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Evacuation ends 60 Irish citizens left in Afghanistan as Irish army evacuates and 13 die in airport explosion

It comes amid reports that 13 people, including children have died after a suspected suicide bomb exploded outside Kabul airport today.

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Crowds of people wait outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 25, 2021 in this picture obtained from social media. Twitter/DAVID_MARTINON via REUTERS

Crowds of people wait outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 25, 2021 in this picture obtained from social media. Twitter/DAVID_MARTINON via REUTERS

Crowds of people wait outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 25, 2021 in this picture obtained from social media. Twitter/DAVID_MARTINON via REUTERS

SIXTY Irish citizens and their family members are still trying to get out of Afghanistan amid reports of explosions and multiple deaths in Kabul.

The elite Army Rangers who were deployed to the city in recent days have now departed, having helped evacuate 26 Irish citizens and residents.

However a significant number of people have made contact with Irish authorities over the past 48 hours to indicate they also need help.

It comes amid reports that 13 people, including children have died after a suspected suicide bomb exploded outside Kabul airport today.

The numbers who have died came from a Taliban official who was quoted by Reuters this afternoon.

In an update this evening, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney confirmed that Irish diplomats are now aware of "60 Irish citizens and their family members requiring support, in addition to a further 15 Afghan citizens with Irish residency.” However, he said they are unlikely now to be evacuated.

In total 36 people have got out, including 10 who were evacuated prior to the deployment of an Emergency Consular Assistance Team (ECAT) to Kabul Airport.

Independent.ie understands the diplomats and army personnel who spent time in Kabul as part of that mission have now “off the ground and safe”.

Minister Coveney has this evening thanked them for their efforts in “a challenging and complex environment and for their excellent work in securing the successful evacuation of 26 people”.

“I know there are many in Ireland today with deep concerns for family members, friends and colleagues who remain in Afghanistan. Along with other countries, our team needed to evacuate due to the deteriorating security situation. I can give full assurance that the overall consular effort is continuing and we remain strongly committed to assisting those requiring ongoing consular support in Afghanistan,” he said.

Speaking to RTÉ, Mr Coveney confirmed the Irish mission has left Kabul with the 36 Irish citizens and dependents. However, a further 75 people with Irish connections have since come forward and are not likely to be evacuated.

The minister confirmed the Emergency Consular Assistance Team mission (ECAT) are now out of Afghanistan. The team was split into two, with the first leaving this morning on a French aircraft, and the second leaving after lunch on a Finnish aircraft.

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Minister Coveney confirmed most people left out on a French plane this morning at about half 11am Irish time. Three remained – a senior Irish diplomat and two rangers to accompany 15 Irish residents and their dependents on a Finnish flight which left around 3.30 this afternoon.

Minister Coveney said the flight carrying the Irish citizens was the first flight to take off after the explosion this afternoon.

The minister said, “As time has been passing, more and more people have been making contact with us from different parts of Afghanistan, predominantly Kabul.”

He said: “The numbers have increased a lot in the last few days. Our calculations are that there are 60 Irish citizens and family members, not all family members have Irish passports but they have a right to come here.

“There around about 15 Afghan citizens that are normally resident in Ireland.”

When asked if those 75 individuals would be evacuated, Minister Coveney said: “I don’t think so. Virtually every country now is advising their citizens to affectively stay where they are, and stay safe.”

The Minister urged those not go to the airport in Kabul, and that the Department will remain in contact.

The Minister said due to a security situation at the airport, “very, very few, if any others will be allowed into the airport.”

He said most country’s personnel on the ground in Kabul will be leaving this evening or tomorrow, and the numbers of civilians being evacuated over the coming days will be “virtually none’.

He urged those in still in Afghanistan that the solution is not to turn up at the airport this evening, because of the bombings, “it’s a very volatile and dangerous situation”.

“I want to give all families that still have family members in Afghanistan a strong reissuance that our consult team are going to stay in contact with your family members, and we are going to stay working with them,” he said.

The Minister said the Department will probably put a specific team in place to work with families and citizens still in Afghanistan.

