With the aid of the Taliban, an estimated 200 foreigners, including Americans, left Afghanistan aboard a commercial flight out of Kabul on Thursday, the first large-scale exit since US forces finished their frenzied withdrawal over a week ago.
The Qatar Airways flight to Doha was a watershed moment in the shaky relationship between the US and Afghanistan's new government. Hundreds of people, largely Afghans, have been stranded at another airport due to a deadlock over charter planes. They are waiting for Taliban authorization to leave.
According to a senior US official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the Taliban's foreign minister and deputy prime minister helped organize the trip because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media. According to the official, Americans, US green card holders, and other nations were on board, including Germans, Hungarians, and Canadians.
Another 200 passengers will depart Afghanistan on Friday, according to Qatari diplomat Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani.
Evacuation of American citizens
According to State Department spokesperson Ned Price, ten US citizens and 11 green-card holders boarded the flight on Thursday. ACCORDING TO AMERICANS COORDINATING CHARTER EVACUATION FLIGHTS, more US passports and green-card holders are awaiting flights out of Mazar-e-Sharif and elsewhere.
Before the flight, the White House estimated that there were about 100 US citizens left in Afghanistan. However, numerous veterans organizations have claimed that this figure is too low because many individuals never bothered to notify US authorities that they were in the nation. They further claim that the figure excludes green-card-holding permanent US residents in Afghanistan who wish to leave.
Many Afghans wanting to leave the country
Thousands more Afghans are also yearning to leave, fearful of the consequences of Taliban control. Foreigners and Afghans with sufficient travel documents, according to the Taliban, are free to go. Their pledges, however, have been regarded with mistrust, and many Afghans have been unable to secure necessary documentation.
Former Afghan military interpreters and others who may face Taliban retaliation for cooperating with the Americans are pressured by US legislators, veterans groups, and others to leave.
'The first positive step.'
In the United States, National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said Thursday's flight was the result of "careful and hard diplomacy and engagement," adding that the Taliban "have shown flexibility" and "been businesslike and professional in our dealings. With them in this effort."
“This is a good first step,” she said, adding that the US will keep working to extract Americans and Afghan allies who want to go.
Passengers showed their documents for scrutiny, and dogs sniffed luggage placed out on the ground as Taliban authorities roamed the tarmac. After fleeing during the terrifying pandemonium of the US-led evacuation, some veteran airport employees had returned to work.
'I Can't wait to leave.'
Irfan Popalzai, 12, traveled by his mother and five siblings on the plane. His family resides in Maryland, he stated.
He explained, "I am an Afghan, but you know I am from America, and I am so excited to leave."
Kabul International Airport is now functional
During the frantic final days of the US airlift, which evacuated over 100,000 people, the airport was severely damaged. However, Qatari authorities claimed that it had been repaired with the assistance of Qatari and Turkish engineers and was ready for international airline flights to resume.
“I can categorically state that today is a watershed moment in Afghan history because Kabul airport is now operational,” al-Qahtani stated. “Hopefully, life in Afghanistan is returning to normal,” he continued.
The flight was the first to leave Kabul airport since American soldiers left at the end of August. The pictures of pandemonium that followed, such as Afghans jumping to their deaths from the sides of military planes on takeoff and a suicide bombing that killed 169 Afghans and 13 US service personnel, came to mark the end of America's two-decade war.
The airport's name has been changed from Hamid Karzai International Airport to Kabul International Airport, with the former president's name removed. Several Taliban flags flew from the terminal, with the words "The Islamic Emirate seeks peaceful and positive relations with the world" imprinted on them.
Thousands of people still stranded in Mazar-E-Sharif
Hundreds of other Afghans who fear for their lives if they help the Americans have congregated in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif for more than a week, waiting for clearance to board US-sponsored evacuation aircraft. Many people are suspected of lacking the proper travel documents.
On Thursday in Mazar-e-Sharif, an Afghan who served for the US military as an interpreter for 15 years was going from hotel to hotel and running out of money while he, his eight children, and his wife awaited the Taliban's permission to depart.
The man, whose name was withheld by The Associated Press for his protection, added, "I'm afraid I'll be left behind."
According to the translator, he was one of many former US personnel whose special visas were approved by the US in the final weeks of the US military presence in Afghanistan. However, since the Taliban invaded Kabul on Aug. 15, the US Embassy has been shuttered, making it difficult to have the visa stamped into his passport.
He claimed he doesn't believe the Taliban promises that they won't retaliate against Afghans who worked for the US.
“Never,” he stated emphatically. “I never believe them because they lie,” says the narrator.
Small window of evacuation
Matt Zeller, an Afghanistan war veteran who formed the nonprofit No One Left Behind to assist Afghans who aided American troops, believes that applicants for the special immigrant visa program will not obtain a visa without the presence of an embassy in Kabul.
“These people's chances of escaping the Taliban effectively ended the day we left them behind,” he stated.
To compensate for the lack of an embassy in Afghanistan, Price said the US is considering measures such as electronic visas.
According to War Time Allies, up to 20,000 special visa applicants are still in the country, not including those eligible under a more lenient regulation modification that took effect in July. According to the group, when their families are included, the total number of persons is above 80,000.