Published On: Thu, Sep 9th, 2021

Taliban to let around 200 Americans and other foreign citizens fly from Kabul

The Taliban will allow around 200 U.S. and other foreign citizens to leave Afghanistan Thursday on a flight to Qatar, the first large-scale international passenger flight to depart Kabul since the U.S. withdrawal, two sources familiar with the matter have told NBC News.

The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the development, which was first reported by Reuters, saying that the flight was expected to land in Doha later on Thursday. They added that it was unclear how many of those set to leave were American.

The departure comes amid growing fears for those who have been left behind in Afghanistan in the wake of the United States’ chaotic withdrawal.

Afghan women shout slogans and wave Afghan national flags during demonstrations earlier this week. Wali Sabawoon / AP

In a press conference at the Kabul airport on Thursday, which aired on Al Jazeera, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Afghanistan had received help from Qatar to get the airport back up and running for commercial flights.

“We are very thankful to our Qatari brothers,” he said during the presser, which aired on Al Jazeera.

He also said the Taliban would not stand in the way of anyone looking to leave Afghanistan, as they have valid travel documents.

Qatari special envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani said at the news conference that he wanted flights departing from Afghanistan to be seen as “normal” air travel, rather than as evacuation flights.

“Today, we see a free passage of free movement of passengers, foreigners and locals with valid passport,” he said.

A State Department spokesman told NBC News the agency was not “in a position to share additional details” about the flights. “Our efforts to assist U.S. citizens and others to whom we have a special commitment are ongoing,” he said.

The U.S. saw as many as 124,000 people evacuated out of the country, including at-risk Afghans, but the Biden administration acknowledged that as its evacuation efforts came to an end on Aug. 30 that it was not able to get “everybody out that we wanted to get out.”

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President Joe Biden said last week that 100 to 200 Americans “with some intention to leave” were still stranded in Afghanistan.

It is unclear whether those expected to be on Thursday’s flight to Doha include American civilians and other foreign nationals who were stranded for days in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif because their private charters were blocked from departing, according to Reuters.

The Taliban’s vow to let international flights leave Kabul comes amid warnings of a looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as life-saving aid dwindles and as reports of the Taliban cracking down on dissenters and journalists grow.

Two journalists said they were beaten by militants after covering a women’s rights protest in Afghanistan’s capital.

Nemat Naqdi, 28, and Taqi Daryabi, 22, both with the Etilaatroz newspaper, were covering the protest when Taliban fighters arrested them and took them to a police station in Kabul, according to the outlet they work for.

The journalists said they were placed in separate cells before being beaten with a cable, according to Etilaatroz, with photos taken after the incident showing both Naqdi and Daryabi’s bodies covered in welts.

In a phone interview Thursday, Patricia Gossman, an associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, whose team spoke with relatives of the two journalists, said the Taliban was failing to live up to its promise to allow the media to continue to operate in Afghanistan.

Taqi Daryabi, a video editor from the Etilaatroz newspaper, displays his wounds sustained after he said Taliban fighters tortured and beat him while in custody after in Kabul.Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

“This is the point where the Taliban are still seeking international recognition…so, I think the messaging should be very clear from (the international community) that this kind of behavior is not going to get them very far,” she said.

Late Wednesday, the Taliban imposed strict restrictions on demonstrations.

While Kate Clark, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a policy research organization based in Kabul, said she believed that protesters are putting themselves at risk in hopes of securing broader rights under Taliban rule, she also said it was unclear how the militant group will react if the demonstrations continue.

“These people are really, really brave,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday, referring to the protesters.

Humanitarian groups have warned of a looming crisis as “life-saving aid” dwindles, with the World Health Organization saying Monday that a pause in funding for the Sehatmandi project, the “backbone of Afghanistan’s health system”, could put more than 2,000 health facilities, or 90 percent, at risk of closing.

On Thursday, China announced it would be offering at least $31 million in emergency aid, including Covid-19 vaccines, to Afghanistan, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi announcing the aid boost on Wednesday during a meeting with foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries.

Abigail Williams and The Associated Press contributed.

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