Getting Irish passport holders in Afghanistan to the airport in Kabul safely remains a significant hurdle in efforts to evacuate them, high level sources briefed on the situation said.
A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said that “a small number” of the Irish passport holders seeking to leave the country were at the airport awaiting transport, but declined to be drawn on further details. Others are spread across Kabul and countrywide.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney confirmed yesterday that three Irish nationals have left Afghanistan, while the number still awaiting exit has increased to 36.
One of the three who escaped is education worker Aoife MacManus, whose family in Co Meath told The Irish Times of their relief that she is now in Pakistan. Mr Coveney declined to provide details of how she got out of Kabul.
A small number of Irish people working with international organisations had decided to stay in Afghanistan, said the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Western governments are grappling with the problem of getting their citizens across Kabul and into the airport for evacuation. The situation outside the airport remains fraught, according to on-the-ground reports, with Taliban fighters firing shots and beating people to disperse crowds of Afghans trying to gain access to the airport. The Taliban are also patrolling the area around the airport and have set up checkpoints on approaches.
The New York Times reported that a Taliban commander told crowds that only foreigners and those with travel permits would be allowed access to the airport. But other reports said Afghans with travel permits were not being admitted.
Staff of EU delegations
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said that there were 300 Afghan staff of EU delegations blocked from getting to the airport in Kabul. "It is our moral duty to protect them and to help to save as many people as possible," he said.
Anxiety among Afghans who worked for western governments has heightened as an intelligence report produced for the UN said the Taliban was intensifying its searches for them, threatening to arrest or kill family members if they cannot locate their targets.
A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman said UN premises and staff were being respected by the Taliban so far, but a senior UN official warned separately that “those who may be in danger have no way out”.
US fighter jets were flying over Kabul to ensure security for the evacuation operation, said the Pentagon, adding that there had been no hostile interactions with the Taliban.