Ranger mission to evacuate Irish from Kabul ‘a risk worth taking’, Coveney says

Challenge lies in getting Irish citizens to airport before US withdrawal deadline

Conditions in and around Kabul airport, Afghanistan are deteriorating as emergency evacuations of Western citizens and at-risk Afghan nationals continue. Video: Reuters


Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that having an Irish team on the ground in Kabul will maximise the opportunities to get Irish citizens out of Afghanistan and is “a risk worth taking”.

A joint diplomatic and military team is to depart for Kabul on Tuesday in a bid to evacuate as many Irish citizens as possible before the final US withdrawal from Afghanistan on Saturday.

Thirty-six Irish citizens remain stranded in Afghanistan, mostly consisting of family groups. Ten citizens have already been evacuated on other countries’ flights with the assistance of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the embassy in Abu Dhabi.

It is understood two senior Department of Foreign Affairs officials will travel with a section of the Army Ranger Wing (ARW), the Defence Forces’ special forces unit.

The decision to send a mission, eight days after Kabul fell to the Taliban, came as a result of the looming US deadline to withdraw its military presence by August 31st, the highly unstable security situation at the city’s international airport and the large numbers of Irish citizens who have yet to be evacuated.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Mr Coveney said the challenge is getting the stranded Irish citizens to the airport. Many were in hiding, he said, and it was difficult getting through Taliban checkpoints and the large crowds at the airport.

Of the 36 who are stranded, 24 hold Irish passports while 12 are dependents, and many were of Afghan origin which has made it more difficult to get them through crowds, he said, adding the fact many of the groups were family units has also caused challenges.

“We are committed to them,” he said. “We have places on planes for all these people.”

There has been a lot of co-operation between other European Union countries, the UK and the United States in relation to flights, Mr Coveney said.

“We are trying to work with the US who run the airport. The UK has been really helpful on this, they are co-ordinating points around the airport and have been offering to help Irish citizens.”

Having the ARW and diplomats on the ground will help, he said. “If a window of opportunity opens up, we will have people on the ground. It is a risk worth taking.”

Mr Coveney said that the ARW was the best at what it did and was among the best in the world. The Rangers had trained with their counterparts from other countries and were highly skilled which was why they had been deployed to Kabul.

‘Targeted deployment’

The mission would be a “short, targeted deployment” and the ARW would not be authorised to leave Kabul airport, but would be co-ordinating “military to military”, he told RTÉ radio’s Today Show.

Mr Coveney said the mission would be out of Kabul in advance of August 31st “on whatever planes are available”, adding that “no one’s going to be abandoned here.”

Mr Coveney defended his change in position about sending the Rangers, saying that the situation had changed on the ground in Kabul and that decisions could only be made on the basis of evidence to hand.

Now was the time to take up the offer from partners to get a team in to get Irish people out, he added.

European leaders are expected to use the G7 meeting on Tuesday to lobby US president Joe Biden to keep troops at the airport beyond the deadline of August 31st.

Unless Mr Biden extends the deadline, Mr Coveney said, it would be a matter of days to get the 36 people out of Afghanistan.

More time would be better to get people out, he said, but that was a political decision for the US. Nobody else could stay if the US were to pull out of Kabul airport and the Taliban were unlikely to support an extension, he said.