Hundreds of Westerners fly out of Kabul

·3-min read

Some 200 foreigners, including Americans, have left Afghanistan on a commercial flight out of Kabul, the first such large-scale departure since US and other forces completed their frantic withdrawal over a week ago.

The Qatar Airways flight to Doha on Thursday marked a breakthrough in the bumpy coordination between the US and Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers.

A senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorised to talk to the media, provided the number of Westerners on the Qatar flight and said two senior Taliban officials helped facilitate the departure - the new foreign minister and deputy prime minister.

US citizens and green card holders, Germans, Hungarians and Canadians were aboard, the official said.

Qatari envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani said another 200 passengers will leave Afghanistan on Friday. A diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason, said more foreigners, will depart in the next couple of days.

It was not immediately clear how many Americans were on board on Thursday and how many were still in Afghanistan. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said before the flight that the US believed roughly 100 American citizens remained in the country.

Many thousands of Afghans remain desperate to flee the country for fear of what Taliban rule might hold. The Taliban have repeatedly said foreigners and Afghans with proper travel documents could leave the country. But their assurances have been meet with scepticism, even with the departure of the Qatar flight.

US law makers, veterans groups and others are pressing the Biden administration to ensure that former Afghan military interpreters and others who could be in danger of Taliban reprisals for working with the Americans are allowed to leave.

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

"I am an Afghan, but you know I am from America and I am so excited (to return)," he said.

Before the flight took off, Qatari officials gathered on the tarmac of the Kabul airport to announce it was ready for the resumption of international commercial flights after days of repairs.

Extensive damage in the frenzied final days of the US airlift that evacuated over 100,000 people had raised questions about how soon regular commercial service could resume. Experts from Qatar and Turkey have been racing to restore operations.

"I can clearly say that this is a historic day in the history of Afghanistan as Kabul airport is now operational," al-Qahtani said. "Hopefully, life is becoming normal in Afghanistan."

The flight was the first to take off from Kabul airport since American forces left the country at the end of August. The accompanying scenes of chaos, including Afghans plunging to their deaths from the sides of military aircraft on takeoff and a suicide bombing that killed 169 Afghans and 13 US service members, came to define the fraught end to America's two-decade war.

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