Australia considers return to Afghanistan

The closure of Australia's embassy in Kabul has raised eyebrows among international partners.
The closure of Australia's embassy in Kabul has raised eyebrows among international partners.

Australia is considering sending officials back to Afghanistan less than a month after leaving the country.

The last Australian troops and diplomats departed Kabul in mid-June as allied troops withdrew from the war-torn nation.

Their hasty retreat raised eyebrows among international partners.

It also limited Australia's ability to gather intelligence and monitor the resurgence of the Taliban.

But Australian civilian, military and intelligence officers could return to Afghanistan within months.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia's re-entry would occur as soon as it was safe to do so.

"We always have made it clear that were we in a position to safely have Australians in Afghanistan providing a support to our efforts there then we would," he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

"And so, were it safe to do that, we always have been open to the opportunity to pursue that."

The prime minister has discussed Australia's absence and plans to return with other world leaders, particularly at the recent G7 summit.

"I hope we will be able to do that at an early opportunity, but only when it is safe," Mr Morrison said.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia's absence from Afghanistan was only temporary.

"Our interim diplomatic arrangements were always expected to be temporary, with the intention of resuming a permanent presence once circumstances permit," a spokesman told AAP.

"That remains our position."

There are suggestions officials could be housed in American or British compounds until the Australian embassy in Kabul reopened.

"We continue to engage closely with partners, including the Afghanistan government and coalition member countries," the minister's spokesman said.

"We will not comment on intelligence matters."

The embassy closure has come into sharp focus as hundreds of Afghan interpreters who worked for Australia urgently apply for protection visas to escape reprisal attacks from the Taliban.

The prime minister said Australia was making process with the visa applications.

At least 252 Afghan nationals and their families have been brought to safety.

"We are making real steady progress through the many others," Mr Morrison said.

He floated the possibility of government-facilitated commercial flights and again highlighted the path for Afghans to apply for humanitarian visas if they missed out on ones reserved for locally engaged employees.

Australian Associated Press