The first international large-scale passenger flight departing from Kabul since withdrawing from Afghanistan last month, set off on its way to Qatar on Thursday.
Earlier on Thursday, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News that the Taliban would allow about 200 US and other foreign nationals to leave the country on a flight to Doha.
Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the development, which was first reported by ReutersWith They said it was unclear how many of those who would leave were Americans.
The departure comes amid growing fears for those left behind in Afghanistan, following the chaotic withdrawal of the United States.
At a news conference at Kabul airport on Thursday, which aired on Al Jazeera, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Afghanistan had received assistance from Qatar to restart the airport and operate commercial flights.
“We are very grateful to our Qatari brothers,” he told the press, which aired on Al Jazeera.
He also said the Taliban will not deter anyone seeking to leave Afghanistan if they have valid travel documents.
Qatar’s special envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani told a news conference that he wanted flights departing from Afghanistan to be seen as “normal” air travel rather than evacuation flights.
“Today, we see a free passage of free movement of travelers, foreigners and locals with valid passports,” he said.
A State Department spokesman told NBC News that the agency was “unable to share additional details” about the flights. “Our efforts to help American citizens and others to whom we have a special commitment are ongoing,” he said.
The U.S. saw about 124,000 people evacuated from the country, including Afghans at risk, but the Biden administration acknowledged that when its evacuation efforts ended on August 30 it was unable to evacuate “everyone outside wanted to get out.”
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President Joe Biden said last week that 100 to 200 Americans “with one intention of leaving” were still stranded in Afghanistan.
It is unclear whether those expected to be on Thursday’s flight to Doha include US civilians and other foreign nationals who were stranded for days in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif because their private cards were blocked from leaving. according to Reuters.
The Taliban’s promise to allow international flights to leave Kabul comes amid warnings of a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as life-saving aid dwindles and reports of Taliban attacks on opponents and journalists are rising.
Two journalists said they were beaten by militants after covering a women’s rights protest in the Afghan 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 forwith
Reporters said they were placed in separate cells before being beaten with a cable, according to Etilaatroz, with photos taken after the incident showing the bodies of Naqdi and Daryabi covered in dressing.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Patricia Gossman, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, whose team spoke to relatives of the two journalists, said the Taliban were not fulfilling their promise to allow the media to continue operating in Afghanistan. .
“This is the point where the Taliban are still seeking international recognition … so, I think the messages need to be very clear from (the international community) that this kind of behavior is not going to take them very far,” she said. .
Late Wednesday, the Taliban imposed strict restrictions on demonstrations.
While Kate Clark, co-director of the Analysts Network in Afghanistan, a Kabul-based political research organization, said she believed the protesters were putting themselves at risk in hopes of securing broader rights under Taliban rule, she also said that it was unclear how the militant group would react if the demonstrations continued.
“These people are really very brave,” she said in a telephone interview Wednesday, referring to the protesters.
Humanitarian groups have warned of an imminent crisis as “life-saving aid” dwindles, with the World Health Organization saying on Monday that a pause in funding the Sehatmandi project, the “backbone of Afghanistan’s health system,” could put more than 2,000 health facilities, or 90 percent, at risk of closure.
On Thursday, China announced it would provide at least $ 31 million in emergency aid, including Covid-19 vaccines, to Afghanistan, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi announcing increased aid Wednesday during a meeting with foreign ministers of neighboring countries. Afghanistan.
Abigail Williams , Associated Press, Annie Hill AND Ahmed Mengli | contributed.
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