There were at least two explosions near Kabul's airport amid a huge evacuation effort from Afghanistan, the Pentagon said.

A US official said US service members were among the wounded. He said there were casualties but did not know how many or of what nationality.

Thousands of people have been gathering outside the airport in recent days.

The situation in Afghanistan has profoundly deteriorated, French President Emmanuel Macron said this afternoon.

"We are facing an extremely tense situation," Mr Macron told a joint news conference with Taoiseach Micheál Martin, calling for caution.

He said France's ambassador in Afghanistan would not remain in the country for security reasons, adding French special forces were at the airport.

Western troops are racing to evacuate foreigners and Afghans who helped Western countries during the 20-year war against the Taliban, and to get out themselves by an August 31 deadline.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said there had been an explosion and it was unclear if there were any casualties.

A Western diplomat in Kabul earlier said areas outside the airport gates were "incredibly crowded" again despite the warnings of a potential attack.

There were few details yet of the attack, but Western countries have been warning of a potential attack by Islamic State militants.

The Taliban, whose fighters are guarding the perimeter outside the airport, are enemies of the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), after an old name for the region.

"Our guards are also risking their lives at Kabul airport, they face a threat too from the Islamic State group," said a Taliban official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and before the reports of the explosion.

US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the explosion, according to a White House official.

Mr Biden was in a meeting with security officials about the situation in Afghanistan when the explosion was first reported, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The concerns about an attack came against a chaotic backdrop in Kabul, where the massive airlift of foreign nationals and their families as well as some Afghans has been under way since the day before the Taliban captured the city on August 15, capping a lightning advance across the country as US. and allied troops withdrew.

It came after armed forces minister James Heappey previously warned there is "very credible reporting" of an "imminent" and "severe" threat to Kabul airport.

He had urged people queuing outside Hamid Karzai International Airport to move to safety.

The situation around the airport has become increasing uncertain over recent hours amid a credible threat of a terrorist attack.

In a update following a meeting with the Defence Forces at the National Emergency Coordination Centre (NECC), Mr Coveney said Irish diplomats and members of the Army Ranger Wing have aided a number of Irish citizens and residents to evacuate from Afghanistan.

“Those evacuation flights are ongoing today and for security and operational reasons, we will not give detail on numbers until the ECAT has left Kabul,” he said.

“Given the change in security status at Kabul Airport, remaining Irish citizens and residents in Kabul and beyond have been advised against coming to or remaining at the airport as gates are no longer open.”

The minister said that despite the lack of presence on the ground consular support will continue for Irish citizens and residents in Afghanistan.

In a tweet this morning, Mr Coveney said: “Our Team of diplomats & Army Rangers in Kabul are safe, busy & doing fantastic work with partners. We remain in close contact with them to make decisions on exit. We are also in continuing contact with all Irish individuals & families in Afghanistan to support & advise.”

The United States has urged people to leave the area around Kabul airport due to the threat of a terror attack ahead of their August 31 deadline for a withdrawal of troops.

The US embassy in Kabul advised citizens to avoid travelling to the airport and said those already at the gates should leave immediately. The message cited "security threats".

Likewise the British government has told people to "move away to a safe location”, adding that there is “very, very credible" intelligence that Islamic State militants are planning an imminent attack.

British armed forces minister James Heappey said: "I can't stress the desperation of the situation enough. The threat is credible, it is imminent, it is lethal. We wouldn't be saying this if we weren't genuinely concerned about offering Islamic State a target that is just unimaginable."

The Dutch government said it expects to carry out its last evacuation flight out of Afghanistan on Thursday, leaving some who are eligible to leave behind, and called on citizens not to go to Kabul airport due to a deteriorating security situation.

"The Netherlands has been informed by the United States that it has to depart today and will most likely perform the last flights later today," the government said in a letter to parliament.

"This is a painful moment because it means that despite all the great efforts of the past period, people who are eligible for evacuation to the Netherlands will be left behind."

Dutch evacuees can no longer be assisted in and around the airport due to the security situation and are "strongly recommended not to come to the airport," it said.

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