BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Union’s foreign policy chief branded developments in Afghanistan “a catastrophe” on Thursday and said there had been a failure of intelligence to anticipate the Taliban’s rapid return to power.
Addressing the European Parliament, Josep Borrell said about 100 EU staff and 400 Afghans working with the EU and their families had been evacuated, but that 300 more Afghans were still trying to leave.
He stressed Europe’s “moral duty” to rescue as many Afghans as possible who had worked for the EU in Afghanistan, but said it would not be possible to get them all out.
“Let me speak clearly and bluntly, this is a catastrophe,” Borrell said. “It is a catastrophe for the Afghan people, for the Western values and credibility, and for the developing of international relations.”
Western countries have been scrambling to airlift their citizens, Afghan staff and their families out since the Taliban took control of the capital Kabul on Sunday. Thousands of people have desperately tried to get past Taliban roadblocks and U.S. troops to reach Kabul airport.
On Thursday the Taliban urged crowds of Afghans waiting outside the airport to return home, saying they did not want to hurt anyone, a day after the group’s fighters fired at protesters, killing three.
In his speech, Borrell addressed concerns that a fresh wave of Afghan migrants might reach Europe, in a replay of the 2015 migrant crisis, when large numbers of people trekked across the continent, many fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
“Don’t call them migrants, they are exiled people, people who are fleeing to save their lives”, Borrell said, rejecting comparisons with Syria as Afghanistan is much further away.
Borrell said he was in touch with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who will host a virtual crisis meeting of the alliance’s foreign ministers on Friday to discuss Afghanistan.
NATO wrapped up military operations in Afghanistan this summer after almost two decades following a U.S. decision to withdraw.
(Reporting by John Chalmers, Sabine Siebold and Kate Abnett; editing by Gareth Jones)