Australia on Tuesday announced abruptly that it would close its embassy in Afghanistan this week, expressing fears over the “increasingly uncertain security environment” in Kabul as foreign troops withdraw.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the facility would close as an “interim measure” on May 28 – in just three days – “in light of the impending international military withdrawal from Afghanistan”.
The United States and Allied forces are in the final stages of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, ending the longest war in U.S. history, but heralding an uncertain future for a nation under the increasingly tight grip of Taliban militants.
The elected government in Kabul and the Afghan security services remain fragile despite two decades of foreign capacity building, and their success is far from clear without the continued military support of the United States.
Western diplomats and military officials scrambled to find ways to ensure the security of their future civilian presence in Afghanistan amid fears of a Taliban return.
“The only incentive for foreign embassies to stay is the humanitarian work they are involved in, but if their staff are in danger, there is no point in staying here,” a foreign defense official told AFP. based in Kabul.
“Several other embassies will follow Australia in the coming weeks or months. “
In recent weeks, violence in the country has exploded and Afghan forces clashed with Taliban fighters not far east and west of Kabul.
US President Joe Biden has said all US troops will leave by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the Al Qaeda attacks that sparked the US invasion of Afghanistan that overthrew the Taliban.
– ‘A sad indictment’ –
About 80 Australian troops are also leaving Afghanistan, ending a mission that cost the country billions of dollars and saw the deployment of tens of thousands of military personnel.
Without this small Australian contingent and the largest US force backing up, Morrison said there was an “increasingly uncertain security environment”.
“The government has been advised that security arrangements cannot be provided to support our ongoing diplomatic presence,” he said in a statement.
It was not clear whether there was a specific threat to the Embassy, which is located in the heavily fortified Green Zone, not far from the US mission.
Last month, the U.S. Embassy also ordered its non-essential staff to leave Afghanistan on a temporary basis, although the mission will continue to operate.
One of the main concerns of foreign embassies is to ensure that Kabul airport – the country’s main gateway to the outside world and the exit route for Western diplomats and aid workers in the event of a blackout. safety – can operate safely.
Australian officials are still expected to visit Afghanistan from overseas posts, with Morrison saying it will be a “temporary measure” and the country remains “committed to bilateral ties.”
The sudden shutdown surprised some experts in Australia.
“I can understand on some level why they would want to shut down, but I think it’s a sad accusation that we should be going like this after 20 years of investment, blood, sweat and tears,” said the professor of international security at the Australian National. John Blaxland University.
“It is not set in stone that this is going to be a Taliban roll-up in the coming weeks. The Afghan national security forces still exist and are still quite strong. ”
“This is not Saigon 1975,” he added, referring to the dramatic helicopter evacuation from the roof of the American Embassy in South Vietnam as the Viet Cong and regular Communist military forces took hold. were taking over the city.
Blaxland has expressed fears that Afghans working with the Australian government will no longer be able to leave.
“This is something that if we don’t address it, the shame will linger for years,” he said.
© 2021 AFP