspaper last week, foreign minister Jean Asselborn (LSAP) said it was paramount to provide refuge to locals who supported the EU and UN on the ground. EU foreign affairs ministers on Tuesday afternoon are meeting for an extraordinary video conference to take stock of the situation in Afghanistan.

Nato in April this year said that “there is no military solution to the challenges Afghanistan faces” and started withdrawing troops on 1 May, including two Luxembourg soldiers. Nato’s decision to withdraw came after president Donald Trump ordered US troops to leave, nearly 20 years after they invaded the country following the 9/11 attacks.

Luxembourg in 2003 joined Nato’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, followed by the Resolute Support Mission in 2015. Two soldiers who served in the country in 2010 and 2012 told RTL that the mission today seems pointless. “You see these pictures now and ask yourself, what it was all for,” one of them said.

The grand duchy has contributed around €52.5m in development assistance since 2000 via different UN agencies. And the country in 2018 committed to spending €4m annually until 2024 to support Afghanistan’s security forces. The money is transferred into a Nato fund and the defence ministry said the organisation would meet in due course to decide on the programme’s future.

Between January and the end of June this year, 23 people from Afghanistan applied for international protection in Luxembourg, accounting for roughly 5% of asylum seekers, behind Syria (161 applicants), Eritrea (122) and Sudan (30).

Luxembourg on 16 August was one of 60 countries to sign a joint statement. “Afghans and international citizens who wish to depart must be allowed to do so; roads, airports and border crossing must remain open, and calm must be maintained,” they said. “The Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity.  We in the international community stand ready to assist them.”

Updated on 17 August at 4.20pm to specify the flight capacity and future of the funding for the Afghan army.