Australia's Afghanistan rescue mission will not go ahead until chaos at Kabul airport subsides as people desperately try to escape the Taliban. Air force troops will base themselves in the United Arab Emirates while waiting for the Afghan capital to become safer.
People have swarmed Kabul airport in an attempt to board military flights with footage showing some falling to their deaths after clinging to planes. Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the tragic scenes made it incredibly difficult for Australia's mission until US forces secure the airport.
"For Australia, we won't be landing aircraft into the airport until it's safe to do so," he told Sky News on Tuesday. There are more than 130 Australians working for the United Nations, non-government organisations and elsewhere still in Afghanistan which is now under Taliban control.
Up to 800 Afghans who helped Australia's military including interpreters are also seeking a safe passage out of the country. Since April, 430 Afghan employees, as well as their families, have been brought to Australia.
Mr Dutton said the exact number of locally engaged employees was hard to determine with some taking up asylum offers in other parts of the world. But he warned that anyone intelligence showed worked for al-Qaeda or the Taliban, as well as Australia, would not be granted a visa.
"I'm not bringing people to Australia that pose a threat to us or that have done us harm in Afghanistan even if at a point earlier they had provided assistance to us," he said. More than 250 Australian defence personnel will be deployed to support three RAAF aircraft to evacuate citizens and visa holders under a US-led operation.
Mr Dutton conceded it would be difficult for anyone unable to reach the capital's airport to be evacuated from Afghanistan with Kabul the only option for troops to land. "We need to be realistic about not just the situation at the airport but also the corridor between Kabul and the airport is a difficult route as well."
There are grave concerns for women and girls in Afghanistan under the Taliban, which swept to power at breakneck speed after the US and allies withdrew. During the group's 1996 to 2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as public stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.
Mr Dutton said Australia wanted to see the regime treat women equally, educate the country's youth and maintain a functioning bureaucracy. "The world's eye is now on Afghanistan and watching what the Taliban do," he said.
Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong criticised the government's efforts as too little, too late. "We have both Australian citizens, but importantly, people who have helped us, who have not yet been able to have their visas considered, who are still in Afghanistan, who are still in Kabul," she said.
Matt Coughlan AAP & with The Project