Indian diplomats, security personnel evacuated as fighting escalates in Kandahar
India has evacuated some 50 diplomats and security personnel from Kandahar in an Indian Air Force aircraft after Taliban fighters seized key areas around the southern city in Afghanistan, people familiar with developments said on Sunday.
The evacuation was done on Saturday, just four days after India said there were no imminent plans to close its mission in Kabul and consulates in the cities of Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif. However, officials had said that India was closely tracking the deteriorating security situation across Afghanistan and all steps will be taken to ensure that Indian officials and nationals were not put in harm’s way.
The Indian consulate in Kandahar has been temporarily closed after the diplomats, support staff and guards from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) were flown out to New Delhi, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.
The presence of a large number of terrorists from Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand is believed to have been a factor in India’s decision to pull out the diplomats and security personnel from the city. According to a recent estimate by Afghan security agencies, more than 7,000 LeT fighters are believed to be fighting alongside the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.
There was no official word on the development.
Kandahar has witnessed a spike in fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces since last week, with some reports saying the militants entered Kandahar city on Friday after capturing key districts surrounding it. The strategic district of Panjwai in Kandahar province fell to the Taliban last weekend, just days after US forces abandoned Bagram air base near Kabul.
Taliban fighters seized houses in Kandahar’s seventh police district on Friday, triggering fierce clashes that continued till Saturday. The Afghan military said about 70 Taliban fighters were killed in fighting in the seventh police district and nearby Dand district.
About 2,000 families from the seventh police district were displaced and forced to take refuge in other parts of Kandahar.
Kandahar, the second largest city in Afghanistan and the capital of the province of the same name, has for long been of strategic and commercial importance. It served as the headquarters of the Taliban from the mid-1990s till 2001, when the group was ousted from power by the US invasion.
New Delhi has been working on plans to ensure the safety of diplomats and some 3,000 Indian nationals in Afghanistan in view of what officials have described as a “fluid and dynamic” situation because of the intense fighting across the country. India is also keeping a close eye on steps being taken by key countries such as the US for the safety of diplomats as it weighs its options.
In April last year, India had shuttered its consulates in Herat and Jalalabad, ostensibly because of the spread of Covid-19, though some reports suggested security was a factor in the decision.