Some 200 foreigners, including about 30 Americans, flew out of Afghanistan on Thursday aboard an international flight from Kabul Airport to Doha, the first such large-scale departure since U.S and foreign forces concluded their frantic withdrawal at the end of August.
The Taliban had allowed the Qatar Airways flight to go ahead amid a bumpy coordination effort between the U.S. and Afghanistan’s new rulers, including a dayslong stand-off over charter planes at another airport that left dozens of passengers stranded.
A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn´t authorized to brief the media, provided the number of Westerners on board and said that two very senior Taliban officials had helped facilitate the departure.
Americans, green card holders and other nationalities including Germans, Hungarians and Canadians were on the flight, the official said.
Irfan Popalzai, 12, among those boarding the flight with his mother and five brothers and sisters, said his family lives in Maryland.
‘I am an Afghan, but you know I am from America and I am so excited (to leave),’ he said.
About 200 foreigners prepared to leave Kabul as the Taliban allowed international flights out of Afghanistan to resume. There were about 30 Americans at the scene
The foreign citizens would depart from Kabul Airport to Doha, Qatar on Thursday
Passangers were led onto the tarmac to begin boarding the Qatar Airways flight
This was the first large-scale departure flight since the final U.S. troops left on August 31
The Taliban were pressed to allow the departures by U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, said an official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity on Thursday.
Qatari special envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani said the flight marked a historic day as the airport was now operational again under the Taliban’s control.
‘Call it what you want, a charter or a commercial flight, everyone has tickets and boarding passes,’ al-Qahtani added, noting that another commercial flight would take off on Friday. ‘Hopefully, life is becoming normal in Afghanistan.’
A foreign diplomat, likewise speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn´t authorized to brief the media, said another 200 foreigners, including Americans, would depart in the next couple of days.
A Qatari security personnel stands guard of the Qatar Airways aircraft in Kabul
The Taliban had allowed the flight to take off as it reopened the international airport
The flight took off from Kabul and will be heading towards Qatar’s capital, Doha
The passengers will arrive in Qatar before making their respective trips back home
Planes chartered to carry people out of Afghanistan had been stuck at Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport, casting doubt on the Taliban’s assurance that foreigners and Afghans would be allowed to leave the country.
Some organizers of the flights also said the State Department was not doing enough to facilitate their departure.
The criticism came after an email leak suggested that the agency prevented several private flights from leaving Afghanistan with U.S. citizens and Afghan allies on board.
Grounded planes are seen at Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport, where hundreds of evacuees have been stuck and unable to leave Afghanistan in a standoff between the US and Taliban
Taliban authorities have agreed to let 200 American civilians and third country nationals depart on charter flights from Kabul airport. The Kabul Airport is seen above
Blinken met with refugees at the U.S. Air Base in Ramstein, Germany on Wednesday as the State Department faces criticism after leaked emails show it refused to let privately chartered planes land at the Doha, Qatar U.S. military base, even if they have Americans on board
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday went on a charm offensive, saying the Taliban was to blame for the standoff and calling on the militants to allow the charter flights to depart from Afghanistan.
Blinken said the United States was doing everything in its power to get the flights off the ground, but the Taliban was not permitting the flights to depart.
‘We’ve made clear to all parties, we’ve made clear to the Taliban that these charters need to be able to depart,’ Blinken said at a press conference in Germany.
The remarks came as Blinken met with Afghan refugees at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany. He also met with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas as the two counterparts discussed cooperation in efforts to process and resettle Afghan refugees.
The two will hold a virtual 20-nation meeting on the crisis from the southwestern German U.S. Air Base.
The administration still insists there are only around 100 Americans left to be evacuated, while volunteer groups leading private evacuation efforts and Republicans claim there are more like 500 U.S. citizens still trying to get out.
Six planes chartered to evacuate Americans and allies from Afghanistan were blocked from leaving by the Taliban, it emerged over the weekend.
Blinken speaks to members of the US embassy and Mission Afghanistan in the Qatari capital Doha on Tuesday. Blinken blamed the Taliban for blocking charter flights
The de-facto ruler of Afghanistan, Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is seen in a file photo
The State Department also refused to green light privately chartered flights out of Afghanistan that could have evacuated US citizens and Afghan special immigrant visa applicants, leaked emails reportedly show.
The Department of Homeland Security says about 60,000 people have arrived in the US since August 17 from Afghanistan as part of the evacuation formally known as Operation Allies Welcome.
DHS said in the latest updated released Wednesday that 17 percent of those arrivals are U.S. citizens and permanent residents who were in Afghanistan when the government there fell to the Taliban.
The remaining 83 percent are a mix of people. They include those with Special Immigrant Visas, for people who worked as interpreters or in some other capacity for the U.S. or NATO.
There are also other visa holders as well as applicants for visas who have not yet completed their processing. The remainder are various types of ‘vulnerable’ Afghans who would be threatened under the Taliban, such as women and human rights advocates.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says a small number of evacuees have been prevented from entering the U.S. through ‘multi-layered’ security vetting but he declined to provide specific numbers of provide details about the cases.