The 'special four' as they arrive in Figo Maduro airport last night, to be welcomed by defence minister João Cravinho Gomes and President Marcelo

Portuguese military return from Afghanistan: “objectives fully accomplished”

The four Portuguese military that accompanied a Spanish contingent to Kabul earlier this week (click here) have returned, safe and with 58 Afghans who will be taking up new lives in Portugal.

The circumstances of their lightning mission were “extremely difficult”, defence minister João Gomes Cravinho told Lusa. Indeed, they had only just touched down in Kabul when the airport was hit by a suicide attack that claimed upwards of 170 lives, including American military and British civilians.

But thanks to a combination of planning and good fortune, the group was able to make contact with most of the people on the ‘priority list’ (made up mainly interpreters and translators who have collaborated with national forces in the last 20 years) and get them and their families to safety.

The 58 are arriving in batches over the weekend  (the initial flight from Kabul stopped off in Madrid, the military flying on ahead to Figo Maduro airport near Lisbon last night).

Mr Gomes Cravinho explained that Portugal’s initial ‘priority list’ of 116 Afghans included a number of people who will almost certainly have been airlifted to other countries.

“The 58 that are coming here correspond to those that we contacted and which took us up on our manifestation of willingness to offer refuge. Several of the 116 initial contacts didn’t take up our offer, presumably because they had already left Kabul with others (meaning other countries’ forces)”.

The minister stressed Portugal’s small group of soldiers had succeeded totally in carrying out its mission, which made him “very satisfied”.

Other Afghans are almost certain to follow the 58 initially rescued.

“In all we have the capacity to receive 300 immediately”, he told Lusa. “This number will be increased in the coming weeks, I have no doubt”.

Mr Gomes Cravinho stressed that while he was ‘totally satisfied’ with the results of the Portuguese mission, he was far from satisfied with the ‘bigger picture’ when it came to western objectives.

As he told Lusa, after 20 years in which so much was done towards training special forces within Afghanistan, it is clear now that the efforts were simply were “not sustainable”. Everything achieved “collapsed very rapidly”, he admitted.

Mariana Vieira da Silva, minister for the presidency, was at Figo Maduro airport as the first families started to arrive. She told reporters that they will be temporarily taken to two centres close to Lisbon, from which authorities will then seek to “define more adequate projects of integration for each family”.

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