Singapore offers A330 tanker aircraft to help US airlift evacuees from Afghanistan: PM Lee

The RSAF's A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport attained full operational capability in April. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
US Vice-President Kamala Harris and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during a press conference at the Istana on Aug 23, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong fist-bumps US vice-president Kamala Harris before a delegation meeting at the Istana on Aug 23, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Singapore will offer the United States the use of one of its tanker aircraft to airlift evacuees from Afghanistan, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (Aug 23).

He said this during a press conference at the Istana with US Vice-President Kamala Harris, who is in Singapore until Tuesday.

The two leaders had met to reaffirm the excellent state of bilateral relations as well as to discuss several issues, including defence and cyber security.

Singapore's offer of the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (A330 MRTT) to help with evacuation efforts comes after Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, fell to the Taleban on Aug 15.

The day after, the Taleban declared from the presidential palace that the 20-year war in Afghanistan was over and that it would proclaim the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

In response, thousands of people swarmed the passenger terminal of Kabul's international airport in the hope of getting an evacuation flight. These included Afghans who had helped the US and its allies over the past two decades by working as translators for military operations.

Since then, the Taleban has sought to get the situation under control by firing guns in the air and using batons to force people to form queues outside the airport. But this has not stopped the chaos there and at least seven people were killed in a crush at airport gates last Saturday.

US President Joe Biden said on Sunday that the country has an "unwavering commitment" to getting US citizens and at-risk Afghans out of Afghanistan to safety.

The RSAF's A330 MRTT, which attained full operational capability in April, is capable of conducting air-to-air refuelling and airlift roles simultaneously and enhances the Singapore Armed Forces' ability to contribute to international humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, as well as peace support operations.

The Taleban, an Islamic fundamentalist group, ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until it was ousted by an invasion led by the US following the Sept 11 attacks in 2001. Since then, the militant group has waged an insurgency against the US-backed government in the country.

On Monday, Ms Harris thanked PM Lee for the "very generous offer" to assist the US in its evacuation efforts in Afghanistan. "We look forward to following up on that discussion," she said.

When asked further about the situation in Afghanistan, PM Lee said the safety and security of the civilians is on the minds of everyone around the world and that he hopes all sides involved can work to ensure this.

He noted that Singapore is not unfamiliar with the challenges and that the Singapore Armed Forces previously deployed personnel there in support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

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The ISAF was an international military mission established by the United Nations Security Council to train the Afghan National Security Forces and to assist the country in rebuilding key government institutions.

Singapore has sent people to Afghanistan because it is a key battlefront in the global fight against terrorism, said PM Lee, noting that extremist ideas and capabilities have been exported from there to the region here.

PM Lee said the US' intervention 20 years ago has stopped terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base.

"For this, Singapore is grateful. We hope Afghanistan does not become an epicentre for terrorism again," he said.

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