At the beginning, when we were leaving, the task seemed almost impossible – this is what Szymon Wudarski, who participated in the on-site operation in Afghanistan organized by the Polish government, said on Wednesday about the evacuation of civilians from the Kabul airport. – Each of the evacuated people had to be located, found in the crowd of thousands swirling in front of the base gate, and then physically dragged into the base – said Maciej Lang, Polish ambassador to Romania, involved in the evacuation of Afghans.
On Wednesday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Zbigniew Rau summed up the completed mission in Afghanistan. He recalled that it had lasted since 2001, when the Taliban sheltered the organizers of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
– Poland was a participant in this allied operation. We persevered in Afghanistan until the very end of our mission as a faithful and valuable ally. As Rau said, the withdrawal from the mission led to a successful evacuation with no loss of lives.
The minister called the allied mission in Afghanistan “an undisputed success”. – We owe this unquestionable success of our partner mission, the allied mission in Afghanistan, mainly to the soldiers of our armed forces – emphasized Rau. – It is impossible not to pay tribute again and express my appreciation to those of them who paid the highest price for it, the price of their lives – he added.
Action at the Kabul airport. “The word ‘coordination’ took on a special meaning”
The representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who coordinated the evacuation from Afghanistan at the airport in Kabul also took the floor at the conference.
Maciej Lang, the Polish ambassador to Romania, who was involved in the evacuation of Afghans, said that the action was organized in conditions of “unprecedented chaos caused by the disintegration of Afghanistan’s state structures, time pressure and the deteriorating security situation.”
– In these circumstances, the word “coordination” was of particular importance. Our mission was military and civilian. We had to coordinate the operation of military and civilian components on site. We had to coordinate with our allies at the Kabul airport. We had to coordinate our activities with Warsaw – he described.
Lang also informed that there are currently over a thousand people evacuated from Kabul in Poland. – Each of these evacuees had to be located, found in the crowd of thousands, swirling in front of the base gate, and then physically hauled into the base, placed in a makeshift camp and sent by military transport to Uzbekistan, from where LOT planes were transported to Warsaw – he said.
– While we could not plan the pace of searching, hauling into the base, we had to plan flights of planes that formed the air bridge on the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan-Poland route many hours in advance. Otherwise, the planes could fly away empty – he explained.
Evacuation from Afghanistan. Relations of Polish diplomats
Other diplomats, witnesses of the events in the Afghan capital, also took the floor at the conference. Szymon Wudarski admitted that “the conditions were really difficult”. – Our entire team there was literally pulling people out of the sewage, because in many cases it was because the Afghans jumped into the river that drained the sewage system from the base and we pulled them out from there – he recalled. “The task was really difficult,” he noted.
– At the beginning, when we were leaving, the task seemed almost impossible. When we got there and saw the crowd at the gate, we decided it would be very difficult – he added.
He said that on the spot, together with his associates, they saw “the death of people trampled in the crowd, the death of children who were trampled by the crowd at the gate, which tried to break through to the other side at all costs”. “It was a very traumatic psychological experience for us,” he said.
Wudarski also spoke about the situation of the family of one of the embassy employees in Kabul, who had split with relatives from the crowd. – In the beginning, we only managed to save my father and a one-year-old child. Mother and grandmother remained in the crowd, he mentioned, noting that the Taliban did not pass single women through the checkpoints. – They always had to be in male company. These women had an additional difficulty, he noted.
The second diplomat, Ewa Piasek-Chojnacka, who also dealt with the evacuation, spoke more about this situation. – We promised (to find the family) the father of the child who flew in the first transport to Poland. The night passed and the next day we started trying to find the people we wanted to save. Fortunately, the family found itself after one day, somewhere involved in the crowd – she said.
Piasek-Chojnacka also spoke about “the most difficult moment that remains in her memory”. – This is the moment when we couldn’t get people out of the crowd because there was a risk of an attack. The British military, also for our security reasons, has stopped allowing people to go to the safe side. Then I got a call from Poland from an Afghan translator who had worked with the Polish contingent in recent years. He desperately asked to save his niece with a two-month-old baby, who had been waiting for a rescue for a day and lost her food – she said. As the child said, “he did not eat all day” and the mother was “in a critical situation”.
– Then we managed to get the woman out, despite the difficulties. Thanks to the translator, a soldier from Poland, who went to negotiate with the Taliban, the possibility of saving this girl. It is incredible, it is beyond belief, as a miracle that the Taliban released only this girl, the mother of a two-month-old baby that afternoon. The baby is alive, and so is the mother. British medics helped us, they checked the child’s vital functions – she said. “This is the most difficult situation we’ve had,” she admitted.
Szymon Wudarski added that such situations “raised morale” and “were uplifting and motivated to continue working”.
Main photo source: AKHTER GULFAM / PAP / EPA