India brings back nationals as Afghan fight intensifies

India brings back citizens, officials from Mazar-e-Sharif as Taliban continues advance

The Taliban over the past few weeks continued its advances through Afghanistan taking advantage of the withdrawal of troops by the US and its NATO allies

Taliban fighters stand guard in Kunduz city, northern Afghanistan. Credit: AP/PTI Photo

India has brought back home about 50 of its officials and citizens living in and around Mazar-e-Sharif amid fierce fighting between the Afghan National Defence and Security Force and the rapidly advancing Taliban near the capital of the Balkh province in northern Afghanistan.

A special aircraft landed in Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi early morning on Wednesday, bringing home the officials posted at the Consulate General of India in Mazar-e-Sharif and the security personnel deployed to guard it as well as the civilians living in and around the city. Though the aircraft was expected to take off from Mazar-e-Sharif late in the evening on Tuesday, its arrival in the besieged city and departure with evacuees onboard were delayed by a few hours as New Delhi had to work with Afghan Government in Kabul, local authorities and the Afghan National Security and Defence Force to ensure security.

The aircraft also avoided the airspace of Pakistan while flying to Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan and returning to India.

As the Taliban overran several major cities in northern Afghanistan over the past few days and continuing its blitzkrieg, the Embassy of India in Kabul on Tuesday “strongly advised” Indians living across the war torn country to immediately take flights back home before commercial air services get discontinued.

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“As violence in many parts of Afghanistan has escalated, commercial air travel services to many provinces and cities are getting discontinued,” the Embassy of India in Kabul noted in its latest security advisory issued on Tuesday. “All Indian nationals visiting, staying and working in Afghanistan are strongly advised to keep themselves updated on the availability of commercial flights from various parts of Afghanistan and make immediate travel arrangements to return to India before commercial air services are discontinued to their place of stay or visit in Afghanistan.”

The Consulate General of India in Mazar-e-Sharif on Tuesday posted on Twitter that a special aircraft would leave the city for New Delhi late in the evening. It advised the Indian citizens living in and around the city to take the flight back to the country.

The aircraft also brought back to the country the officials and security personnel deployed in the consulate.

A source in New Delhi, however, clarified that the consulate would not be closed down and the local employees would continue to run it and issue visas to Afghans living in Balkh, Jawzjan, Faryab, Samangan and Sar-e-Pul and seeking to travel to India.

India moved to bring back home its officials and citizens from northern Afghanistan exactly a month after it evacuated its officials posted at its consulate in Kandahar in the southern part of the conflict-ravaged country.

The Taliban over the past few weeks continued its advances through Afghanistan taking advantage of the withdrawal of troops by the United States and its NATO allies from the country. Its fighters reached closer to Mazar-e-Sharif on Monday, after overrunning Zaranj, Aybak, Taloqan, Jawzjan, Sheberghan and Sar-e-Pul – all provincial capitals. The ANSDF, however, launched a counter offensive to retake Kunduz after the Taliban occupied the provincial capital in northeastern Afghanistan last Sunday.

If the Taliban can take over Mazar-e-Sharif, it is likely to pose a serious security threat to national capital Kabul, which is just about 425 kilometers away.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani arrived in Mazar-e-Sharif early on Wednesday, apparently to review the security situation in the northern part of the country and to raise the morale of the ANDSF soldiers fighting the Taliban. Afghanistan’s former Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum also reached Mazar-e-Sharif late on Tuesday.

Not only the Government of India, but the United Nations also moved to evacuate its officials from Mazar-e-Sharif.