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Finnish diplomats evacuated from Afghanistan, HS reports

Meanwhile, Afghan nationals who helped Finnish troops will be evacuated by Tuesday at the latest, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Pekka Haavisto.

Talibanin taistelijoita pitää vahtia kadulla.
Taliban fighters on street patrol. Image: EPA
Yle News

According to newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, Finnish diplomats in Afghanistan were evacuated on Monday, reportedly to a nearby country.

The paper reported that the embassy workers left Afghanistan aboard a US military aircraft.

Helsingin Sanomat also reported that Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen (Centre) did not confirm whether the diplomats had been evacuated, however.

Earlier on Monday, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green) told Yle that the country aimed to evacuate Finnish nationals in Afghanistan over the course of the day.

In just over a week, militant group the Taliban has seized power in the war-torn country, with the organisation's officials declaring victory on Monday.

On Sunday the country's president Ashraf Ghani fled the country as Taliban forces took over the capital city of Kabul, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed, according to news outlet Reuters.

Haavisto said that Afghan nationals who assisted Finnish troops in the country over the years would also be evacuated by Tuesday at the latest.

Finland decided to increase the number of residence permits granted to people, and their families, who have recently been employed by Finland, Nato or the EU in Afghanistan. A total of 170 Afghans will now be granted asylum in Finland, up from the previous figure of 130.

Finland began participating in the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2002, and subsequently its successor mission Operation Resolute Support, until withdrawing on 8 June this year. During that period, a number of Afghan nationals worked alongside Finnish personnel, in the capacity of interpreters or translators, for example.

Finland announced late on Sunday night that the Finnish embassy in Kabul had been closed indefinitely and that diplomatic staff were to be evacuated from the country. Additionally, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs urged all Finnish citizens who were in Afghanistan to leave the country.

On Monday morning Haavisto said that the country's diplomats in Afghanistan were safe.

"[The ministry] has been in contact with Finnish citizens and foreigners with a permanent residence in Finland who have submitted their travel plans to Afghanistan. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs will assist those who have requested consular assistance as far as possible," the ministry said in a statement issued on Monday.

Chaos broke out at Kabul's civilian airport on Sunday night and into Monday morning after hundreds of Afghans thronged the facility's runway area, trying to climb aboard the final commercial flight out of the country, according to media reports including from Reuters.

Finnish national airline Finnair joined many other international airlines in suspending flights over Afghanistan airspace, according to tabloid Iltalehti. The Finnish carrier normally flies over the country on routes to Bangkok and Singapore.

Some countries, including Turkey and France, announced on Monday morning that they would evacuate their own nationals as well as Afghan citizens during Monday.

Kaikkonen: Lessons to be learned from Finnish involvement

Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen (Cen) said on Monday that the security of Finns in Afghanistan and of Afghans who have worked for Finland is "the number one priority for Finland in the near future and the coming days".

Speaking at the opening of a national defence course in Helsinki, Kaikkonen said that the deterioration of the security situation since the withdrawal of western troops has been faster than expected.

Kaikkonen said he has commissioned the Defence Ministry to carry out a study of the lessons learned from Finland's nearly two decades of crisis management work in Afghanistan.

"Crisis management operations in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2021 can provide rich, up-to-date empirical data on what can be achieved through military crisis management and what is not reasonable to achieve," Kaikkonen said.

According to Kaikkonen, in future whenever Finnish soldiers are sent to join crisis operations abroad, there must be a clear understanding of their goals and the likelihood of achieving them.

"When making an assessment of possible participation, we must carefully consider whether an external military operation will improve or weaken the security situation in the crisis area," Kaikkonen said. "Military action always has unpredictable side effects," he added.

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