Kabul/Rome, Aug 28 (EFE).- NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, Stefano Pontecorvo, landed in Rome on Saturday onboard Italy’s last evacuation flight, marking the end of his Afghan mission after the withdrawal of international troops, just days ahead of the evacuation deadline.
The Boeing 767 operated by the Italian Air Force arrived at the Fiumicino airport with 110 people onboard, including 58 Afghan civilians and diplomat Tommaso Claudi, whose photo helping children enter Kabul airport had gone viral recently.
“Landed in Rome With my #NATO staff and Afghans at risk. (Thank) all Allies for tremendous evacuation effort. I’ll continue my work from outside #Afghanistan to bring others to safety. NATO continues to press for safe passage & humanitarian access,” Pontecorvo tweeted on Saturday along with a photo of the personnel who travelled with him on the flight.
Hours earlier, he had informed of his departure from Kabul airport in one of the last flights operated by international forces.
“Leaving Kabul with a heavy heart. My gratitude to all #NATO Allies & Partners for a massive evacuation effort from #Afghanistan despite all challenges,” he had said in a tweet on Friday.
So far, more than 100,000 foreigners and Afghan citizens, considered vulnerable after the Taliban’s return to power, have been evacuated by the United States and coalition forces since Aug. 14, a day before the insurgents took over Kabul.
Italian evacuation operations have helped around 5,100 Afghans escape their country, and Foreign Minister Luidi Di Maio thanked soldiers, Claudi and Pontecorvo for their efforts and highlighted that Italy had evacuated the highest number of Afghan citizens among European nations.
Pontecorvo said that Afghanistan’s highways were “more or less free” and expressed hope that with adequate crew the Kabul airport “could reopen within a week.”
However, Di Maria warned of terror threats and said that Italy would hold meetings with allies over the next few days to decide future steps, as part of attempts to help the thousands of Afghans still waiting for evacuation.
The US troops have to pull out from Afghanistan before Aug. 31, as per a deadline which the Taliban are adamant on enforcing.