The KC-767 military transport plane touched down about 13.30 local time at Rome’s Fiumicino international airport, carrying some 50 diplomats and 20 Afghans who had worked with Italian forces in Afghanistan, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Their arrival came after a last-minute evacuation on Sunday at Kabul’s airport, as Western powers scrambled to fly out their remaining embassy staff and Afghans who worked as interpreters or other support roles.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said in an interview on Rai Radio 1 on Monday morning that “other compatriots who were in Afghanistan and who responded to the call of the Foreign Ministry to return to Italy” were also on the first evacuation flight.
“This is the first of the flights that will take off from Kabul to Italy to repatriate citizens in the next few days”, Di Maio said.
The ministry had urged Italian nationals to leave the country over the weekend following the Taliban’s advance into the Afghan capital.
At a security committee meeting held in Palermo on Sunday, Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said reports “indicate the Taliban will not take immediate action. This should allow time to ensure the departure of Italian nationals and of those who have cooperated with the armed forces, such as doctors, interpreters.”
Following the arrival of the evacuation flight on Monday, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office tweeted that “Italy’s commitment is to protect the Afghan citizens who have collaborated with our mission”.
Il Presidente Draghi ringrazia le forze armate per le operazioni che stanno permettendo di riportare in Italia i nostri concittadini di base in #Afghanistan. L’impegno dell’Italia è proteggere i cittadini afghani che hanno collaborato con la nostra missione
— Palazzo_Chigi (@Palazzo_Chigi) August 16, 2021
The announcements came after Washington announced on Thursday that it was sending thousands of troops to Kabul to evacuate diplomats and other nationals.
Di Maio had said in an interview with newspaper Il Corriere della Sera on Saturday that “the priority is to secure our compatriots”, adding that “we cannot think of abandoning the Afghan people after 20 years”.
In June, Italy repatriated its remaining approximately 900 soldiers as part of the accelerated withdrawal of NATO forces.
The country was one of the most committed Western powers in Afghanistan, which since 2015 alongside the United States, Turkey, Britain and Germany, formed the bulk of NATO’s “Resolute Support” mission to train and advise Afghan troops.
Italy deployed 50,000 troops in Afghanistan over the past 20 years following the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
During that period, 53 Italian soldiers died and 723 were injured.
According to the defence ministry, 228 Afghans who have worked for Italy and their families are already in Italy.
The Taliban takeover after President Ashraf Ghani fled on Sunday concluded a lightning offensive that overran a string of regional capitals in just over a week following NATO’s withdrawal.