The French air evacuation mission in Afghanistan


By Pierre Tran

Paris – France is flying military transport planes for the evacuation of French and Afghan nationals out of Kabul, in response to security concerns in Afghanistan, said Florence Parly, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, on August 16.

“Several dozen” French nationals and “Afghans who have provided considerable assistance to our forces” will be evacuated from Afghanistan by plane, she said on France Info, the first evacuation flight due to end. at the end of the day.

The French air evacuation mission follows the Taliban takeover of Kabul over the weekend, after a week of rapid advance in response to the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan last month.

The U.S. Chinook helicopter flying fleeing diplomats across Kabul conjured up an image of a Huey helicopter on a Saigon rooftop in 1975, BBC North America editor-in-chief said.

“It might not be Saigon ’75 but it’s not far,” he said.

France had called on French nationals to leave Afghanistan in April, given the sharp deterioration in the security situation, said Parly. Last month there was a rented civilian flight, which meant most French nationals had left the country.

“But there are still several dozen people, including our diplomatic staff, who issued visas … and those who wanted to go to France,” she said.

There were also administrators and staff from non-governmental organizations who had been working in Afghanistan for years and had to be evacuated within hours, she said.

Air evacuation

France sent a military mission consisting of a C130 and an A400M transport plane to evacuate French nationals, Afghans and other civilians, in response to the security situation and on the orders of the president, the ministry said. of the Armies in a press release of August 15.

President Emmanuel Macron was due to address the nation on television at 8 p.m. local time, so serious was the fall of the Afghan government. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the stricken nation on Sunday.

The civilian section of Kabul airport, about three miles from the city, was shut down by the Taliban, and only the military section was still open, the BBC reported. American and British troops were flown into the military side, which allowed flights for authorized foreign nationals, not Afghans.

The French military transport plane took off Sunday evening and Monday morning for Al Dhafra air base in the United Arab Emirates, then flew to Kabul for the evacuation mission, the ministry said. It will be a joint military mission involving personnel based in the United Arab Emirates and including “protective elements”, flights between Kabul airport and Abu Dhabi and medical support.

The Ministry of the Armed Forces said it was working closely with the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. The Air Force will then transport the evacuees to France aboard the A330 Phenix multirole tanker transport aircraft, after being received and sheltered at the French base in the United Arab Emirates.

The government brought French nationals back last month on a leased flight, Parly said, seeking to stress that the administration had not waited until the last minute.

The UAE air base will effectively be a hub for flights, serving not only French nationals but also Afghan nationals, for whom France has a duty of care and will evacuate, she said.

The administration brought 1,350 Afghan nationals to France after the last French troops left Afghanistan in 2014, she said, and another 600 were evacuated between May and July.

France would also do its best to protect the Afghans who have worked for human rights, as well as the journalists, artists and those who support the values ​​that Paris seeks to protect in the world, she said. declared.

Rafale modernized for the Afghan mission

The Afghan campaign led France to issue an urgent operational need for air-to-ground strike capability, which brought the Rafale fighter jet to the F2 version. The fighter plane had previously flown in its F1 air superiority version.

The Ministry of Defense organized a press trip in April 2007 to show the Rafale F2 and its new close air support missions for NATO forces. The Rafale and Mirage 2000 were then based at the Dushanbe air base in neighboring Tajikistan.

The Rafale F2 then lacked its own targeting pod and had to fly with a Mirage 2000D, which carried a targeting pod to direct a GBU-12 smart bomb from the Rafale towards its target.

French forces also deployed two Caracal special operations helicopters to support its ground forces in Afghanistan.

The then president, François Hollande, withdrew the French combat troops at the end of 2012, a year earlier than expected by his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy. The latter had strengthened the French presence in NATO’s campaign in Afghanistan to try to get closer to the United States.

France had reinforced its combat capabilities following a deadly ambush on August 18, 2008 which resulted in the deaths of 10 soldiers in the Uzbeen valley. This attack led to a thorough examination of the army’s tactics and the dispatch of heavy French weapons.

Humiliation for the West

The Taliban’s victory was “a humiliating moment for the West,” Mark Sedwill, a former British national security adviser, told BBC Radio 4.

Authoritarian nations have a “strategic patience” that Western allies lacked, he added.

Britain was sending 600 more troops out of a total of 700, to “treat” Afghans, aid workers and journalists to leave Afghanistan, he said. British and American military planes were carrying the evacuees, with more than 1,000 British visa holders due to depart within the next two or three days.

There were 1,000 US troops, with 5,000 more to deploy to the airport, which now served as the site of the US Embassy, ​​as personnel left the official building.

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