US Says Nearly 500 Afghan Citizens Evacuated from Uzbekistan

The United States said Tuesday it had evacuated nearly 500 “military and civilian” Afghans from Uzbekistan, while the ex-Soviet country claimed there were now no Afghan refugees on its territory.

The days leading up to the Taliban’s capture of Kabul caused scenes of chaos in Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as soldiers loyal to the crumbling government fled over state borders in military aircraft.

Uzbekistan had mostly withheld comment on the number and status of the refugees as it looked to cultivate ties with the Taliban next door.

But a US embassy spokesman told AFP Tuesday that it had evacuated 494 “military and civilian” Afghans out of Uzbekistan’s southern Termez airport with the Uzbek government’s help.

“The evacuation was completed September 12-13,” the spokesman told AFP by telephone, making no comment on the final destination of the refugees.

Uzbek foreign ministry spokesman Yusup Kabulzhanov on Monday confirmed the evacuation in comments to the privately-owned Kun.uz outlet, noting that “all Afghan refugees have left the territory of Uzbekistan”, without offering figures.

A staffer at Afghanistan’s embassy told AFP last month that up to 1,500 Afghans may have crossed into Uzbekistan illegally after the Taliban secured control of the northern stronghold Mazar-i- Sharif in mid-August and began beating a path towards Kabul.

In a rare statement on the refugees in August, Uzbekistan said that it had returned 150 people to Afghanistan at their own request and following talks with the Taliban to guarantee their safety.

Tajikistan, which has eschewed official contacts with the Taliban, has been similarly secretive about the number of refugees it has taken in.

Interior Minister Ramazon Hamro Rahimzoda said earlier this month that the country could not admit around 80 Afghan families camping out on its border with Afghanistan, due to a lack of infrastructure to house them.

Afghanistan is set to dominate discussions at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation — a bloc that includes four ex-Soviet Central Asian countries, China, India, Pakistan and Russia — that Tajikistan is hosting this week.

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