Two members of the New Zealand Defence Force involved in the evacuation missions to Kabul have tested positive for Covid-19.
The NZDF sent a team of 80 people on the RNZAF C-130 Hercules mercy dash last month, touching down three times at Hamid Karzai International Airport to extract Kiwis and visa holders.
The “freedom flights” were cut short after a suicide bomb attack on Friday and the evacuation team has been kept at a United Arab Emirates (UAE) military base since.
Despite following prevention protocols, two NZDF personnel deployed on the evacuation operation have tested positive for Covid-19, the Herald has been told today.
The pair, who are fully-vaccinated and said to be currently well, are now in isolation under local UAE base protocols.
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They will be following all requirements for testing and isolation before travelling back to New Zealand, a Defence Force spokesman confirmed.
“All returning NZDF personnel will be completing the standard NZ border entry 14-day managed isolation requirements,” he added.
The evacuation team are expected back in New Zealand later this month.
There have been no reported cases of anyone who has already returned from Afghanistan, and who are now in MIQ in Auckland, having tested positive for the virus.
The NZDF evacuation team has been praised for its work in getting desperate Afghans and other visa and passport holders out of Kabul under incredibly-difficult conditions.
NZSAS soldiers even left the airport’s perimeter to help a grandmother in a wheelchair across a deep sewage-filled canal to safety.
“This specific rescue was just one of hundreds of acts we undertook to recover New Zealand nationals,” said one special forces commander.
“All those involved in the operation take great pride in being able to be a part of the numerous acts that took place to get people out safely.”
Senior National Officer for the operation, Group Captain Nick Olney, said the New Zealand troops “put their lives on the line” by going into crowded areas knowing there were credible threats of attack that later came to tragic fruition for US forces.
“There was absolute bravery and desperation on both sides to make it work,” he said.
“We had some very highly trained, highly capable individuals on the ground who were able to do the best they could.”
Olney said thanks to support from MFAT and MBIE, the NZDF personnel were able to “ensure we could get the right needles, out of the right haystacks and make it work”.
He said the team were tormented by reflecting on situations where they could physically reach out and touch people who they wanted to help, but they couldn’t get through.
“I can’t stress enough how difficult it was to bring those people through the wire,” Olney said.
“It was best endeavours to make miracles happen in the timeframe we had available.”
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