Tibor Benko – Photo: MTI

Defence minister: All known Hungarians in Afghanistan evacuated

The Hungarian Armed Forces has evacuated altogether 540 people from Afghanistan, including all Hungarian citizens known to be in the country, Hungarian Defence Minister Tibor Benko said on Thursday.

Besides Hungarian citizens, the Hungarian forces have also transported US, Austrian and Afghan citizens in a seven-day operation started on August 19, he told a press conference.

All Hungarians requesting assistance were brought back to Hungary, as were all Afghan citizens who had cooperated with the Hungarian armed forces over its 18-year deployment and requested evacuation “on time”, Benko said. Some 87 percent of “Afghans with ties to Hungary” were evacuated, including 57 families and 180 children, he said.

The government ordered the evacuation of Hungarian citizens on August 17, and the army’s resources were scrambled by the afternoon of the next day. The operation started early on August 19, he added.

The Armed Forces used two Airbus A319s to fly the evacuees from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan, in 14 flights over the 7 days. They then transferred to passenger planes of Wizz Air and the Uzbek airline company which brought them to Hungary, Benko said.

Hungary joined the operation in Afghanistan, launched in response to the 9/11 attacks on US soil, in 2003, Benko noted. The Hungarian contingent fulfilled its tasks “bravely and honestly,” he said, and commemorated the seven soldiers who passed away while deployed to Afghanistan. He also thanked the forces for completing the evacuation “in the line of fire bravely and in a well-organised manner”.

Answering a question, the minister confirmed that the evacuation operation was now over.

The operation has shown that Hungary’s soldiers are well-trained and reliable in all circumstances, he said.

Major General Romulusz Ruszin-Szendi, the commander of the Hungarian Armed Forces, said “Hungarian soldiers have written history” in managing an “evacuation operation with unparalleled challenges”.

The operative unit tasked with the evacuation created a base in Uzbekistan to receive the Hungarian aircraft, which had as little as 30 minutes on the tarmac in Kabul, he said. The evacuees had to be rounded up during that time “while we were also careful not to allow anyone on the plane who didn’t belong there.”

As the Kabul airport had a single entry point in the first days, “Hungarian soldiers looked for alternative, creative ways to get everyone on the aircraft” while complying with security regulations, Ruszin-Szendi said.

Hungary has turned its long-time standing as a “respectable member of the alliance” to its advantage, Ruszin-Szendi said.

There was no armed conflict between Taliban and Hungarian forces during the operation, he said.

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