Defence Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed the ADF left Afghanistan just hours before last night’s terrorist attack, which has now killed 70.
The government also revealed the nine-day RAAF-led operation rescued a total of 4,100 citizens and visa holders, with 783 already in quarantine in Australia.
Thursday's suspected terrorist attack happened in a drainage canal along the road to the airport, which has been described as a choke point where thousands of people are filtering through. President Joe Biden has already insisted the US will hunt down those responsible.
However, Minister Dutton insisted the “intelligence was clear to us” that a terrorist attack was a “near certainty”, prompting the ADF’s withdrawal. The RAAF used its C-130J Hercules, KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and two C-17A Globemasters as part of its operation.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the RAAF left “not long before” the explosion.
“I want to commend all of those who were part of that operation on the ground, be they wearing uniforms, or be they civilians in a public service. I want to commend them for their bravery, first and foremost, for their sacrifice,” he added.
He earlier condemned the “evil, calculated and inhuman” attacks against “the innocent and the brave”.v
“We join with our American and Afghan friends in mourning their terrible loss. Like so many other losses that have gone before them,” he said.
“Like Australians who have been at the same airport and at the same game and many others like it, over the course of these operations, these brave young Americans stood at the gate to protect life, to save life but lost their own in providing a pathway to freedom for others.”
Earlier this week, PM Morrison said the ADF personnel getting those in danger out are “real heroes”.
“They are going through what is an extraordinarily tense time and they are getting people out,” he said.
“We’ve been going like we won’t be able to get another flight in the next day, so we’ve been trying to make every flight as successful as possible.
“We’ll keep doing that for as long as we can. If that deadline [31 August] is able to be pushed out, we’ve made it clear to the United States we support that.”
The Taliban has repeatedly insisted the last day of the month is a “red line” for withdrawal, with its forces currently allowing evacuations to take place without interference.