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South Korean ambassador to Afghanistan discloses details of harrowing evacuation

South Korean diplomats who were evacuated earlier this week from Afghanistan stayed behind to assist the last remaining Korean citizen who had not left the country by Sunday. File Photo by Bashir Darwish/ UPI
South Korean diplomats who were evacuated earlier this week from Afghanistan stayed behind to assist the last remaining Korean citizen who had not left the country by Sunday. File Photo by Bashir Darwish/ UPI | License Photo

Aug. 18 (UPI) -- The South Korean ambassador to Afghanistan, who stayed behind to assist with the evacuation of the last remaining Korean citizen in the southwest Asian nation, recalled a harrowing escape from the capital as the Taliban swept into Kabul.

Ambassador Choi Tae-ho said in an interview with South Korean news service News 1 on Wednesday that the embassy staff and a South Korean civilian left Afghanistan as the sound of nearby gunshots grew in frequency and evacuation helicopters whirred overhead.

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"It was a situation comparable to wars depicted in the movies," Choi said.

South Korea's foreign ministry issued an emergency evacuation order requiring all Korean nationals to leave by Sunday. Choi confirmed the embassy destroyed all sensitive documents on site before staff left the country.

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Many diplomats who were required to leave on short notice did not even have time to return to their residences to pick up personal belongings, according to South Korean network KBS.

Choi also said the South Korean civilian, a businessman in Afghanistan, was at Kabul's international airport Sunday when he told diplomats he needed to "attend to business" before leaving the country. The man said he would "leave on his own," the envoy said.

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Choi and two other Korean diplomats stayed behind in the country after President Moon Jae-in said Monday that every last South Korean citizen and diplomat must safely leave Afghanistan.

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The decision may have been difficult. According to Choi, Taliban troops by Sunday had entered an area about 20 minutes away by car from the Korean Embassy. Choi said Sunday evening that gunshots began to ring out from Kabul's former "Green Zone," home to foreign embassies and government buildings.

The South Korean civilian later agreed to leave with the diplomats and boarded a U.S. Air Force transport plane at 1 a.m. Tuesday. Evacuees on board were mostly Americans, but also some Afghan and Indian nationals, the South Korean ambassador said.

Seoul and Washington signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this year that enabled the allied evacuation, according to reports.

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