Azerbaijanis Still Guarding Kabul Airport as the Taliban Takes Over the City
Azerbaijan's 120-strong contingent of peacekeeping troops are part of the team protecting Kabul's international airport. With the dramatic capitulation of the Afghan government to the Taliban their jobs are looking tougher than ever. Image: Azertag.az
As the Taliban sweep to control Afghanistan, the families of 120 Azerbaijani peacekeeping troops serving in Afghanistan will be understandably nervous. These soldiers work with a 600-strong Turkish battalion, defending critical infrastructure that most notably includes the international airport. Today chaotic scenes unfolded with a full-scale exodus of foreign, NGO and government personnel amid a chaotic panic of would-be refugees.
While Washington said that this was not a repeat of Saigon in 1975, video evidence from Kabul airport suggested the opposite, with swarms of desperate folks climbing gantries in vain attempts to board evacuation planes. Reports suggest that at least five people have died in the stampede to escape.
Azerbaijani contributions to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) effort started in 2002 with 22 peacekeepers, rising to 40 in 2008, 90 from 2009 and 120 since 2018, by which stage ISAF had been reconstituted as the Nato-led Resolute Support Mission (RSM).
Less than a week ago, journalist James Bays had discussed various plans under which it hoped to secure the airport in the medium term. However, with the speed of the Taliban’s lightning advances taking even themselves by surprise, a large additional contingent of US forces arrived to assist with the management of the evacuations. The Taliban has apparently agreed to give time for the evacuations to proceed. This was, perhaps, encouraged by Afghan President Ashrafi Ghani’s decision to flee to Uzbekistan last night, saying that his decision to accept the inevitable Taliban takeover had been an effort to avert needless bloodshed.
No Saigon moment at all pic.twitter.com/9yssEF11qP— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) August 16, 2021
Chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as desperate folks try to force their way aboard the last departing civilian flights. Tweet: @ragipsoylu/Twitter
Late Sunday night, local sources told the Caspian Post that the situation in the city was dire and that “most on the ground information is not being covered by the international mass media, or even by local journalists who are afraid to go to those areas.”
A former high-level Afghan official anonymously reporting news from his family in Kabul told the Caspian Post that the Taliban were not allowing people to visit certain areas and that people are afraid to post online clips that show the full brutality of certain events. “Thousands of government officials and other people who have worked for international organizations, NGOs and embassies are rushing into the airport,” he told us. “Some don’t even have passports, visas or tickets but are trying to get out of Afghanistan as soon as they can just to save their lives. Afghan immigration authorities have left their posts at the airport, so travellers are being screened by the international forces.”
Soon after, we learned that regular flights had stopped with the civilian section of the airport declared closed, even though online sales of tickets to and from Kabul appeared to continue.
As of this morning, e-tickets for flights out of Kabul are still being sold, but whether they will ever operate seems far from likely as the civilian air terminal is currently closed.
Meanwhile, US troops set up a security cordon around the military part of the airport to allow the departure of its forces, embassy staff and other personnel. This did not prevent dozens of locals on the runway swarming departing planes, with videos showing some even attempting to cling to the undercarriage of a troop transporter.
Insane. Don’t have any other words.— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) August 16, 2021
The Kabul Airport.
Civilians desperate to escape even cling to the plane as it takes off at the Kabul airport. Tweet: @ragipsoylu/Twitter
The UK hurried its remaining troops aboard air transport planes accepting that the Taliban was now in control and that they would not be coming back. But what about the Azerbaijani peacekeepers? Late on Sunday (June 15), the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence issued the following message of reassurance
“A 120-member peacekeeping unit of the Azerbaijan Army, together with the fraternal Turkish forces, continues its mission to ensure the security of Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan. We are in constant contact with our peacekeepers, and the moral and psychological condition of the military personnel is at a high level. The operational situation is being closely monitored in coordination with fraternal Turkey.”
The BBC Turkish Service quoted diplomatic sources in Ankara as saying that as yet, no decision had been made as to the possible evacuation of troops or embassy staff from Kabul but that events were being closely monitored. This monitoring reportedly included a phone conversation this morning (August 16) between the Azerbaijani and Turkish foreign ministers to coordinate their peacekeepers’ joint activities. Meanwhile, Baku ministry and news sources continue to insist that there remain no threat to the lives of Azerbaijani troops at the airport.