For the first time in more than a week since the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan, the Taliban has allowed a flight of around 200 people — including dozens of Americans and other western nationals — to take off from the Kabul airport and leave Afghanistan.
In a White House statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said, “Today, the United States government facilitated the departure of U.S citizens and lawful permanent residents on a chartered Qatar Airways flight from Hamid Karzai International Airport. We can confirm that flight has safely landed in Qatar.”
“We are deeply grateful to the continued efforts of Qatar in facilitating operations at HKIA and helping to ensure the safety of these charter flights,” Horne said. “We have been working intensely across the U.S. government to ensure the accuracy of the manifest and the safe departure and transit of the aircraft, and today’s safe flight is the result of careful and hard diplomacy and engagement.
Horne also said, “The Taliban have been cooperative in facilitating the departure of American citizens and lawful permanent residents on charter flights from HKIA. They have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort. This is a positive first step.”
The flight carried around 200 passengers, the Associated Press reported. Americans and U.S. green card holders as well as Germans, Hungarians and Canadians, were aboard the flight according to a U.S. official who spoke with the Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The official did not provide an exact number of Americans and U.S. green card holders aboard the flight.
The Washington Post reported about 30 Americans were on board the flight.
Thursday’s flight from the Kabul airport came with the support of the Qatari government. The Associated Press reported extensive damage at the Kabul airport in the final days of the U.S. military-led evacuations, raised questions about whether the Kabul airport could return to regular commercial flights. Qatari envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani said the Kabul airport’s radar is back up and running after U.S. forces left it inoperable after they left.
Experts from both Qatar and Turkey had reportedly been working in recent days to restore flight operations at the Kabul airport.
Al-Qahtani said another 200 passengers will leave Afghanistan on Friday. A diplomat, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, also because he said Americans and other foreign nationals will be onboard additional flights in the coming days.
“I can clearly say that this is a historic day in the history of Afghanistan as Kabul airport is now operational,” al-Qahtani said. “Call it what you want, a charter or a commercial flight, everyone has tickets and boarding passes. Hopefully, life is becoming normal in Afghanistan.”
The flight out of Kabul comes as several chartered flights, prepared to carry out Americans and vulnerable Afghans, remain grounded at another airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban was refusing to let those flights take off over claims some of the passengers don’t have the required documentation to leave.
Six of the flights waiting to fly out of Mazar-i-Sharif are chartered through Mercury One, a charity founded by conservative figure Glenn Beck, according to Newsweek. Three more Kam Air planes were charactered by American corporation Goldbelt, Inc., and international organization Sayara.
This week, an official associated with the Mercury One flights said, “I have more than 1,000 people on the master manifest that want to fly, of which 123 are Americans and the rest are Special Immigration Visas.” Another 19 Americans are believed to be on flights chartered by Goldbelt and Sayara.