By Andreas Rinke
Germany must urgently evacuate up to 10,000 people from Afghanistan for whom it has responsibility, Chancellor Angela Merkel told party colleagues, warning that the fallout from the conflict will last for a very long time.
The remarks, made at a closed-door meeting of her Christian Democrat party on Monday and relayed by meeting participants, reflect growing concern about bloodshed in Afghanistan after the Taliban seized the capital and proclaimed peace.
“We are witnessing difficult times,” Merkel said. “Now we must focus on the rescue mission.”
Merkel said those needing evacuation included 2,500 Afghan support staff as well as human rights activists, lawyers and others whom the government sees as being at risk if they remained in the country, up to 10,000 altogether.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Germany was seeking to evacuate as many people at risk as it could, adding that NATO allies had misjudged the situation when they thought Afghan government forces could hold back the Taliban unaided.
“We want to get as many people out of the country as quickly as possible,” Maas told reporters outside the Foreign Ministry in remarks echoed by Finance Minister Olaf Scholz.
Scholz, who like Maas is of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, said: “The goal is an air bridge to save as many people as possible. The international community must now stand together to support neighbouring countries of Afghanistan. A large refugee movement will begin soon.”
Merkel told her party that Germany should cooperate with countries bordering Afghanistan to support those fleeing now, adding: “This topic will keep us busy for a very long time.”
However, Paul Ziemiak, the general secretary of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said Germany could not fix the situation in Afghanistan through a repeat of the open-door migrant policy it pursued in 2015.
Germany opened its borders six years ago to more than 1 million migrants, many of them Syrians, fleeing war and poverty – a bold move that won Merkel plaudits abroad but which proved controversial at home and eroded her party’s standing.
“For us, it is clear that 2015 must not be repeated,” Ziemiak told broadcaster n-tv. “We won’t be able to solve the Afghanistan question through migration to Germany.”
Merkel, in power since 2005, plans to stand down after Germany’s Sept. 26 federal election. Armin Laschet, the CDU’s chancellor candidate at the election, said Afghanistan was NATO’s biggest fiasco since it was formed.
Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told the meeting that Germany had deployed special forces and paratroopers to help with the evacuation, adding it was “an extremely dangerous operation” for German troops.
“As long as it remains possible, the German army will get as many people as possible out of Afghanistan and maintain the air bridge,” she said, adding this depended on the willingness of the United States to keep the airport open.