Australia willing to support extension of evacuation from Afghanistan -foreign minister

CANBERRA, (Reuters) – Australia is willing to assist with evacuations from Afghanistan after Aug. 31 if the United States decides to delay its withdrawal, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Monday.

U.S. President Joe Biden last week said U.S. troops may stay in Afghanistan past an Aug. 31 deadline to evacuate Americans.

Australia has evacuated about 1,000 citizens and Afghans from Kabul in the past week, and Payne said Australia would be willing to support further rescue flights.

“We are part of those discussions and if they are to be extended, we are absolutely ready to support a continuing operation at Hamid Karzai international Airport,” Payne told reporters in Canberra.

Payne did not specify whether the 250 military personnel deployed by Australia would remain if evacuations are extended.

Australia’s government is under mounting pressure to expedite the rescue of Australians and Afghans who worked for the country during its two-decade long involvement in Afghanistan.

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned Australia is unlikely to be able to help all the Afghans who had provided assistance, offering 3,000 visas to fleeing Afghans from Australia’s existing humanitarian visa programme of 13,750 a year.

Australia was part of a NATO-led international force that battled the Taliban and trained Afghan security forces in the years after the militants were ousted in 2001.

More than 39,000 Australian military personnel served in Afghanistan and 41 were killed there.