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ranger rescue Eighteen Irish people were in plane on runway as massive bomb hit Afghan capital

Pilot forced to take evasive action as Afghan forces fired into the air

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A screen grab shows people carrying an injured person to a hospital after an attack at Kabul airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters

A screen grab shows people carrying an injured person to a hospital after an attack at Kabul airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters

A screen grab shows people carrying an injured person to a hospital after an attack at Kabul airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters

Eighteen Irish people were on board a military plane parked on the runway at Kabul Airport with its doors open when a bomb rocked the Afghan capital.

The pilot of a flight which left minutes earlier had to take evasive action after Afghan forces fired into the air to disperse the crowds desperately fighting for a way out.

There were fears the airport runway would have to be closed after the bomb, which has been claimed by Islamic State, went off.

Around the same time as the explosion, a photograph from inside a Finnish military jet was sent to Dublin as evidence that the Irish group was safe.

However, there was an extremely nervous period until the flight eventually took off and made it out of Kabul airspace.

The Irish, including two Army Rangers and a senior diplomat, were later transferred on to a commercial flight to Helsinki from where they will be flown to Dublin.

It marked the end of a dramatic two days in Afghanistan for the Emergency Consular Assistance Team (ECAT) of two diplomats and nine elite Army Rangers.

During that period they helped rescue 26 Irish citizens and residents in addition to the 10 who were evacuated in the days before their arrival.

However, the number of people in Afghanistan with a legal link to Ireland has grown substantially in the past 48 hours.

Approximately 40 Irish passport holders of Afghan origin have sought help from the Department of Foreign Affairs for themselves and around 20 family members.

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People help an injured person after an explosion near the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 26, 2021. AAMAJ NEWS AGENCY/Handout via REUTERS

People help an injured person after an explosion near the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 26, 2021. AAMAJ NEWS AGENCY/Handout via REUTERS

People help an injured person after an explosion near the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 26, 2021. AAMAJ NEWS AGENCY/Handout via REUTERS

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Another 15 Afghans have proved they have residency rights in Ireland.

The Irish Independent understands that in some cases the passport holders are infants or young children whose parents do not yet have Irish citizenship. Three families, making up 10 people, identified themselves as Irish as late at 3am yesterday.

Some of those seeking help had used the school holidays to travel from Ireland to Afghanistan to visit relatives. They had not anticipated the Taliban’s rapid takeover of the country.

Consular efforts will continue to aid the 75 people but will now be led by teams in Abu Dhabi and Dublin. There is no clear passage for them out of Afghanistan, but officials hope to get support from human rights organisations who will remain on the ground beyond the end of the month.

A source said: “As of now they are all safe. There is phone contact with all of them, but who is safe after August 31?

Security and diplomatic sources have described a day of high tension in Dublin as the decision was taken to pull out Irish troops amid the rising threat of a terror attack.

First they made the call to tell any remaining Irish citizens not to attempt to get to the airport in a move that clearly signalled some would have to be left behind.

The decision to withdraw was in line with that of most European countries who saw little remaining chance for rescue missions without putting their troops and people at too high of a risk .

However, a major call was made to split the Irish team into two groups in an attempt to ensure the 15 civilians at the airport made it onto a flight out. The ECAT had secured space for their nine members on board a French flight which left yesterday morning. But its 11.30am departure would mean leaving 15 Irish people to find their own way out.

At the National Emergency Coordination Centre (NECC), Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, the incoming Defence Forces chief of staff Major General Seán Clancy and their top advisers debated what was seen a potentially life or death decision.

Based on the military assessment, the minister concluded the 15 Irish citizens would not be able to get through chaotic checkpoints and onto a Finnish plane without support.

One diplomat stayed behind with back-up from two Army Rangers.

“It was a difficult decision and something nobody really wanted to do but it ended up being the difference between 15 people getting out or still being stranded in the airport,” a source said.

Some of the 15 had spent days trying to get to Kabul, through Taliban checkpoints and the throngs that have gathered at the gates of the airport.

As the scenes of tragedy and death unfolded on the ground, the Finish aircraft was the first to be green-lighted for departure.

Many of the 36 Irish rescued over the past week are said to have benefited from the help of sympathetic British troops who have a presence around the airport. Germany and the Netherlands also airlifted Irish citizens out.

The Irish government jet, which had been stationed in Abu Dhabi as a “contingency measure”, will now return to Ireland.

In a statement last night, Mr Coveney thanked the ECAT members for “their rapid deployment to such 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.”

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