The majority of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel who assisted with the Afghanistan evacuations have returned to New Zealand.

Commander Joint Forces New Zealand Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour has praised their efforts in evacuating New Zealand nationals, their families and other visa holders from Kabul following the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

“There are real stories of bravery, initiative and professionalism among our personnel and equally of bravery and incredible resilience among evacuees.”

As part of the NZDF’s Operation Kõkako, New Zealand Army soldiers were on the ground at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul where they used code words and instructions sent on messenger apps to help evacuees navigate chaotic and dangerous scenes to reach the soldiers, where they could be taken to safety within the airport perimeter.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules deployed on the mission completed three flights to Kabul, and had two more flights scheduled before being forced to pull out due to an imminent security threat that was realised just hours later with an attack claimed by ISIS-K that left 170 civilians and 13 United States military dead, with many more injured.

Other members of the NZDF contingent were at a base in the United Arab Emirates, supporting evacuees prior to their onward travel to New Zealand.

Rear Admiral Gilmour said all those involved had worked through an “incredibly fluid and complex situation” to bring people to safety.

The NZDF deployed about 80 personnel on the operation, but it is estimated that around 600 NZDF staff were involved in a range of activities from planning, logistics and coordination through to mobilisation in order to achieve the mission.

Hundreds of staff from other Government agencies and thousands from international partners were involved in the humanitarian effort.

“It has been a huge multi-agency, international effort to welcome evacuees to Aotearoa New Zealand. Our thoughts are with those New Zealand visa holders still in Afghanistan who wanted to evacuate but have been unable to,” he said.

“While acknowledging those facing uncertainty in Afghanistan, I am very proud of our personnel who worked tirelessly to bring many others to safety here in New Zealand.”

There has been a phased return of NZDF personnel. One member of the NZDF medical team returned on a civilian flight with evacuees, in case their medical support had been required. Aircrew and maintenance personnel returned on the aircraft at the weekend. Other members of the Op Kõkako contingent have returned to New Zealand on civilian flights. A small number of logistics support staff are still in the United Arab Emirates, due to return to New Zealand approximately mid-September.

All returning NZDF personnel will be completing the standard New Zealand border entry requirements including 14 days managed isolation in the MIQ system.

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