US Vice President Kamala Harris and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a joint press conference at the Istana on 23 Aug 2021 (Source: Prime Minister’s Office)

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has offered one of Singapore’s A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (A330 MRTT) aircraft to assist the United States (US) in airlifting evacuees from Afghanistan.

PM Lee said this on Monday (23 Aug) during a joint press conference at the Istana with US Vice President Kamala Harris who is visiting on her trip around Southeast Asia.

The two leaders met to reaffirm the bilateral relations between the two nations and to discuss the issues of defence and cyber security, among others.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF) A330 MRT achieved full operational capabilities in April. It is capable of air-to-air refuelling and airlift roles simultaneously. This is said to enhance the armed forces in contributing to international humanitarian aid, disaster relief missions, and peace support operations.

PM Lee’s offer to help with the evacuation in Afghanistan follows the latest development of the Taliban taking over the capital, Kabul, on 15 August.

Videos have circulated online showing thousands of people at the city’s international airport hoping to flee the Taliban’s oppressive regime. These include citizens who had helped the US and its allies over the past 20 years as translators for military operations.

The day after Kabul fell, the Taliban declared the end of the two-decade war in Afghanistan and announced that it would proclaim the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

In an effort to maintain order, the Taliban fired guns into the air at the airport and used batons to force the crowds to form queues. However, this has done little to quell the bedlam.

According to reports, seven people were killed at the airport on Saturday (21 Aug) in a crush as people desperately clamoured for a way out of the country.

On Sunday (22 Aug), US President Joe Biden announced the country’s “unwavering commitment” to evacuating US citizens and at-risk Afghans out of Afghanistan.

Ms Harris thanks PM Lee for the ‘very generous offer’

During the press conference earlier today, Ms Harris thanked PM Lee for the “very generous offer” to help the US evacuation efforts.

“We look forward to following up on that discussion,” she said.

When questioned further about the developments in Afghanistan, PM Lee remarked that the security and safety of civilians there is on everyone’s minds. He expressed his hope that all parties involved can work together to ensure their safety and security.

He added that Singapore is familiar with this challenge, noting that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) had previously deployed personnel to Afghanistan to support the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The United Nations Security Council established the ISAF in 2001 to train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and assist the country in rebuilding key government institutions.

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

The Prime Minister also expressed gratitude for the US’s intervention in Afghanistan 20 years ago, which he said prevented terrorist groups from using the country as a base.

“We hope Afghanistan does not become an epicentre of terrorism again,” he added.

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