Aoife MacManus tells of Taliban escort to airport before Afghanistan evacuation

Irish citizen Aoife MacManus has spoken of her relief to escape Afghanistan to Islamabad in Pakistan with the aid of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Taliban and the US Marines.

s MacManus, who was coordinating a large education programme for the UN in Kabul, received a Taliban escort to the airport.

Once she arrived at the airport she was processed by US Marines amid chaotic scenes and then finally boarded a flight to Islamabad, organised by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

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“I’m fine, well rested, better rested than I have been. I stayed in the same place for two nights and on Wednesday evening we got the okay to go to the airport.

“The issue at the moment isn’t that there are no flights available – I’d been offered the opportunity to get on several flights by the Department of Foreign Affairs – but the issue for most is how to get to the gates of the airport and for them to be accessible.

“We had an escort, which is what is happening for most NGOs and UN organisations, the equivalent of a police escort… but obviously it’s a Taliban escort.

“We were very lucky, I saw other NGO cars having to go back as they didn’t reach the gates but we managed to reach the gates somehow and the US marines came out to meet us and we were processed that way,” Aoife told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Once Aoife was processed, she said she encountered “several thousand” other people in her position waiting to board military flights to take them out of Afghanistan.

“It was quite a scene while still hearing the gunshots from outside the airport as people still tried to push their way in. The gunshots were going into the air to control the crowd but it was quite a surreal experience.”

Aoife had to wait until dawn on Thursday morning to take off from Kabul Airport and said it was a “very strange and heavy feeling” knowing she may be departing the city for the last time.

“We watched the sun rise over the mountains before we could take off and as we departed over Kabul, a city I’ve left many times, it was a very strange and heavy feeling that so many colleagues that I work with and friends are there and won’t have the opportunity to leave anytime soon.

“[I was] just wondering what’s next for them. It’s no different to the naked eye but it’s very different to the city I left for a holiday two months ago.

“I have to stay positive that… things will settle. When we were leaving, things were much calmer than they had been in the previous days,” Aoife said.

The Ashbourne native said that she hopes that while things may be more “conservative” going forward, that her friends and colleagues won’t be in any harm and “hopefully their lives won’t be much different”.

Aoife said she will “sit down for a few days” before she returns to Ireland and Meath and expects to be home Sunday or Monday.

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