The Deputy Head of the CDU/CSU Parliamentary Group for Foreign & Security Policy, Johann Wadephul, has confirmed media reports late on Monday that the first German evacuation flight from Kabul departed Kabul International Airport with just seven people on board. The revelation that the aircraft had only departed with “approved” people on board sparked controversy Monday evening, with the German government roundly criticized for it.
In an appearance on public radio station Deutschlandfunk, Wadephul said that German troops were only able to evacuate those already at the airport aboard the Airbus A400M, owing to the 30 minute window where the cargo aircraft could land, take on cargo and personnel and then depart for Uzbekistan. The member of parliament said that it would be “irresponsible” to attempt to bring German nationals not present at the airport there, as there were no guarantees that they would be able to arrive in time.
German tabloid Bild had reported on Monday that five Germans, a Dutch national and a local employee were the sole passengers aboard the A400M as it departed for Tashkent, despite there being at least 57 embassy employees and 88 other German citizens in need of evacuation. The A400M has a listed passenger capacity of 166 fully equipped soldiers or a 37,000kg lift capacity. The tabloid’s security sources claimed that two A400Ms dispatched to Kabul had been forced to circle Kabul International Airport for five hours, while US troops attempted to clear the airport’s sole runway of civilians that had swarmed departing aircraft. One of the A400Ms was forced to divert to Uzbekistan to refuel, while the one that did land had just minutes of fuel remaining before it too would have had to divert.
The German aircraft’s decision to depart with just seven passengers was quickly contrasted with reports that a U.S. Air Force C-17, Reach 871, had left Kabul carrying well over its listed passenger capacity. While initially reported as over 800 refugees, U.S. Central Command later confirmed that “approximately 640 Afghan citizens” had been onboard.
Der Spiegel correspondent Matthias Gebauer reported that the single-digit evacuation count was due to the uncertainty around whether the A400M would be able to land, with American forces only allowing people into the military compound at the airport if there was an aircraft to evacuate them on. Additionally, a 9PM curfew in Kabul prevented more refugees from being transported to the airport, while Afghans at the airport’s civilian side were blocked from crossing over.
Public broadcaster ARD described the evacuation of the German embassy in Kabul as being on the knife’s edge of failure, reporting that the German Foreign Ministry did not order the evacuation of the embassy until as late as Sunday. An assessment on Saturday seen by the broadcaster reported that transferring embassy staff to the airport by car that day was no longer feasible, with staff subsequently evacuated to the US embassy on Sunday morning under police escort. German embassy staff were subsequently evacuated to the airport in U.S. Army Chinooks departing the U.S. embassy, with the Foreign Ministry refusing to respond to ARD inquiries on when the evacuation order was given.
Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer stressed to ARD-morgenmagazin that the main goal of the A400M flight was to deliver German paratroopers to Kabul to facilitate further evacuations, describing the crowding situation at the airport as “very confusing, dangerous and complex”. A second A400M flight arrived at Kabul International Airport on Tuesday, and has since departed with 125 people on board.
Image: German Fallschirmjägers in Tashkent prepare to board an A400M heading for Kabul (Bundeswehr)