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The evacuation operation to Afghanistan failed miserably because of two things: delaying a decision on when to dispatch Air Self-Defense Force aircraft to Kabul and the swiftness of the Taliban takeover, which caught Japanese officials badly off-guard.
As a result, 500 or so Afghans and their family members who worked for the Japanese Embassy and the government-affiliated Japan International Cooperation Agency remain stranded despite promises to get them out.
Tokyo in early August began drawing up evacuation scenarios for Japanese nationals and the Afghan staff.
Initial plans called for them to be flown out of Kabul airport aboard a chartered commercial flight.
Another scenario, conveyed by the Foreign Ministry on Aug. 14 to the Defense Ministry, raised the possibility of deploying ASDF aircraft for the airlift.
But what the Foreign Ministry had miscalculated was the dizzying speed of the Taliban’s advance. Kandahar, a key provincial capital, fell to the Taliban on Aug. 13.
The prevailing view within the Foreign Ministry at the time was that the situation on the ground was unlikely to change drastically over the course of a few days, according to a senior ministry official.
That was why Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi had no hesitation about leaving Japan for a scheduled 10-day tour to the Middle East on Aug. 15.
That same day, the Taliban seized Kabul. A ranking ministry official said the ministry “misread” the speed of the Taliban’s takeover.
On Aug. 15, the Japanese Embassy in Kabul shut down. Twelve Japanese diplomats rushed to the airport to flee on a U.S. military transport plane.
By then the airport was in turmoil, making it impossible for them to reach the aircraft and immediate safety.
They spent two nights in the airport lobby before they finally flew out on a British military aircraft.
After their escape, “a few Japanese” who worked for an international organization opted to remain in Afghanistan, according to Japanese officials.
That meant Japan’s rescue operation could focus on the 500 desperate Afghans.
Commercial flights to and from Kabul had been suspended by then, ruling out one of Japan’s options.
Turning to other countries for help to ferry such a large number of Afghans appeared to be unrealistic.
When Afghan staff suggested in early August that Japan devise evacuation plans to prepare for the Taliban taking control of Kabul, they were told not to worry as Japan had the matter in hand and would follow what other countries were doing.
U.S. officials urged the Foreign Ministry to deploy the ASDF for the evacuation mission, according to an official close the prime minister’s office.