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(LEAD) Military plane carrying Afghan evacuees depart for S. Korea from Islamabad: foreign ministry

All News 06:39 August 26, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES article throughout; ADDS photo)
By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, Aug. 26 (Yonhap) -- A military plane carrying Afghan evacuees departed for South Korea on Thursday, the foreign ministry said.

The transport aircraft took off from an airport in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad at 4:53 a.m. (Seoul time) and is expected to land at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, at 3:53 p.m., the ministry said.

It was not immediately known how many of the evacuees were aboard the plane.

South Korea sent three military aircraft on Monday to airlift those who worked with Koreans as well as their families amid the worsening security situation in Kabul following the Taliban's seizing of power.

On Wednesday, the government announced that it plans to bring in a total of 391 Afghans to the country on the evacuation mission, codenamed "Operation Miracle," stressing the country's moral responsbility to help the Afghan people facing serious security risks.

Of the 391 Afghans bound for Seoul, 26 people were airlifted to Islamabad on Monday before the 365 others were flown out Wednesday.

The evacuees are medical professionals, vocational trainers, IT experts and interpreters who worked for Korea's embassy, now-closed hospitals and a job training center that were run by the country's overseas aid institution, KOICA.

After the United States started the war on terror in Afghanistan in 2001, South Korea conducted various military and relief operations, including the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) activities from 2010-14. The PRT offered medical services, aid for agricultural development and vocational and police training.

The Afghans will be coming in not as refugees but as "persons of special merit," and be granted short-term visas, which will switch to longer-term ones, officials have said.

Upon arrival, they will be tested for COVID-19 and be placed under quarantine at a government-designated facility in the provincial county of Jincheon, about 91 kilometers southeast of Seoul. They will also undergo screening again to confirm their identities.

The evacuation got under way after Seoul temporarily closed its embassy and evacuated its diplomatic staff to Qatar, as the security conditions worsened amid the ongoing pullout of U.S. troops and the Taliban's return to power.

Afghans who have worked for the South Korean government in Afghanistan, and their family members, line up to board a South Korean military plane at an airport in Kabul, in this photo provided by the foreign ministry on Aug. 25, 2021. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

elly@yna.co.kr
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