200 people leave Kabul in first airlift since US pullout

Published September 10, 2021
Evacuees from Afghanistan arrive inside the terminal at Hamad International Airport in Qatar's capital Doha on the first flight carrying foreigners out of the Afghan capital since the conclusion of the US withdrawal last month. — AFP
Evacuees from Afghanistan arrive inside the terminal at Hamad International Airport in Qatar's capital Doha on the first flight carrying foreigners out of the Afghan capital since the conclusion of the US withdrawal last month. — AFP

KABUL: Some 200 passengers, including US citizens, left Kabul airport on Thursday, on the first flight carrying foreigners out of the Afghan capital since a US-led evacuation ended on Aug 30.

The flight to Doha comes as the Taliban continue their transition from insurgents to governing power, less than a month after they marched into Kabul and ousted former president Ashraf Ghani.

Thursday afternoon’s Qatar Airways flight took some 200 people from Kabul airport — the first since a mammoth, chaotic airlift of more than 120,000 people came to a dramatic close with the US pullout.

An Afghan-American dual citizen, waiting to board the flight with his family, said the US State Department had called him in the morning and told him to go to the airport.

Taliban government says prior authorisation must for staging demonstrations

“We got in contact with the State Department, they gave me a call this morning and said to go to the airport,” the father, who asked not to be named, said.

In the days that followed the Taliban’s blitz, the airport had become a tragic symbol of desperation among Afghans terrified of the Taliban’s return to power — with thousands of people crowding around its gates daily, and some even clinging to jets as they took off.

More than 100 people were killed, including 13 US troops, in a suicide attack on Aug 26 near the airport that was claimed by the militant Islamic State group’s local chapter.

Footage broadcast by Al Jazeera TV on Thursday showed families including women, children and elderly people waiting with suitcases at the airport for their turn to leave.

It was not immediately clear whether any countries other than Qatar had played a role in organising the airlift.

Qatar has acted as the central intermediary between the Taliban and the international community in recent years, and numerous countries, including the United States, have relocated their embassies from Kabul to Doha in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover.

“We are very appreciative of the Qataris,” one man told the channel, giving his nationality as Canadian.

Away from the airport, there was a noticeably stronger Taliban presence on the streets of Kabul as armed fighters — including special forces in military fatigues — stood guard on street corners and manned checkpoints.

Qatar’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Mutlaq al-Qahtani, called it a “historic day” for the airport.

Late on Wednesday, the Taliban moved to snuff out any further civil unrest, saying protests would need prior authorisation from the justice ministry, adding that no demonstrations were allowed “for the time being”.

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2021

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