About 200 foreigners, including Americans, fly out of Afghanistan

An estimated 200 foreigners, including Americans, left Afghanistan on a commercial flight from Kabul on Thursday with the cooperation of the Taliban, the first large-scale departure since US forces completed their frenzied withdrawal more than a week ago.

The Qatar Airways flight to Doha marked a breakthrough in the uneven coordination between the new rulers of the United States and Afghanistan. A multi-day clash over charter planes at another airport has left hundreds of people, mostly Afghans, stranded, waiting for permission from the Taliban to depart.

A senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the Taliban foreign minister and deputy prime minister helped facilitate the flight.

Americans, American green card holders and other nationalities, including Germans, Hungarians and Canadians, were on board, the official said.

Qatari envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani said another 200 passengers will leave Afghanistan on Friday.

Ten US citizens and 11 green card holders took Thursday’s flight, State Department spokesman Ned Price said. Americans organizing charter evacuation flights said they knew of more US passport and green card holders at Mazar-e-Sharif and elsewhere waiting for flights.

The White House said ahead of the flight that approximately 100 US citizens remained in Afghanistan.

But various veterans groups have said that number is too low because many citizens never bothered to tell US officials they were in the country. And they said the figure overlooks green card permanent US residents living in Afghanistan who want to leave.

Many thousands of Afghans remain desperate to get out as well, fearful of what the Taliban government may bring.

The Taliban have repeatedly said that foreigners and Afghans with the proper travel documents could leave. But their assurances have been met with skepticism and many Afghans have been unable to obtain certain paperwork.

US lawmakers, veterans groups and others are lobbying the Biden administration to ensure that former Afghan military interpreters and others who might be in danger of retaliation from the Taliban for working with the Americans are allowed to leave.

In the United States, National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said Thursday’s flight was the result of “careful and tough diplomacy and engagement” and that the Taliban “have shown flexibility and been practical and professional in our dealings with them in this endeavor. ” . ”

“This is a positive first step,” he said, adding that the United States will continue to try to remove Americans and Afghan allies who want to leave.

As Taliban authorities patrolled the runway, passengers presented their documents for inspection and the dogs sniffed at the luggage lying on the ground.

Some veteran airport employees had returned to work after fleeing during the heartbreaking chaos of the US-led airlift.

Irfan Popalzai, 12, boarded the flight with his mother and five brothers and sisters. He said his family lives in Maryland.

“I’m Afghan, but you know I’m from the United States and I’m very excited” to go, he said.

The airport suffered severe damage in the hectic final days of the US airlift that evacuated more than 100,000 people. But the Qatari authorities announced that it had been repaired with the help of experts from Qatar and Turkey and was ready for the resumption of international airline flights.

“I can clearly say that this is a historic day in the history of Afghanistan, as the Kabul airport is already operational,” al-Qahtani said. He added: “Hopefully life is getting back to normal in Afghanistan.”

The flight was the first to take off from Kabul airport since US forces left the country in late August.

The scenes of chaos that accompanied them, including Afghans rushing to their deaths from the sides of a military plane on takeoff and a suicide bombing that killed 169 Afghans and 13 US servicemen, defined the end of the two-decade war. in United States.

The airport is no longer the Hamid Karzai International Airport, but simply the Kabul International Airport, without the name of the former president of the country. Several Taliban flags flew from the terminal, which bore the crest “The Islamic Emirate seeks peaceful and positive relations with the world.”

Hundreds of other Afghans who say they are at risk for helping Americans have gathered for more than a week in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, awaiting permission to board evacuation flights chartered by American supporters. It is believed that many do not have the necessary travel documents.

In Mazar-e-Sharif on Thursday, an Afghan who worked for 15 years as an interpreter for the US military was moving from hotel to hotel and was running out of money while he, his eight children and his wife waited. the go-ahead from the Taliban to leave.

“I’m afraid of being left behind,” said the man, whose name was withheld by The Associated Press for his safety.

The interpreter said he was one of many former US employees whose special visas were approved by the United States in recent weeks of the US military presence in Afghanistan.

But with the US embassy closed when the Taliban took Kabul on August 15, it has become impossible to stamp the visa in his passport.

He said he does not trust the Taliban’s assurances that they will not take revenge on Afghans who worked for the Americans.

“No, never,” he said. “I never believe them, because they are lying.”

Afghanistan war veteran Matt Zeller, who founded the No One Left Behind organization to help Afghans who supported US troops, said he does not believe it is possible for applicants to the special immigrant visa program to obtain a visa. without an embassy in Kabul.

“For all intents and purposes, the chances of these people escaping from the Taliban ended the day we left them behind,” he said.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States is considering measures such as electronic visas to overcome the lack of an embassy in Afghanistan.

The organization War Time Allies estimates that up to 20,000 applicants for special visas remain in the country, not counting those eligible under a more liberal rule change made in July. Add their families to that and the total comes to more than 80,000 people, according to the group.

(AP)

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