Australia has said it will shut its embassy in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Friday, as the withdrawal of international troops proceeds. In a statement, Canberra talked of “an increasingly uncertain security environment” in the country.
It said Australian diplomats would visit Afghanistan regularly – but would be based elsewhere in the region. There are fears that the withdrawal of the US-led NATO force could plunge Afghanistan back into a full-scale war.
In April, US President Joe Biden said American troops would leave by 11 September, after 20 years of military involvement in Afghanistan. “It is time to end America’s longest war” Mr Biden said.
At least 2,500 US troops are part of the 9,600-strong NATO Afghan mission. Over the past two years, Australia has reduced the number of its troops in Afghanistan from more than 1,500 to about 80.
US and NATO officials have recently said that the Taliban, a hardline Islamist movement, have so far failed to live up to commitments to reduce violence in Afghanistan.
The Australian statement was issued jointly by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Tuesday.
“We will close our Embassy building on 28 May 2021,” the document said, adding that “it is Australia’s expectation that this measure will be temporary and that we will resume a permanent presence in Kabul once circumstances permit.
“Australia remains committed to the bilateral relationship with Afghanistan, and we will continue to support the stability and development of Afghanistan in concert with other nations.”
The statement did not say where in the region Australian diplomats would be relocated.
A deal signed in February last year said the US and its NATO allies would withdraw all troops in 14 months if the Taliban upheld its promises, including not allowing al-Qaeda or other militants to operate in areas it controlled and proceeding with national peace talks.
As a condition of starting negotiations with the Afghan government, the Taliban also demanded the release of thousands of their men in a prisoner swap.
Although the group stopped attacks on international forces as part of the historic agreement, it has continued to fight the Afghan government.