Prime Minister Scott Morrison has hinted joint efforts are underway to ensure the safe passage of evacuees trying to reach Kabul’s airport in the face of reports of continuing chaos.
The desperate scenes at densely crowded checkpoints outside Hamid Karzai International Airport have seen people contend with life-threatening danger as they attempt to escape Afghanistan’s capital.
The UK Defence Ministry reported that several people died on Saturday in a crush at the airport, while other reports have indicated problems of dehydration and the use of batons as Taliban fighters guard the area around the airport.
Mr Morrison said work is underway with partners from the US-led coalition around options on the ground in Kabul in response to the ‘very dangerous’ situation.
“I can’t go into too much detail about this,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“But [we’re] working with other countries and continuing to do that to expand the ways we are being able to process people to get more people into the airport and onto planes.”
The scenes of thousands of people attempting to escape the new Taliban regime has raised concerns the United States could be forced to extend the deadline for their military withdrawal – currently set for 31 August – to assist with evacuations.
Cameras have captured the chaos, with images being shared online showing babies and children being passed to soldiers over razor-wire fences, as well as Taliban fighters using whips among the crowds outside the airport.
US President Joe Biden has said he still hopes to finalise the dramatic evacuation of tens of thousands of people from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan by the withdrawal deadline.
Speaking in the White House, President Biden said his “hope is we will not have to extend” the timeframe.
“We’ll see what we can do,” he added when asked by reporters what his reply was to foreign leaders asking for more time.
“We have a long way to go and a lot could still go wrong,” President Biden said, citing the threat of attacks by the Islamic State group in particular.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia was in discussions with the United States about the potential need for the deadline to be extended.
“If they are to be extended we are absolutely ready to support a continuing operation at Hamid Karzai international airport,” she told reporters in Canberra.
Mr Morrison has previously said Australian Defence Force troops would not go beyond the tarmac at the Hamid Karzai International Airport because of danger posed by the situation.
Senator Payne said the “most significant challenge” of the evacuations continued to be access to the airport terminal.
“This is a situation that remains extremely volatile and very dangerous,” she said.
More than 470 people were evacuated from Kabul on four Australian Defence Force flights on Sunday and taken to a military base near Dubai for processing.
The passengers included Australians, Afghan nationals and UK citizens.
Senator Payne said Australia working with the United Kingdom had now evacuated 1,000 people from Afghanistan’s capital.
“Every single country operating in Afghanistan right now is trying to remove as many people as they can to the safest place they possibly can,” she said.
A second flight from the United Arab Emirates has also now arrived in Melbourne, bringing 175 people evacuated from Kabul to Australia.
This takes the total number of passengers returned to Australia to 271.