KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities will allow between 100 and 150 Westerners, including Americans, to fly out from Kabul in the coming hours, Qatari officials said Thursday, marking the airport’s first such flight since U.S. forces withdrew from the country.
The large group of foreigners would depart Thursday on a Qatar Airways flight that had earlier ferried humanitarian aid to the country, said Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, a Qatari special envoy.
Al-Qahtani said it was the first international commercial flight from Kabul airport since American forces left at the end of August, their departure accompanied by a frantic airlift of tens of thousands of foreign citizens and Afghans fleeing the Taliban. Before it was all over, 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans would be killed by a suicide bomber at an airport gate.
“Call it what you want, a charter or a commercial flight, everyone has tickets and boarding passes,” al-Qahtani said from the tarmac, adding that another commercial flight would take off on Friday. “Hopefully, life is becoming normal in Afghanistan.”
Another Qatari official, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the formal announcement, provided the number of Westerners expected on board.
The departure of a large group of Americans, a first since the U.S. withdrawal, would also signal that U.S. officials have come to an arrangement with the new Taliban rulers.
In recent days, there had been a stand-off between the Taliban and organizers of several charter planes who had hoped to evacuate Americans and at-risk Afghans from an airport in the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif. The Taliban have said they would let passengers with valid travel documents leave, but that many of those at the northern airport did not have such papers.
Following the evacuation of over 100,000 people from the country in the wake of the troop pullout, extensive damage at Kabul airport raised questions over how soon the transport hub could resume for commercial flights. Technical experts from Qatar and Turkey have been working to restore operations.