The Government has pledged to ensure the evacuation of 75 Irish citizens and residents who remain stranded in Afghanistan, following the conclusion of the military and diplomatic mission there yesterday.
The Emergency Consular Assistance Team (ECAT) facilitated the evacuation of 26 Irish citizens from Kabul Airport during the mission, which started on Tuesday morning and finished just after 3pm on Thursday when the last of the team departed by air.
This is in addition to the 10 people who were evacuated before the arrival of the team, which comprised two Irish diplomats and a section of the Army Ranger Wing, earlier this week.
Last to leave on Thursday were a diplomat and two soldiers who had stayed behind to escort the final 15 Irish citizens on a Finnish flight out of the country. It departed minutes after two suicide bombs killed and injured dozens outside the airport gates.
The mission has been viewed as a success by officials. However, the Department of Defence says it is now aware of approximately 60 more Irish citizens and their family members who remain in the country and who require support, in addition to a further 15 Afghan citizens with Irish residency.
Many of them had travelled back to the country during the summer holidays to visit family.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said efforts to secure their safe evacuation will continue remotely but that Kabul airport is now effectively closed to civilians.
The evacuation team took the decision to depart on Thursday amid the worsening security situation in the area and the belief that no other Irish citizens were likely to gain entry to the airport in the near future.
Most of the team left on a French military aircraft bound for Paris just before midday, as the National Emergency Coordination Committee monitored the situation from Ireland.
“I would like to thank the members of the ECAT team for their rapid deployment to such a challenging and complex environment and for their excellent work in securing the successful evacuation of 26 people,” Mr Coveney said.
“I know there are many in Ireland today with deep concerns for family members, friends and colleagues who remain in Afghanistan. Along with other countries, our team needed to evacuate due to the deteriorating security situation.
“I can give full assurance that the overall consular effort is continuing and we remain strongly committed to assisting those requiring ongoing consular support in Afghanistan.”
During the short mission, the team coordinated the evacuation of Irish citizens on French, German, Finnish and Dutch aircraft. The Irish team also received significant logistical assistance from their UK counterparts.
Irish citizens still in Kabul have now been advised not to come to the airport due to the worsening security situation there.
“There may be some people for specific reasons allowed into the airport, but the security situation is now such that very, very few, if any, others will be allowed into the airport, and the evidence of that is most countries are now saying that their defence force personnel will also be leaving either this evening or tomorrow,” Mr Coveney told RTÉ Radio 1.
He said officials will remain in contact with Irish citizens still in Afghanistan but warned it “is going to take time” to get them out.
Mr Coveney said France had been “phenomenally helpful” to Ireland throughout the crisis, and also thanked other “friendly countries”, including the UK.
Efforts to safely take Irish passport holders out of Afghanistan grew increasingly difficult as a result of the Taliban decision to stop Afghan citizens from entering the airport. Many of those remaining in the country hold both Afghan and Irish citizenship.
Other countries’ military missions, including those of Canada, Germany and the Netherlands have now also come to an end.