Japan on Monday dispatched Self-Defense Forces aircraft to Afghanistan to evacuate Japanese nationals and local staff working for the Japanese Embassy there and other organizations amid the political crisis after the Taliban militant group seized power in the country.
One C-2 transport aircraft left for a third country, which the government has declined to name, and two C-130 planes are expected to depart Tuesday. Up to several hundred people will be evacuated in the mission, a diplomatic source said.
It will be the first time the SDF has evacuated foreign nationals from a country, according to the Defense Ministry.
"Securing the safety of Japanese people (in Afghanistan) is our top priority, and we also deem it important to secure the safety of local staff of the embassy and JICA remaining there as they include those who wish to leave the country," the top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, said.
But there remains a question of safety as evacuees will have to go to the Kabul airport.
A firefight broke out at one of the international airport gates early Monday, and an Afghan security force soldier was killed by "unknown attackers," The Associated Press reported citing German officials, as people are trying to flee the country in a chaotic exodus.
On Saturday, the United States told its citizens in Afghanistan to avoid traveling to the airport.
The three SDF aircraft will initially stand by at an airport in a third country near Afghanistan, the ministry said. As soon as coordination is made with U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which have taken control of the airport, the two C-130s will make round trips for evacuations.
The C-2 plane is carrying equipment, supplies and hundreds of personnel from the Ground and Air Self-Defense forces. Most of the staff will be based in the third country, according to the ministry.
As for the duration of the operation, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said he expects it to continue until the end of the month when the United States plans to pull its military out from Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will join a Group of Seven nations' online summit on Tuesday over the situation in Afghanistan, Kato added.
Japanese diplomats were evacuated to Dubai last Tuesday after the embassy in the capital Kabul was shut on Aug. 15, with the Taliban regaining control of the country 20 years after it was ousted from power by U.S.-led forces, but some Japanese working for international organizations remain there.
There are also believed to be dozens of local staff for the embassy as well as the Japan International Cooperation Agency and other Japanese organizations yet to be evacuated. A Defense Ministry advance team has departed for Afghanistan to gather information for the mission.
Other countries, such as the United States and Britain, have been evacuating their nationals and local staff via their military aircraft.
Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party criticized the decision to evacuate Japanese Embassy staff via a British military airplane last week, saying an SDF plane should have been dispatched instead.
In 2016, an ASDF transport aircraft was dispatched to South Sudan amid a deteriorating security situation to evacuate Japanese Embassy staff to a neighboring country.