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(5th LD) Afghan co-workers, family members on way to S. Korea on aerial tanker

All News 10:58 August 26, 2021

(ATTN: CORRECTS aircraft's type to C-130, instead of KC-130 in para 6)
By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, Aug. 26 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean military plane departed for home from Islamabad on Thursday, carrying Afghan people evacuated from the war-torn nation after working for the South, as part of operations to bring a total of 391 Afghan co-workers and their family members to the country.

The KC-330 tanker 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 foreign ministry said.

"All but 13 have departed on a KC-330," a ministry official said on condition of anonymity, suggesting that 378 Afghans are on the plane. "They were unable to board the plane due to a lack of seats."

The 13 remain in Islamabad and will be transported to South Korea on a separate plane, the official said.

Of the total, nearly half, or some 180, are under the age of 10, including 100 infants, a defense ministry official said, adding that the evacuees are comprised of 76 families.

On Wednesday, South Korea announced it sent three military aircraft, including two C-130 planes, to bring in the Afghans to the country under the evacuation mission, codenamed Operation Miracle, stressing the country's moral responsibility to help the Afghan people facing serious security risks following the Taliban's seizure of power.

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.

Of the total, 26 were airlifted to Islamabad on Monday before the 365 others were flown out Wednesday.

After the United States started the war on terror in Afghanistan in 2001, South Korea conducted various military and relief operations, including 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, 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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