Dozens flee Afghanistan on first commercial airlift since US troop withdrawal

·2-min read
Foreigners board a Qatar Airways aircraft at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP)
Foreigners board a Qatar Airways aircraft at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP)

About 200 foreigners, including Americans, have flown out of Afghanistan on the first large-scale commercial evacuation since US and UK forces withdrew from the country.

The Qatar Airways flight from Kabul airport to Doha, full of Westerners, marked a significant breakthrough in the bumpy coordination between the US and Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers.

The Taliban had promised to allow foreigners and Afghans with valid travel documents to leave, but a days-long standoff over charter planes at another airport had cast some doubt on Taliban assurances.

As the group prepared to board, a Qatari special envoy declared it a “historic day”.

“Call it what you want, a charter or a commercial flight, everyone has tickets and boarding passes,” said Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, adding that another commercial flight would take off on Friday. “Hopefully, life is becoming normal in Afghanistan.”

A senior US official said two very senior Taliban officials had helped facilitate the departure.

The flight is the first to take off from Kabul airport since American forces left the country at the end of last month, their departure accompanied by a frantic airlift of tens of thousands of foreign citizens and Afghans.

Scenes of chaos, including a suicide bombing that killed 169 Afghans and 13 US service members, came to define the fraught end to America’s two-decade war.

A foreign diplomat said another 200 foreigners, including Americans, would leave in the next couple of days.

It remains uncertain what the resumption of international flights will mean for the tens of thousands of Afghans desperate to flee the country’s new Taliban leaders.

Hundreds of other Afghans at risk after the Taliban takeover because of their past work with Americans gathered more than a week ago in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, waiting for permission to board privately chartered evacuation flights.

Although the Taliban assured the world they would let passengers with valid travel documents leave the country, many of those stranded at the northern airport did not have such papers.

Following the US-led evacuation of over 100,000 people, extensive damage at Kabul airport has raised questions over how soon regular commercial flights could resume. Technical experts from Qatar and Turkey have been working to restore operations.

Al-Qahtani said the airport’s radar was now active and covering 70 miles after US forces left it inoperable.

Additional reporting by AP

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