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Editorial: Japan’s heavy moral responsibility to get needy out of Afghanistan

  • August 26, 2021
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 3:47 p.m.
  • English Press

The government dispatched three Self-Defense Forces transport planes to Afghanistan to evacuate Japanese nationals as well as local staffers of the Japanese Embassy and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).


While ensuring this operation is undertaken safely, the government must also provide every possible assistance to Afghan citizens associated with Japan.


Shortly after the fall of Kabul to Taliban forces, a British military aircraft flew 12 Japanese Embassy personnel to the United Arab Emirates.


But a small number of Japanese workers at international organizations are still stuck in Afghanistan, as well as many local hires and their families, all in urgent need of help.


With commercial flights out of the equation and the deadline of the U.S. pullout approaching, it was understandable that the government decided on the SDF aircraft dispatch, invoking Article 84, Section 4 of the Self-Defense Forces Law concerning the “transportation of Japanese nationals abroad and others.”


But given the swiftness of the decision, there still remain many uncertainties, such as how the government confirmed the law’s basic safety requirements, and what sort of arrangements, if any, have been made with the Taliban.


The U.S. military is overseeing security at Kabul airport. But the situation remains highly volatile, with lethal firefights raging in the immediate neighborhood.


Sending the SDF to such a zone is hardly a decision to be taken lightly. The government must keep the Diet and the public fully apprised of up-to-date information.


The SDF have executed emergency evacuation missions on four occasions to date, including during the 2013 hostage crisis in Algeria.


But each time, the evacuees were limited to Japanese citizens only, and about 10 or so at that. This will be the first time for foreign nationals to be included, and the scale of the mission could escalate.


Since the SDF’s activities will be confined within the airport, anyone seeking to be evacuated must get there on their own steam, which will not be easy under surveillance by the Taliban.


The government needs to act in close concert with all nations involved in the evacuation procedure.


The Japanese Embassy and the JICA office have several dozen local hires each. Some have worked before with Japanese NGOs or studied in Japan. No limit should be set to the number of those who are in danger and need help. It would defeat the entire purpose of the operation if, by some strict rules about the number of their accompanying families and other factors, not everyone is permitted to board the aircraft.


The SDF’s mission ends once the evacuees land in a nearby nation, from where they will be on their own to reach their final destinations by commercial flights or other means of transportation.


But these people will have left their homeland in a panicked hurry, and it would be hugely irresponsible to leave them to their fate once they are off the SDF plane. The government is morally obligated to try everything to help them settle somewhere safe, including in Japan.


The United States invaded Afghanistan in retaliation for 9/11. And for about eight years, Japan kept dispatching the Maritime Self-Defense Force to the Indian Ocean to supply fuel to the U.S. forces.


The present chaos in Afghanistan is an outcome of that prolonged war. Japan cannot pretend this is none of its business.


–The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 25

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