Taliban Officials Say International Flights at Kabul Airport Will Resume
The departures were a major step in resolving an impasse that has left scores of foreigners stranded in Afghanistan.
Taliban and Qatari officials said that daily international flights would soon resume.
Members of the Taliban last month at the Kabul airport. Three flights from Persian Gulf nations were said to have landed at the airport on Thursday.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
By Victor J. Blue, Marc Santora and Sami Sahak
Sept. 9, 2021Updated 9:57 a.m. ET
The first international passenger flight to depart Afghanistan since the frenzied U.S. military evacuation late last month took off on Thursday, with more than 100 foreigners — including Americans — able to leave the country after days of anxious uncertainty.
“I can clearly say that this is a historic day in the history of Afghanistan as Kabul Airport is now operational,” said Dr. Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, a special envoy from Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during a news conference at the airport on Thursday. He said that the first plane had arrived from his country’s capital, Doha, to Kabul and that the passengers would head to their final destinations after a stop in Qatar.
A U.S. official familiar with the negotiations who spoke only on the condition of anonymity said that Americans and other third-country nationals had been cleared to depart.
Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban, thanked Qatar for its assistance in getting the airport running and flying in 50 tons of aid on Thursday morning. He said that the reopening was an “opportunity to call on all Muslim and international countries to lend a helping hand to the Afghan people and start delivering humanitarian aid.”
As passengers — including scores of Canadians, and a handful of U.S. and British citizens — were being checked in for the flight, there was a sense of relief that stood in stark contrast to the desperation and chaos at the airport just over a week ago.
Safi, 42, from Toronto, was among those passing through security and planning to board the waiting Boeing 777.
He said that he had tried to leave during the evacuation but had given up as chaos enveloped the streets outside the airport.
“Things are good,” said Safi, who only identified himself by his first name. “It seems the authorities are keeping their promises.”
While the move is the first step in resolving a diplomatic impasse that has left scores of Americans and other international workers stranded in Afghanistan, there was no indication that the Taliban would allow the tens of thousands of Afghans who qualify for emergency American visas to leave.
Taliban and foreign officials said that Afghans with dual citizenship would be allowed to leave, but it was unclear whether any would be on the first flight.
It also remained unclear whether charter flights from the airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where dozens of Americans and hundreds of Afghans were waiting to leave the country, would be allowed to fly.
Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday at the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the Taliban bore the entire blame for the inability of charter flights to leave Mazar-i-Sharif.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meeting with an Afghan family on Wednesday at the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany.Credit…Pool photo by Olivier Douliery
“The Taliban are not permitting the charter flights to depart,” Mr. Blinken said. “They claim that some of the passengers do not have the required documentation. While there are limits to what we can do without personnel on the ground without an airport with normal security procedures in place, we are going to do everything in our power to support those flights and to get them off the ground.”
The Taliban blamed the Americans for delays and said that as U.S. forces left last week, they rendered the radar and other equipment at the Kabul airport inoperable.
Engineers from Qatar, alongside workers from Turkey, have been working to repair the damage and to come up with a security protocol that would allow international passenger flights to resume.