Five Eyes intelligence never envisaged the total collapse of Afghanistan's military, New Zealand's chief of defence claimed today, while confirming they "absolutely" would have completed two final evacuation flights if it wasn't for suicide bomb attacks.
Just hours after the Taliban fired celebratory gunfire into Kabul's night skies when the final US plane flew out of the country after 20 years of war, the New Zealand Government was picking over its handling of the dramatic past few weeks.
Today's Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee briefing on the Government's response to recent events in Afghanistan also comes as former interpreters and other Afghans who worked with the New Zealand war effort, and were recently granted emergency visas, were left behind when evacuation efforts were cut short.
But New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) Chief of Defence Air Marshall Kevin Short told the committee that if it hadn't been for Friday's attacks, which killed at least 170 civilians along with 13 US military troops, two more mercy dashes by a RNZAF plane would've got more people out.
Leading up to the fall of Kabul on August 15, the Five Eyes intelligence network was giving daily intel reports.
But although it was clear that the Taliban were taking swathes of ground across the country, the US and other partner nations never thought the capital Kabul was in danger.
"What no one predicted was the absolute collapse of the Afghanistan military itself," Short said.
The last intel report Short saw around the week of August 8 was that Afghanistan wouldn't collapse, even if everything "went the wrong way", for another 60 to 90 days.
The Taliban took the capital unopposed, without a shot fired, a week later to claim power.
"It did catch out everyone," Short said.
"With all the hundreds of thousands of troops who were trained, the military equipment that was given, the support given over many decades, no one thought the Afghanistan military would collapse as quickly as it did."
The committee fielded questions over the number of people who had been evacuated – and how many had been left behind.
Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) chief executive Chris Seed said they knew 372 people with New Zealand passports or visas had departed Afghanistan – and that 365 people could be remaining. Of those, 51 were New Zealand citizens and 52 permanent residents.
But the numbers were uncertain, Sheed said, and just because they were on the consular list, that didn't mean they wanted to leave. Some people had also left the country via other means. They knew of one family that had got out commercially and were in Africa, and some others in Europe. So the numbers could change, Sheed said.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Nania Mahuta said, at its peak, 171 staff were assigned to support the government's response to the Afghanistan crisis.
By August 22, around 3000 inquiries from Afghan nationals seeking resettlement had been received – but three days later, that number had jumped to more than 8000.
MFAT is working with a range of international partners, including regional countries, on "phase two" plans on how to get New Zealand citizens and visa holders out of the country.
Seed said they "continue to message" through other partners with the Taliban, but MFAT has made no direct contact with them.
Taliban leadership has vowed safe passage for anyone with the right paperwork to be allowed to leave Afghanistan.
Defence Minister Peeni Henare said the real threat of terrorist attack was a significant factor in pulling out, adding they were not masters of the timeframe and did everything they could to get as many people out as possible.
"We are not turning our backs on those still in Afghanistan," he said.
"We will continue to see how we can support those seeking to leave Afghanistan. However, that will no longer be a military-led effort in which the NZDF will feature so prominently. It will also be within a much larger international effort which New Zealand will be part of."